[image-51]On June 11, NASA sent the 16th aquanaut crew to live for two weeks in Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory. NASA leases the laboratory each year from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct research and simulate mission activities in the water's low gravity.
NEEMO missions are performed at Aquarius because the isolation, constrained habitat and crew quarters, harsh environment, and reduced gravity challenge aquanauts to perform mission operations despite extremely formidable conditions. Much like space, the undersea world is a hostile, alien place for humans to live. NEEMO crew members experience some of the same challenges there that they would on a distant asteroid, planet or moon.
The NEEMO 16 objectives focus on asteroid mission scenarios, but the operational and technical concepts that the team is investigating are common to any long-duration human exploration mission:
What techniques for anchoring and performing mission operations will be most effective for exploration of an asteroid?
What robotic systems will best optimize crew activities?
How will Earth-bound mission control centers communicate with the crew?
How many crew members are needed to explore a deep space destination such as an asteroid? Would Apollo’s three-person crews be sufficient, or should an extra person or two be added?
How should mission activities be distributed among crew members up upon reaching the asteroid?
What effects will communications time delays have on mission operations and behavioral health?
Testing these mission concepts in the weightless underwater environment helps NASA understand the challenges of sending humans to explore an asteroid. Long-duration NEEMO missions provide astronauts with a realistic approximation of situations they will likely encounter on missions in deep space and provide an understanding of how to carry out daily operations in a simulated planetary environment.