NASA’s underwater ‘asteroid’ mission

KEY LARGO, FL – A team of astronauts and scientists are living and working on the ocean floor as part of a simulated trip to an asteroid.

Six “aquanauts” are experimenting with different ways to anchor to an asteroid, explore its surface, and perform science on the space rock. The mission is the 15th expedition of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, and the first to simulate aspects of a manned mission to an asteroid.

The crewmembers splashed down on Oct. 20 and are living at the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, which sits 60 feet below the Atlantic Ocean, about 3 1/2 miles off the shore of Key Largo, Fla. NASA uses the facility, which is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to approximate the weightless conditions in space and on an asteroid.

NEEMO 15 will test various concepts of how to anchor to an asteroid, travel around on its surface, and perform science experiments on a mock asteroid landscape that was assembled on the ocean floor. The aquanauts will also test the effectiveness of using jetpacks to maneuver around, and will work in tandem with a DeepWorker submersible, which is a small submarine that is being used in place of a rover that is under development for a future asteroid mission.

In addition to extravehicular activities, the aquanauts will also participate in behavioral science projects that focus on how to cope with emergency scenarios or a loss or delay in communication with Mission Control. (Source: space.com)

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