Deep-Sea Lab Will Train Astronauts for Asteroid Mission
Located 19 meters underneath the surface, a few meters off Key Largo, four U.S. astronauts prepare for a mission that will take them to the surface of an asteroid: by training in an underwater laboratory.
The astronauts live in close quarter, and can only venture out into the surrounding ocean waters. The four astronauts simulate the daily routine they would normally take if they were living on an asteroid, collecting rock samples orbiting the Earth.
This effort is part of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program, which looks to test concepts related to future visits to near-Earth asteroids by spending nine days within a 37-square-meter underwater lab called Aquarius.
"Commander Aki and I, we had to get ready to go out to do one of the mock spacewalks that we do underwater, and that took a little bit of time to get up and running because we had a few issues with communication in our helmets so that we can be able to talk to the crew inside the habitat and the topside," said Epps about their crew experiencing real-life problems.
Because they are living 19 meters beneath the surface, they don't have to decompress each time they leave the Aquarius, and can dive for longer periods of time.
"We're all wearing badges that track, together with other parameters, our proximity or social interaction, for understanding better which reactions people have in such close environments to apply this knowledge for future exploration missions," said astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
Aboard the lab are "aquanauts", technicians with specific knowledge and experience in the undersea laboratory. They make sure that everything on-board functions properly, including the mock suits the astronauts wear.
"They are the people behind the scenes," said Japanese astronaut Akihiko said. "We just do the mission but without their help we can't do anything."
Project NEEMO will train NASA astronauts for the extreme environments they will encounter in future space missions.