Paula Cleggett-Haleim Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

October 4, 1993 (Phone: 202/358-0883) Michael Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif. (Phone: 415/604-9000) RELEASE: 93-178 ANTARCTIC TO BECOME LABORATORY FOR FUTURE MARS MISSIONS NASA scientists will spend October and November in Antarctica testing "telepresence technology" which may be used in the future to explore Mars. Antarctica, like Mars, has remote and hostile locations that are difficult for humans to explore, but can be reached by sophisticated robots. "We will be able to catalog a previously unexplored ecology at a depth nobody has seen before," said Dr. Carol Stoker, a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., who is the expedition leader. The research expedition is sponsored by the a joint NASA-National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Space Analog Program (ASAP) and funded for NASA by the Offices of Space Science and Advanced Concepts and Technology. "Both NASA and NSF have an interest in conducting scientific research in remote and hostile environments," said Dr. John Rummel, NASA's ASAP co-chairman. "This project will enhance the capabilities of both agencies." Scientists will use a modified mini-submarine called a

Telepresence-Controlled Remotely Operated Vehicle (TROV), to explore 800 feet below the surface of McMurdo Sound near Ross Island. Telepresence technology allows scientists on land to use head movements to point the cameras on the underwater vehicle. They will steer the TROV by remote control. This year's expedition will concentrate on steering the TROV, not from the icy shore, but from California. - more -2A second team of scientists will be able to control the TROV from an Ames laboratory. Scientists at Ames will steer the TROV by computer, both directly and by linking the TROV to a "virtual reality" underwater terrain model of Antarctica, which will be much like steering an aircraft in a video game. Ames laboratory scientists will help insure that useful scientific samples are being retrieved. Virtual reality lets people react with a 3-D computer-generated "world" as if it were real. In virtual reality, people move and act naturally within the computer environment as if they were actually there. The expedition's research will yield scientific data on Antarctic aquatic life while demonstrating the capabilities of virtual reality in controlling remote vehicles. The TROV is attached to a 1,000-foot tether. The tether consists of integrated electrical and fiber optic cables. The electrical cable sends power down to the TROV. The fiber optic cable sends digital data and video signals to the surface, where they are combined into stereo imagery scientists can see wearing special stereo glasses similar to sunglasses. "This works by alternately displaying the left and right frame and shuttering the liquid crystal glasses in sync at a high enough speed so that your brain integrates the left and right images together to perceive stereo," Stoker said.

To produce stereo imagery, two cameras are mounted on a "pan and tilt platform" on the front of the TROV. Motors on the platform allow the cameras to pan left or right or tilt up and down. Stereo video images will be transmitted to Ames via satellite along with position information from the TROV's navigation system. Computers will process this information to create a three-dimensional virtual reality model of the sea bottom. NSF-sponsored scientist James Barry, a researcher for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, will use the TROV to plot how the dominant bottom-dwelling lifeforms change from shallow to deep water in McMurdo Sound, giving a picture of the underwater community. Barry is the Chief Scientist for the expedition. In addition to the stereo camera system, the TROV also has a manipulator arm to collect biological samples from the icy depths of the Antarctic Sea. "This will enable samples to be collected in Antarctica by scientists who never leave California," said Rummel. James McClintock of the University of Alabama will use the arm to collect bottom-dwellers such as bryozoans (small colonial animals) and deepwater sponges to use in studies of how these organisms use chemical defenses. Using the manipulator arm in an actual study will help test its practicality for use in Antarctic science. His work also is supported by NSF. - more -3The improved depth perception afforded by stereo vision will enable scientists to effectively manipulate the TROV's robotic arm. Extending from the front of the TROV, the two-foot-long metal robotic arm has a claw to grip with. Although the arm has no lateral movement, it can flex, rotate and grasp small objects. "It's unbelievable how much difference depth perception makes when you try to pick things up," Stoker said. "Without stereo vision, you just don't have a sense of where things are." In addition to Stoker, the NASA Ames Antarctic expedition team includes exobiologist Dale Andersen and engineers Don Barch,

Jay Steele and Roxanne Streeter. Team members remaining at Ames are Butler Hine, Terry Fong and Darryl Rasmussen. NASA team members will work closely with the two scientists sponsored by the NSF. Last October, NASA and NSF conducted their first ASAP joint research project in ice-covered Lake Hoare, Antarctica. There they studied telepresence, exobiology and tested a solar power system built by NASA's Lewis Research Center, Cleveland. NSF's Office of Polar Programs is now using the solar power system in an Antarctic field camp. - end EDITORS NOTE: A video news release on the Ames telepresence technology is available by calling NASA Headquarters Broadcast and Imaging Branch at 202/358-1734.