With the first manned mission to an asteroid planned for 2025, NASA has sent an international group of “aquanauts” to the ocean floor off the Florida coast to test concepts for such a mission. The four-person crew will spend 12 days 63 feet (19 m) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the Aquarius lab located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as part of the 16th excursion of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program.
During their stay, the NEEMO team members, including NASA Astronaut and mission Commander Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Timothy Peake, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Astronaut Kimiya Yui, and Goldwin Smith professor of astronomy at Cornell University and chairman of the NASA Advisory Council Steven W. Squyers, will take advantage of the isolation and microgravity environment under the waves to simulate a space environment and test concepts for how a future asteroid exploration mission might best be conducted.
The NEEMO 16 mission will see the crew investigating communication delays, restraint and translation techniques, and the optimum crew size for a future potential asteroid mission. NASA has already begun development on the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that would transport astronauts to deep space to explore not only near-Earth asteroids, but also Mars and its moons, and beyond.
The NEEMO 16 crew members began their mission on June 11, and their progress can be monitored via the NEEMO website.