The sight of NASA mission specialists performing mission training underwater has been fairly common over the years. On October 15th, NASA astronaut and former ISS crew member Shannon Walker will lead a different kind of underwater training mission. Walker will be leading the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), and interestingly, the crew includes Steve Squyres, head of the Mars Rover Exploration Project.
What makes NEEMO different from the other NASA underwater training simulations we’ve seen in the past?
With manned exploration of an asteroid on NASA’s roadmap, new technologies and procedures need to be created in order to ensure astronaut safety and achieve mission science goals. The NEEMO program at NASA will be putting experts to the task of developing solutions to the new challenges presented with near-Earth asteroid exploration. During NEEMO 15, NASA will test new tools, techniques and communication technologies.
Before now, NASA hasn’t given much thought to the operations necessary for a manned mission to an asteroid. With the nearly non-existent surface gravity of an asteroid, astronauts won’t be able to walk on the surface. One idea being tested is for the astronauts to anchor themselves to the asteroid. One difficulty with using anchors is that not all asteroids are made of the same materials – some asteroids are mostly metal, others are loose rubble and some are a mix of rock, metal and dust. Underwater testing on the ocean floor provides an environment that is perfectly suited for the NEEMO 15 mission, allowing NASA to simulate an environment with weak gravity and diverse materials.
There are three main goals for the NEEMO 15 mission. First NASA will test methods for anchoring to the surface of the asteroid. Moving on the surface of an asteroid will require a method of connecting multiple anchors. The second major goal of the mission is to determine the best way to connect the anchor system. The third major goal will explore methods of collecting samples on the surface of an asteroid.
In addition to mission leader Shannon Walker, and Steve Squyres, the crew of NEEMO 15 includes astronaut Takuya Onishi (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and David Saint-Jacques (Canadian Space Agency). Also joining the astronauts on the NEEMO 15 crew are: James Talacek and Nate Bender (University of North Carolina). Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit and Opportunity) mission, while Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts.
Serving as support crew, NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike Gernhardt, will participate in the NEEMO mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they will pilot. NASA is using the DeepWorker submarine as an underwater stand-in for the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) which NASA has been testing separately in the “Desert RATS” field trial mission.
If you’d like to learn more about NASA’s NEEMO field test mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/neemo
You can view information on the NEEMO 15 crew at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NEEMO/NEEMO15/crew.html, and follow the mission on Twitter and Facebook
Source: NASA NEEMO Press Release