Mars and the ocean bottom both offer extreme conditions that make training underwater apply to a space environment
An international crew of NASA astronauts has been training in an extreme environment since July 21, but that environment is literally the opposite of what might be expected for space training. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is training underwater, on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys. The undersea Aquarius Reef Base will be their training station for 16 days, in which they will train for a future journey to Mars and other deep space missions.
The astronauts, now considered aquanauts, are assessing tools and mission operation techniques that will be needed on space missions. They are pioneering complex tasks that use the most advanced underwater science and navigation tools, carefully choreographed to simulate a Mars exploration traverse.
During these simulated spacewalks, the grew will be gathering samples for geology and marine biology studies, participate in coral restoration activities and test software for managing operations. Another big feature of the exercise is testing communications and learning to deal with the delay that is similar to what they will encounter on a mission to Mars. Working and moving in the ocean environment is simlar to life and work conditions in a spacecraft, and also offers microgravity conditions similar to that of the International Space Station.
According to NEEMO Project Lead Bill Todd, equipment can fail and tasks can take substantially longer than expected in space, while other tasks go as planned. All the experience is valuable in preparing the astronauts for the unexpected when they some day travel to Mars.
The team is spending the 16-day exercise living 60 feet below the ocean surface about 6.2 miles off the coast of Key Largo. They will be performing research both inside and outside the habitat.
Image credit: NASA/Karl Shreeves