One of NASA’s goals is to send astronauts to an asteroid in the future, something that’s never been done. While the hardware is being built, namely the Orion Multi-Purpose Crewed Vehicle that will take the astronauts to an asteroid, a more immediate concern is training astronauts on how to work on the asteroid once they get there. NASA’s NEEMO 15 mission is just one of the training exercises astronauts will undergo and includes Canada’s own David Saint-Jacques as key participant.
NEEMO short for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations takes place in
Aquarius, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) underwater facility which is located 5.6 kilometres off Key Largo in the Florida Keys and 19 meters below the surface.
This is the 15th NEEMO mission and fourth with Canadian participation. Dave Williams participated in NEEMO 1 (2001) and NEEMO 9 (2006), Robert Thirsk took part in NEEMO 7 (2004) and Chris Hadfield served as commander of NEEMO 14 (2010). Participation in a NEEMO is usually an indication that the astronaut will be assigned to a future spaceflight, although there are never any guarantees.
As part of the NEEMO crew Saint- Jacques will participate in the first undersea mission to simulate a visit to an asteroid and brings together astronauts, engineers and scientists. There will be four crew members in the Aquarius habitat including Shannon Walker an astronaut from NASA, Takuya Onishi an astronaut from JAXA, the Japanese Space Exploration Agency and scientist and principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Steven Squyres.
The primary objectives of the mission are to test the equipment and operational concepts needed for exploration to near-Earth asteroids (NEA). This near-zero gravity environment presents a unique challenge where anchoring, tethering, and translating devices will be necessary for surface operations.
Manned deepwater submersibles acting as Space Exploration Vehicles (SEVs) will interact with Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) crewmembers to test the efficiency of different operations:
– NEA attachment/translation/sampling methods/instrument deployment,
– One SEV vs. none vs. two SEVs on effectiveness/efficiency,
– SEV & EVA crew interactions; tethered, robotic arm, foot restraints,
– Effects of crew size (3 vs. 4) on effectiveness/efficiency, and
– Suit center of gravity (CG)/mass/gravity level research to optimize for flexible missions.
The deepwater submersibles will be manned by NASA astronauts Dr. Stanley Love, Richard Arnold II and Michael Gernhardt. Gernhardt has many years of prior experience working in submersibles as part of the Pavilion Lake Research Project in British Columbia.
“We’ll be simulating spacewalks and working closely with submersibles as if we were on an asteroid,” said Saint-Jacques. “It will involve a lot of planning and team work. By the end of it we should have some crucial takeaways to apply to the exploration of an asteroid.”
Working as Capsule Communicator’s (CAPCOM) are NASA astronaut candidate Jeannette J. Epps and Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen.
NEEMO 15 will get underway on October 17th and run for 13 days through october 29th.