December 12, 2017

14.05.11: Finding NASA’s NEEMO.

“Aqua-nauts” at work on NEEMO. (Credit: NASA).

A mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid will be unlike any other that NASA has undertaken to date. Gravity will be negligible, and astronauts will have to work in an unknown environment far from Earth. To this end, NASA has begun set-up earlier this week of an exciting new project off of the Florida Keys. NEEMO, or the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations Project, will be undergoing expedition 15 from October 15th through the 26th. This mission seeks to characterize and identify some of the problems astronauts on a deep space mission would face. Their home will be the Aquarius module, a habitat owned by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association for coral reef studies, about 3.5 miles off the coast and located in 62 feet of water. This past week saw much of the engineering and test phases reaching completion, as “aquanauts” deployed equipment necessary for the 10 day stay this fall. Ultimately, NASA would like to conduct 3 week stays. But what really rocks is that you can follow all of the underwater action, both on UStream and by following @NASA_NEEMO on Twitter!

…and just when will a REAL mission to an NEA occur? Well, NASA has short-listed about a half-dozen potential targets over the coming decades; first, we’ll need a heavy lift platform capable of getting us back into deep space. Then there’s the problem of asteroid rendezvous, (more of a “docking” than a “landing”) extended stay in a solar radiation environment, and the return from solar orbit to Earth on a high speed trajectory… well, you get the picture. Some tough dilemmas to solve. Such a mission would have scientific merit, and serve as a good stepping stone to finally get us back out of Low Earth Orbit. And NEEMO may be that first sub-step!   

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