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Sept. 9, 2002

Kelly Humphries
Johnson Space Center, Houston,TX
(281) 483-5111

Jana Goldman
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
(301) 713-2483

Release: #J02-90 -- Flight Director, Two Astronauts Part of Next Aquanaut Crew; Media Invited to Crew News Conference in Key Largo

A veteran NASA flight director familiar with leading Mission Control for space shuttle and space station missions, but not with being part of the vehicle crew will join two flown astronauts and a support scientist on the next mission to the undersea laboratory "Aquarius."

Astronaut Scott Kelly will command the crew of this year's third NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission Sept. 16-24, and be joined by Flight Director Paul Hill, spacewalk veteran Astronaut Rex Walheim and space station support scientist Jessica Meir. The quartet will serve as the NASA members of a crew that will live in the "Aquarius" Underwater Research Facility for nine days.

Media are invited to participate in a crew news conference and tour the surface support center in Key Largo on Friday, Sept. 20. Media wishing to participate must contact the JSC newsroom no later than 4 p.m. Sept. 12 for accreditation. Transportation to the Key Largo surface support center will be the responsibility of those wishing to participate; instructions and directions will be available upon accreditation.

The crew will use the undersea habitat as practice for long-duration space habitation, living in a volume similar to the habitation module of the International Space Station, conducting scientific research on the human body and coral reef environment off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., and building undersea structures to simulate space station assembly spacewalk activities.

"Living underwater is the closest parallel to living in space in many ways in that they are both extreme environments," said Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager at JSC. "The time frame for missions involves long periods of time away from normal environments and families. Communication with others is not always immediate. Because of the fact that in both environments one cannot readily come home, repairs or replacements must be able to be made on the spot, if necessary."

The NEEMO missions are a cooperative project of NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). They use Aquarius, the only undersea research laboratory in the world, which is owned by NOAA and managed by UNCW. The 14-meter-long (45 feet) by 4-meter-diameter (13 feet) underwater home and laboratory operates 4.5 kilometers (3 miles) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Similar in size to the International Space Station's Zvezda Service Module, it is situated next to deep coral reefs and provides life support systems that allow scientists to live and work in reasonably comfortable quarters. The facility is supported by a 10-meter life support buoy on the surface which provides power, life support and communication requirements. There is also a shore-based "mission control" which supports all Aquarius missions with 24-hour mission monitoring. This mission also will be supported by JSC's Exploration Planning and Operations Center (ExPOC) control room, simulating the interactions between astronauts and control rooms on spaceflights.

In addition to research and construction, the NEEMO crew also will participate in three educational "point-to-point" videoconferences and a web chat while in its underwater habitat. The first event will be the web chat, a cooperative effort of JSC's Distance Learning Outpost (DLO) and NASA Ames Research Center's Quest project at 11 a.m. CDT Sept. 18. For more information on the web chat, visit:

http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/

Students from Ferguson Elementary School in League City, Texas, and Seabrook (Texas) Intermediate School will be able to see live television pictures and talk with the crewmembers via JSC's DLO videoconferencing system at 10:45 a.m. CDT Sept. 19. That same day, students from Ferguson will be joined by students visiting the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for a second videoconference at 11:30 a.m. CDT. For more information about the Distance Learning Outpost and other JSC educational programs, visit:

http://education.jsc.nasa.gov

For additional information about the NEEMO project, visit the NASA Human Spaceflight Web at:

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov

For more information about Aquarius, visit:

http://www.uncwil.edu/nurc/aquarius/

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