Anyone want to take bets on what this astronaut was listening to? This is a short silent video of Thomas Pesquet, a European astronaut, doing a dance in the kitchen during NEEMO 18 — the latest NASA underwater mission to test asteroid technologies.
The challenge of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (and of living in space in general) is finding ways to stay entertained in isolated, confined environments. A lot of that comes down to group dynamics — having the team work well together. But there also is the need to have your own leisure time, and find the time to relax in between the packed activities.
And NEEMO 18, which began July 21, has been having extremely busy days. The nine-day mission aims to test out technologies that could be used for a human asteroid mission. The astronauts have been testing out techniques, for example, to do geological sampling with a 10-minute time delay in communications.
You can follow the NEEMO mission at their Twitter account, and catch more live views of the astronauts in these cameras. Pesquet will fly to the International Space Station in 2016.
How do we send humans to asteroids or Mars? While the answer is complex, one part of it is to say “a simulation mission at a time.” That’s one of the roles of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project, which now is seeing its 18th crew temporarily live in a habitat 62 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean’s waves.
Astronauts spend time in the small Aquarius habitat and every so often, venture outside — including right now that goes until about 1 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. UTC). Luckily for us virtual aquanauts, there are six possible livestreams to choose from — so have fun figuring out which is the best view! You can catch all the action at this web page.
And if you miss today’s, another one is scheduled for tomorrow around 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. UTC).
The NEEMO 18 crew includes Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA astronauts Jeanette Epps and Mark Vande Hei, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
“Today, during EVA tasks, Aki and Jeanette will deploy the boom, set up the core drill, and use it to collect samples from the ocean floor,” the NEEMO Facebook page stated.
Bust a move! Astronauts make regular trips into a shallow part of Key Largo to simulate asteroid missions and learn about procedures that could be used in space.
The new crews for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) were just named, which means we have more of these neat photos to look forward to. Check out some of the past crews’ activities below the jump.
Briefly, here’s a rundown of the next two missions:
– NEEMO 18 (July 21, nine days): ” Behavioral health and performance, human health issues, and habitability,” says NASA. Crew members: Akihiko Hoshide (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Jeanette Epps (NASA), Mark Vande Hei (NASA) and Thomas Pesquet (ESA)
– NEEMO 19 (Sept. 7, seven days): “The evaluation of tele-mentoring operations for ESA. Telementoring is when a crew member is given instruction for a task by an expert who is located remotely but is virtually present via a video and voice connection,” NASA says. Crew members: Randy Bresnik (NASA), Jeremy Hansen (Canadian Space Agency), Andreas Mogensen (ESA), and non-astronaut Herve Stevenin, ESA’s head of extra-vehicular activity training.
Just about any space mission these days requires water training. Think of the countless hours astronauts spend in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, practicing the steps to do spacewalks. Then there are the crews that actually live in the ocean for days at a time on NASA’s NEEMO missions.
Long before these “aquanauts” added flippers to their list of equipment, however, the U.S. Navy was busy exploring the depths of the ocean. Today – Jan. 23 – marks the anniversary of the Bathyscaphe Trieste’s descent to the bottom of the ocean in 1960. This was the first time a vessel, manned or unmanned, had reached the deepest known point of the Earth’s oceans, the Mariana Trench.
Trieste was at first operated by the French Navy, which operated it for several years in the Mediterranean Sea, but the US Navy purchased the Trieste in 1958.
Although two men took the ride down, all accounts say that it was an isolating experience. Jacques Piccard – well-known today for his exploration of the oceans – and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh descended about 11 kilometers (7 miles) to the bottom.
Fighting with poor communications and high pressure – which cracked a window at 30,000 feet below the surface – the crew made their way to ocean floor. They worked in a tiny sphere only 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide, and according to the University of Delaware, the interior reached frigid temperatures of 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit) during their successful descent and return.
Spaceflight and deep-ocean diving share many similarities, as this mission demonstrated. The early days of the space program had communications blackouts as spaceships flew between stations; this proved to be a near-disaster for the Gemini 8 crew in 1966 when their spacecraft spun out of control during a period with no voice connection to the ground.
Also, sustaining life is no less challenging in the water as it is in space. Humans require oxygen, pressure and a comfortable environment where they work. Crews in space have faced serious problems with all of these matters before – Mir suffered a partial depressurization in 1997, and the early days of the Skylab space station were rather hot until the astronauts could deploy a sunshade.
Walsh was not available for an interview with Universe Today due to travel, but in a 2012 BBC interview he noted that he had reserved confidence that they would make it to the bottom.
“I knew the machine well enough, at that point, to know that theoretically, it could be done,” Walsh recalled.
The mens’ feat would go unrepeated for decades, until in 2012 Hollywood director James Cameron made the descent again – alone, although certainly equipped with more modern technology. For comparison, only one American has flown solo in space since the 1960s; in 2004, Mike Melvill piloted SpaceShipOne into suborbital space twice as part of the Ansari X-Prize win.
NASA evacuated its crew of NEEMO underwater “aquanauts” from a deep sea laboratory off the coast of Key Largo, Florida where they were simulating a mission to an asteroid. With Hurricane Rina bearing down on the Gulf of Mexico, NASA decided to play it safe.
“Crew decompressed overnight and will return to surface shortly. Hurricane Rina just a little too close for comfort,” said the NASA_NEEMO Twitter feed early this morning.
The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) team came to the surface and climbed aboard support boats, returning to land by about 9:00 am EDT, (1300 GMT).
The underwater mission began on Oct. 20, after an initial delay caused by another storm in the area.
The NEEMO crew — the 15th such underwater mission — conducted six underwater spacewalks and one day of scientific research inside the underwater Aquarius habitat, focusing on operational concepts that might be used in human exploration of an asteroid. The crew completed four days of scientific asteroid exploration analog operations using the deep worker submersibles that stood in for the Space Exploration Vehicle.
“This is a good way to learn techniques that we’ll need to use on other bodies in the solar system, without actually going into space,” said Commander and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker during a videoconference conversation with reporters on Monday from the underwater habitat.
The crew also included Mars scientist Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator with the Mars Exploration Rover mission.
“Asteroids are leftovers from formation of solar system, so by studying them we can learn about the building blocks of the solar system and understand how planets form,” Squyres said during the videoconference. “Going to asteroids will be a wonderful stepping stone to other destinations in the solar system, and we can flex our deep space muscles and learn how to do the things we want and need to do as we venture off of Earth.”
The six-member NEEMO crew also included Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Even though the mission was cut short, the remainder of NEEMO 15 will not be rescheduled. “Despite the length, we accomplished a significant amount of research,” said NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd. “We’re already learning lessons from working in this environment.”
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.
One of our favorite astronauts, Chris Hadfield from Canada, was recently part of the NEEMO-14 crew — NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations — who spent two weeks in an underwater habitat simulating a long-duration space mission. The crew put together this great video showing what it would be like to walk and jump on the Moon, Mars and an asteroid. The “Aquanauts” and support divers are weighted down to simulate the different gravity. There’s also a jet pack demonstration, which the crew decided is needed for any future mission to an asteroid!
Talking with the astronauts living in the NEEMO habitat – NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations – is a bit like talking with Darth Vader; there’s a regular hiss of air intake and outflow in the background. But the ever-present pastel blue hue in the webcam feed lets you know these astronauts aren’t in space. They are living and working in an underwater habitat, 20 meters (70 feet) under the ocean, just off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. What are NASA astronauts doing under the sea?
“This is the closest thing to spaceflight I’ve ever had in all my NASA training,” astronaut Tom Marshburn told Universe Today in the midst of his 14-day stay in NEEMO. “It is very real. Our lives are completely dependent on our habitat, we have to follow checklists and procedures to be safe, we have to watch out for each other, we’re in a tight confined space and doing real work that will help future space missions. So, in all ways it is much like spaceflight, including having a great view out the window.”
Except in space, there wouldn’t be a giant grouper peering through the portal.
The habitat, called Aquarius, is the world’s only undersea laboratory. Mainly it is used for marine research but NASA has found it has great utility for training crews to live in space. “It’s the closest thing to spaceflight without going to space,” Marshburn said. “We’re able to do operational research, work that is applicable to what we need to know about flying in space. We also do life sciences research and some marine research.”
Joining Marshburn is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is the commander for this undersea mission, as well as the Lunar Electric Rover Deputy Project Manager Andrew Abercromby and Steve Chappell, a research scientist, along with two technicians.
Aquarius itself is a long cylinder, “like a couple of Winnebagos set end to end,” Marshburn said, with a box-like entry at one end called the Wet Porch.
“When we dive into the Wet Porch, there is no hatch. The air pressure keeps the water out. There is cool pneumatic sliding door like something out of Star Trek, and you just walk on in. There’s a galley where we eat backpacking type food, we sleep in a bunk room. There’s six of us in a room about the size of a closet. You get to know your crewmates really well.”
The main working area of Aquarius is filled with valves, dials and lit panels. “It’s a lot like a spaceship,” Marshburn said.
Marshburn and Hadfield are members of the 14th NEEMO crew. The tasks and objectives for their mission, besides giving them training for a long-duration space mission is to do operational research on spacesuits for different gravity and environment requirements (on an asteroid, Mars or on the Moon).
“As you may know, astronauts train underwater in spacesuits, so this is a great place to work on spacesuit design,” said Marshburn, “specifically finding where the center of gravity is and what mobility issues there might be. Instead of just diving in the pool, it turns out we can get a lot more done by being down here and going out with the equipment on the sea floor, and be able to spend hours working on spacesuit design.”
The NEEMO 14 crew is doing intense research on the center of gravity and how that affects the ability to perform standard tasks, and helping spacesuit designers increase range of motion and maintain the comfort level for the astronauts on different planetary surfaces.
“If we want to explore an asteroid, how do you move around without handholds or something to grab on to?” said Hadfield in a press conference from Aquarius. “Where should the center of mass be for mundane tasks like picking things up or shoveling, or for complex tasks like rescuing a injured crew member? We’re finding that sometimes the center of gravity that is completely wrong on Earth — that would give you a backache in a matter of minutes — works better in a different gravity environment. And that’s what we are trying to figure out. If what we’re finding out is a surprise, that means our simulation is really doing its job.”
The suits can be weighted out to simulate different gravity. The crews do “EVAs” — like spacewalks, going outside every morning and afternoon.
On the ocean floor are also mockups of a lunar rover and lander. Tests for these include hatch design, and ingress and egress simulations. The crew is also doing life sciences experiments, themselves being the subjects. “We’re in a hyper-oxygen environment,” said Marshburn, “that plus living in a confined environment is a lot like living in space and it puts our bodies under stress, so that is being studied, as well as psychological studies. We’re trying to maximize our time down here, so we’re also doing marine geology research.” They also do regular maintenance of the exterior of the habitat.
Marshburn said future designs for spacesuits, rovers, and landers will be based, in part, on what is learned from the NEEMO missions.
This past week the crew has been in a Mars communication simulation, where there is a 20 minute delay each way for messages – both written and spoken — back and forth from “ground control” on the Earth’s surface. “That has really changed things,” Hadfield said, “it increases our level of isolation. It’s just the six of us with each other with only peripheral help. It forces us to make our own decisions.”
However, the crew has been Twittering during the mission is real-time, an activity Hadfield said he was initially suspicious of. “Twittering was foreign to me, and I only knew it would increase the crew’s work load.”
But what does he think about it now?
“I am delighted with what it has done,” Hadfield said, “not only with our ability to interact with the world, but it forces us to express what we are thinking about. This experience, and the experience of spaceflight is so remarkable that you really shouldn’t horde something that is important to you, or something remarkable that happens. So thousands of people now are following what we are doing down here. This new technology to spread the human experience has allowed us to better articulate to each other, too.”
Hadfield said he is a big proponent of Twitter now, as schools and other organizations have been able to be part of the NEEMO 14 mission.
The mission started on May 10, and the crew will “depressurize” over the weekend to prepare for returning to the surface early next week. It takes at least 16 hours to get the excess oxygen out of their blood. If there would be an emergency, there are backup plans for getting the crew out and keeping them underwater and depressurizing.
Hadfield will be taking a turn on a future long duration space station mission and Marshburn said he is in line for tour of duty on the ISS as well.
“This is best spaceflight simulation I’ve ever had,” he said. “NASA likes to keep their astronauts trained, and believe me, this is worth it. It is very cool.”