An international crew of aquanauts is settling into its
home on the ocean floor, where the team tests concepts for a potential
asteroid mission. The expedition is the 16th
excursion of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).
The crew of four began its mission in the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Reef Base undersea research
habitat off the coast of Key Largo.
NEEMO sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in
the Aquarius lab, 63 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
The laboratory is located in the Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary. For NASA, Aquarius provides a convincing simulation to
space exploration, and NEEMO crew members experience some of the same
tasks and challenges under water that they would in space.
The NEEMO 16 mission will focus on three areas related to asteroid
missions. The crew of aquanauts will investigate communication
delays, restraint and translation techniques, and optimum crew size.
The isolation and microgravity environment of the ocean floor allows
the NEEMO 16 crew to study and test concepts for how future
exploration of asteroids might be conducted. NASA's Orion spacecraft
and the Space Launch System rocket, which currently are in
development, will allow people to begin exploring beyond the
boundaries of Earth's orbit. The first human mission to an asteroid
is planned for 2025.
NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger of NASA will be joined
by European Space Agency astronaut Timothy Peake; Japan Aerospace
Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui; and Steven W. Squyres,
Goldwin Smith professor of astronomy at Cornell University and
chairman of the NASA Advisory Council. Squyres also was a member of
The NEEMO crew members will be chronicling their mission using several
social media outlets, blogs and live video streams from the crews'
helmets, the air lock and outside the habitat.