NASA’s Deep Space Undersea Asteroid Mission –An Update

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Before humans explore an asteroid in space, a group of NASA astronauts and scientists were planning to test concepts and techniques for the future expeditions on a mock space rock on the ocean floor on October 17, but story turbulent seas  have forced a brief delay.

In this NASA image above , a configured rock wall can be seen near the underwater Aquarius laboratory of NASA's NEEMO 15 expedition that simulates a mission to an asteroid more than 62 feet (19 meters) below the ocean's surface, off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys.


NEEMO 15's prime mission objectives will be to test operational concepts needed to explore near-Earth asteroids. As the aquanauts operate and test these concepts, they will provide information and valuable feedback to NASA engineers.

Engineers are laying the foundations for the 15th expedition of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO 15 for short, which was scheduled to begin yesterday. Diving crews have set up the tools and rocky environment needed to simulate an asteroid landscape.

NEEMO expeditions take place at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, which rests more than 62 feet (19 meters) below the ocean's surface, off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

This year's NEEMO 15 expedition will simulate a trip to an asteroid, and the so-called "aquanauts" will investigate how best to anchor to the surface of a space rock and how to move around, said NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean.

To prepare for the 10-day mission, various tests were  conducted from May 9 to May 13 at the Aquarius laboratory. The NEEMO support team performed surface dives to lay out the test site, including configuring a rock wall, NASA officials said.

"The rock wall is going to be used to simulate the surface of an asteroid," Dean told SPACE.com. "For the engineering tests, it will be 16 by 12 feet. It's made of fiberglass panels. They'll try out different anchoring methods on it – drilling into it or using metal plates to simulate magnetic anchoring."

"Even experts don't know what the surface of an asteroid is going to be like," NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd said in a statement. "There may be asteroids that we don't even know about yet that we'll be visiting. So we're figuring out the best way to do that."

NEEMO 15's prime mission objectives will be to test operational concepts needed to explore near-Earth asteroids.

"Unlike Mars or the moon, asteroids have very little gravity," Dean said. "Performing spacewalks on asteroids will be similar to performing spacewalks at the space station. Performing the tasks underwater is one of the best ways to simulate what it would be like to perform them in space – that's why astronauts practice for spacewalks underwater at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory."

Manned deepwater submersibles that function as Space Exploration Vehicles (SEVs) will also be used, and the aquanauts will perform Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs) to assess the efficiency of different operations.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Neemo and space.com

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