NASA will be launching an undersea exploration mission in the Atlantic Ocean on October 17, 2011.
Staffed by an international team of astronauts, the 15th expedition of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) will allow the space agency to address potential engineering challenges that could arise during a crewed mission to an asteroid.
Led by NASA astronaut and former International Space Station (ISS) crew member Shannon Walker, the 13-day undersea mission is slated to be held aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Florida.
NEEMO 15 will be the first of the undersea missions to simulate a visit to an asteroid. In May, a team of aquanauts set the stage for the tests by working through some of the concepts in an effort to improve efficiency.
"NEEMO 15 will require complex choreography between the submarines and aquanauts living and working in their undersea home," explained NEEMO project manager Bill Todd.
"Researching the challenges of exploring an asteroid surface in the undersea realm will be exciting for fans of exploration pioneers Cousteau and Armstrong alike."
According to Todd, NEEMO 15 has been tapped to investigate three aspects of a mission to an asteroid: how to anchor to the surface; how to move around; and how best to collect data.
Unlike the moon or Mars, an asteroid would have little, if any, gravity to hold astronauts or vehicles, so an anchor will be necessary.
NEEMO 15 will also test various anchoring methods and explore how to connect multiple anchors to form pathways, while evaluating different strategies for deploying instruments and moving along a surface without gravity.