NEEMO 21 mission involves an international NASA crew of astronauts, scientists, and engineers that ventures to the deep ocean to train for deep space missions, including a journey to Mars. The exercises will be performed during 16 days at the Aquarius station, and the training includes simulations of spacewalks, exploring tools and techniques, and working with machinery in microgravity.
Today is the 5th day of the training. The expedition started on July 21, and the NASA crew will resurface in August. The goal of the exercises is to prepare astronauts for future missions that will send humans to an asteroid (by 2025) and to send the first human mission to Mars in the 2030s, says NASA. But the training is also useful for missions to the International Space Station and trips to the moon.
The close quarters of Aquarius station simulate the conditions of a space station located 20m underwater. And the Atlantic Ocean mimics the extreme environment of the Red Planet.
The team is commanded by NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman the first eight days of the NEEMO 21 mission, and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will lead the other half of the expedition. Wiseman was a naval aviator and test pilot before joining NASA, and he was part of the Expedition 40/41 in 2014 where he had to live and work 166 days on the International Space Station.
McArthur profile includes a flight on the STS-125 shuttle mission in 2009 and her service as Mission Control spacecraft communicator for the space shuttle and space station missions. Before being a NASA member, McArthur obtained a doctorate in oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
In collaboration with @coralcrf, our first simulated spacewalk is an assembly task: two aquanauts will be building a coral nursery.
— NASA_NEEMO (@NASA_NEEMO) July 22, 2016
The European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Matthias Maurer is going to be part of the whole training, and Marc O’Griofa, chief medical and technology officer for Noninvasive Medical Technologies Inc., will stay on the mission for eight days.
For the second half of the mission Dawn Kernagis, a scientist from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Research, and Naval Postgraduate School Researcher Noel Du Toit, will join the crew and the training exercises, NASA reports.
Working hard under the sea: astronauts will experiment and test new tools
NASA says that NEEMO Project Lead Bill Todd stated the crew would execute complex tasks on the seafloor using the most advanced underwater navigation and science instruments to simulate a Mars expedition.
New Scientist reports that one of the main exercises is to leave the Aquarius base to simulate spacewalks and pilot underwater vehicles to prepare the team for 0 gravity conditions.
Inside Aquarius, McArthur tested a mini DNA sequencer on the first day, and she will also test a telemedicine device. The DNA sequencer is hoped to be used in the International Space Station if it approved after the NEEMO mission. And according to New Scientist, other medical experiments, which seek to generate a symptom of aging found in chromosome telomeres, are also going to be performed.
The European Space Agency’s mobiPV and the Aquapad
Communications exercises will imitate the delay between Mars and Earth – which is about 15 minutes – and the prototype headset from the ESA will be tested. The headset is called the mobiPV and allows astronauts to streams video with audio back to base hands-free. The first time the mobiPV was used was also in a previous underwater 10-day mission and if it works correctly at the Aquarius station, a second flight version will fly to the Space Station in 2017.
But the astronauts are not by themselves; a ground control will follow them with their mobiPV, which was also previously tested. The ground control will be used during a mission in November by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
The European Space Agency reports that the mobiPV is not only for communication, the headset will also help the aquanauts to take and analyze water samples to test an ESA-lead investigation, the Aquapad. The device is being tested to see if it is possible to filter water cheaply and efficiently using a new type of biomimetic membrane that mimics nature.
Hervé Stevenin of the European Space Agency said in a press release that the primary goal is to prepare for Mars, but what the astronauts learn undersea is also applicable to a manned moon mission.
The ESA’s websites report that Matthias Maurer said that even if the training is not in the space, it takes over 16 hours to decompress and return to the surface, which is longer than it would take to come back to Earth from the International Space Station. And that is the goal, to prepare this crew to the extreme environment in space.
The NEEMO 21 is possible thanks to the Human Health and Performance Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center with funding from ESA and partnerships with the Naval Postgraduate School. The mission also praised Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, TeloRegen, Vega Telehealth, and Johns Hopkins, NASA’s official website informs. It’s worth mentioning NASA has come a long way since the first NEEMO mission began in 2001.