A group of international NASA astronauts have begun undersea training to better prepare for future missions in deep space. This type of training is relatively inexpensive compared to any simulator NASA could have developed. The undersea environment and conditions do a good enough job to test how the crew will handle itself and their tasks in an unusual environment in different scenarios.
The undersea training is officially called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 21, or simply NEEMO 21. It consists of a 16-day training regimen that requires the participants to dive below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in order to reach the Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
During their undersea training, the crew’s main activity is to carry out research around the sanctuary to simulate their standard activity in a space mission. They will also perform ‘spacewalks’ while evaluating mission techniques and tools. Some of the tools they will test around the underwater habitat include a mini DNA sequencer, similar to the one that has been sent to the International Space Station, as well as a medical telemetry device.
Researchers who are part of the NEEMO crew, are tasked with gathering geological and biological samples. Technicians will have to test software for various operations, analyze problems and delays in the communication systems, and other potential problems they might encounter on a journey to Mars.
This has been emphasized by Bill Todd as well, the project leader of NEEMO. He said that the crew members would have to perform complex tasks on the sea floor using advanced navigation tools similar to those that will be used in a Mars exploration mission.
The first eight days of the undersea training will be led by Reid Wiseman, an astronaut with previous space experience aboard the ISS for 166 days. In the remaining days, Megan McArthur will assume command, and will live in the habitat for the remaining duration of the training exercise. In 2009, McArthur flew on the STS-125 mission and was a communicator for various space shuttle missions.
Do you think that undersea training can simulate the environment of deep space missions?
Image credit: NASA