To train for deep space missions, NASA doesn’t have to go very far.
On July 21, an international crew of astronauts have donned underwater suits and transformed into aquanauts for an intensive deep sea water training that will prepare them for future deep space missions.
Undersea Training For Space
Known as NEEMO 21 or the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 21, the 16-day undersea training requires aquanauts to dive down to the Aquarius Reef Base located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, just below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
According to NASA, the NEEMO undersea crew will carry out research both inside and outside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary during the simulated space mission. Aquanauts will perform simulated spacewalks underwater while evaluating mission tools and techniques.
Inside the underwater habitat, the NEEMO crew aims to try out a mini DNA sequencer, which will be tested by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins once it is sent to the International Space Station, a medical telemetry device and HoloLens operational performance.
Aquanauts will gather samples for geology and marine biology research, test software for operations and participate in a project focused on coral restoration. Throughout these tasks, the crew will also analyze potential communications delays — those that would be encountered by scientists on a journey to Mars.
Bill Todd, project leader of NEEMO, says the crew will pioneer complex tasks on the seafloor, which uses the most advanced navigation tools meticulously engineered to mimic a Mars exploration mission.
Todd says equipment can fail, tasks can go on longer than expected, other tasks can go unplanned and communication can be difficult, but all cases are “equally beneficial.”
He believes that it is how astronauts learn so that they are prepared for the unexpected as they traverse the Martian surface someday.
Astronaut Reid Wiseman will lead the first eight days of the NEEMO project. In 2014, Wiseman had flown in space as part of Expedition 40 and 41. He spent 166 days aboard the ISS. Before joining NASA in 2009, he was a test pilot and naval aviator.
The second part of the NEEMO mission will then be commanded by astronaut Megan McArthur, who will live in the habitat for the entire two-week duration.
In 2009, McArthur flew on the STS-125 mission and served as Mission Control spacecraft communicator for space station and space shuttle missions. Before joining the space agency, McArthur worked on her doctorate in oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
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