NEEMO aquanaut performing extra-vehicular activity (EVA) outside the Aquarius undersea laboratory. Image credit: NASA

From October 17-29, 2011, the crew of NEEMO 15 will leave the comforts of surface life, and immerse themselves in an undersea world of adventure. This will not be a vacation, as nearly every moment of their 13-day mission will be filled with tests and operations, designed to help NASA understand the factors relevant to actual space missions.

Primary objectives are to test the equipment and operational concepts needed for exploration to near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). This near-zero gravity environment presents a unique challenge where anchoring, tethering, and translating devices will be necessary for surface operations.

Manned deepwater submersibles acting as Space Exploration Vehicles (SEVs) will interact with Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) crewmembers to test the efficiency of different operations:

* NEA attachment/translation/sampling methods/instrument deployment,
* One SEV vs. none vs. two SEVs on effectiveness/efficiency,
* SEV & EVA crew interactions; tethered, robotic arm, foot restraints,
* Effects of crew size (3 vs. 4) on effectiveness/efficiency, and
* Suit center of gravity (CG)/mass/gravity level research to optimize for flexible missions.

Engineering tests were conducted May 9-13, 2011, at Aquarius. The NEEMO support team performed surface dives to configure and lay out test sites, including a rock wall. All communication systems were tested and preparations made for the main October mission.

NASA astronaut and former International Space Station crew member Shannon Walker will lead the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a13-day undersea mission aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla.

Aquarius is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

The NEEMO crew also includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. They are members of the 2009 NASA astronaut class. Rounding out the crew is Steven Squyres of Cornell University, James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts.

In addition, NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike Gernhardt, all veteran spacewalkers, will participate in the NEEMO mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they will pilot. The DeepWorker is a small submarine used as an underwater stand-in for the Space Exploration Vehicle, which might someday be used to explore the surface of an asteroid.

Jeremy Hansen and Jeanette Epps, members of the 2009 astronaut class, are the capsule communicators for the mission. Hansen is from the Canadian Space Agency, and Epps from NASA.

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,” said Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager. “Researching the challenges of exploring an asteroid surface in the undersea realm will be exciting for fans of exploration pioneers Cousteau and Armstrong alike.”

NEEMO 15 will 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 evaluate different anchoring methods and how to connect the multiple anchors to form pathways. The aquanauts and engineers will evaluate different strategies for deploying instruments and moving along a surface without gravity.

For more information about NEEMO and links to follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter, visit:

For more information about NASA field tests, visit:

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: NASA

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