NASA announced on Tuesday the upcoming 13th NEEMO undersea mission, an acronym for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 13. The NEEMO missions are a cooperative project among NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The exploration mission will be conducted off the coast of Florida from Aug. 6 to Aug. 15.
Three astronauts, including Nicholas Patrick, who is also an aquanaut, Richard Arnold and Satoshi Furukawa will be accompanied by systems integration engineer Christopher Gerty. Dr. Sean Roden, a NASA flight surgeon will serve as a backup.
The crew will perform their mission while aboard the NOAA Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, while Jim Buckley and Larry Ward of the University of Carolina provide the engineering support. The release says that the university operates the underwater laboratory on behalf of NOAA as part of NOAA’s Undersea Research Program.
Aquarius is the only permanent underwater habitat and laboratory in the world. Similar in size to the International Space Station’s living quarters, the Aquarius measures 45 feet long and 13 feet in diameter. The complex is located more than 60 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, three miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. A surface buoy provides connections for power, life support and communications, and a control center on the shore monitors the crew and the habitat itself.
During the mission, the crew will be testing lunar exploration concepts and a number of medical goals to be met for space flights of long duration. In accomplishing their mission, the crew will be conducting extended “moon walks” under the sea, during which time they will build a communications tower, review and practice lunar sample collecting and manipulating techniques, and perform tasks to look into space suit design. They’ll also conduct research to determine what living in extreme environments does to human behavior and physiology.
Bill Todd is the NEEMO project manager for the United Space Alliance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. In the press release he said: “This crew will work much more independently from the mission control team than on previous missions. This autonomous mode of operation will encourage the crew to make real-time decisions about daily operations similar to what we think will be necessary for lunar and Mars missions. The idea is to show how procedures and training for future missions can be adapted, considering the reduced direct communication with mission control those crews will encounter.”
Press release, NASA Announces Next Undersea Exploration Mission Dates and Crew;