NASA will send two astronauts, a veteran undersea engineer and an experienced scientist into the ocean depths off Florida's east coast this month to test exploration concepts and learn more about working in an unforgiving, treacherous environment.
The 14th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO 14, begins May 10.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut and veteran spacewalker Chris Hadfield will lead the NASA team on a 14-day undersea mission aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory.
Take a virtual tour to learn more about the NOAA, Aquarius Underwater Laboratory: America's "Inner Space" Station.
Aquarius is the only undersea laboratory dedicated to marine science operating in the world.
Owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), Aquarius operates 4.5 kilometers offshore of Key Largo, Florida 20 meters beneath the surface.
Aquarius Underwater Laboratory is marked with a yellow life support buoy that is 30' in diameter. The depth of the water where it sits is 63'. The reef wall outside the lab drops off to 160'-180'. There are yellow Sanctuary Preservation Area research only buoys that mark the site. It’s located 5 miles southeast of Tavernier at Conch Reef.
Location on the Marine GeoGarage (24°57.010' N/80°27.130' W)
During NEEMO 14, the ocean floor will simulate aspects of another planet's surface and a low-gravity environment. In October 2009, a team of aquanauts set the stage for NEEMO 14 by placing mockups near Aquarius of a lander, rover and small crane that simulates a robotic arm.
The NEEMO 14 crew will live aboard the underwater laboratory, venture out on simulated spacewalks, operate the crane and maneuver the vehicles much like explorers would in setting up a habitat on another planet. As the aquanauts interact with these developing technologies, they will provide information and feedback to NASA engineers.
The crew will simulate removing a mockup of the Lunar Electric Rover from the lander, retrieve small payloads from the lander and the ocean floor, and simulate the transfer of an incapacitated astronaut from the ocean floor to the deck of the craft. The rover and lander mockups are similar in size to vehicles NASA is considering for future planetary exploration.
While inside Aquarius, the crew will perform life science experiments focused on human behavior, performance and physiology. The mission also includes a study of autonomous crew work. There will be periods when there is limited communication between the crew and the mission control center, much like what could happen during missions to the moon or Mars.