NASA Astronauts Work Undersea For The Future Of Space Missions
June 10, 2014

NASA Astronauts Work Undersea For The Future Of Space Missions

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

With frequent missions to space hampered by costs and logistics, NASA has developed the next best thing – a station at the bottom of the sea where astronauts can conduct activities that will inform future International Space Station and exploration missions.

The program, called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), will once again send aquanauts to a man-made underwater habitat off the coast of Florida this summer, the space agency has announced.

“It is both challenging and exciting for our astronaut crews to participate in these undersea missions in preparation for spaceflight,” said Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It is critical that we perform science applicable to NASA’s exploration goals in a high-fidelity space operational context. The extreme environment of life undersea is as close to being in space as possible.”

Commanded by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, the upcoming NEEMO 18 mission will begin July 21 and focus on research in behavioral health and performance, human health issues, and habitability. NASA astronauts Jeanette Epps and Mark Vande Hei – as well as European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet – will also be on the NEEMO 18 mission.

“Exploration doesn’t just happen – you have to make it happen, step by step, with projects like this,” Pesquet said. “The day someone, perhaps an astronaut from the European astronaut corps, takes a small step on Mars or celestial body, it will be due to these coordinated international efforts that will have paved the way."

On Sept. 7, the seven-day NEEMO 19 will begin and one of its focuses will be on the assessment of the ESA’s tele-mentoring operations. Telementoring is when a crew member receives instruction for a task by a remote expert who is connected to the mission via a video and voice communication. NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik will command this second mission, which will include Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen and ESA astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Herve Stevenin.

“It is a privilege to be part of the crew with three astronauts,” said Stevenin. “I am looking forward to take part in this outstanding project to test future concepts for space operations as well as evaluating spacewalk tools, techniques and man–machine interfaces for future space exploration beyond the International Space Station.”

Both NEEMO missions will include engineering investigations and the evaluation of training techniques to be used on the ISS and in asteroid exploration. These objectives will center on assessing man-machine work systems and tools and techniques to be used in a range of gravity environments.

The missions also will examine tools to help astronauts understand new techniques while in flight. One such resource for the "just in time training" that is transported to the team in orbit is "intuitive procedures." These procedures use a combination of text, images, and videos to teach the crew on the way to perform a process that they were never trained on, and are provided in a way to ensure that the crew understands it rapidly.

The mission will also test numerous technologies being developed by the ESA.

“NEEMO is an excellent opportunity to test some of the mobile computer technology that ESA is developing for space, which I will use during my mission to the (ISS),” Mogensen said in a statement.