WASHINGTON – An international crew of astronauts will venture into the Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 17 to test innovative solutions to engineering challenges during a crewed mission to an asteroid.
NASA astronaut and former International Space Station crew member Shannon Walker will lead the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a13-day undersea mission aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla.
Aquarius is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
The NEEMO crew also includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. They are members of the 2009 NASA astronaut class. Rounding out the crew is Steven Squyres of Cornell University, James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts.
In addition, NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike Gernhardt, all veteran spacewalkers, will participate in the NEEMO mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they will pilot. The DeepWorker is a small submarine used as an underwater stand-in for the Space Exploration Vehicle, which might someday be used to explore the surface of an asteroid.
Jeremy Hansen and Jeanette Epps, members of the 2009 astronaut class, are the capsule communicators for the mission. Hansen is from the Canadian Space Agency, and Epps from NASA.
To request interviews with the NEEMO 15 crew during the mission, contact Brandi Dean at email@example.com; Julie Simard of the Canadian Space Agency at 450-926-4370; Takefumi Wakamatsu of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency at 281-792-7486; or Fred Gorell of NOAA at 301-734-1010.
NEEMO 15 will be the first of the undersea missions to simulate a visit to an asteroid. In May, a team of aquanauts set the stage for the tests by working through some of the concepts in an effort to improve efficiency.
“NEEMO 15 will require complex choreography between the submarines and aquanauts living and working in their undersea home,” said Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager. “Researching the challenges of exploring an asteroid surface in the undersea realm will be exciting for fans of exploration pioneers Cousteau and Armstrong alike.”
NEEMO 15 will investigate three aspects of a mission to an asteroid: how to anchor to the surface; how to move around; and how best to collect data. Unlike the moon or Mars, an asteroid would have little, if any, gravity to hold astronauts or vehicles, so an anchor will be necessary.
NEEMO 15 will evaluate different anchoring methods and how to connect the multiple anchors to form pathways. The aquanauts and engineers will evaluate different strategies for deploying instruments and moving along a surface without gravity.
For more information about NEEMO and links to follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter, visit:
For more information about NASA field tests, visit:
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J.D. Harrington/ Michael J. Braukus
Johnson Space Center, Houston