Astronauts Train for Asteroid Mission Underwater

On June 11, 2012, NASA sent a crew to live for two weeks in Aquarius Reef Base to conduct research and mission-simulation training for work on asteroid mission scenarios.

Diving is often used in NASA training to teach astronauts how to work in low gravity. The underwater environment simulates many aspects of space travel, allowing astronauts to acclimate, learn how to adapt to challenges, solve problems and practice skills prior to lifting off into orbit.

This is the 16th crew NASA has dispatched to the Aquarius Reef Base for NASA Extreme Environment Missions Operations (NEEMO). NEEMO 16 is taking place at the Aquarius Habitat in NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, approximately 3.5 miles off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. This underwater laboratory is owned by NOAA and operated by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. It provides excellent conditions to train the astronauts to endure isolation and live in a small habitat with several crew members. In space, the astronauts will live in small quarters in an unforgiving environment. Much of the equipment they will use while underwater — including their communications systems, underwater vehicles and breathing apparatus — are similar to what they will use when operating in space. are similar to what they will use when operating in space.

This mission is specifically investigating methods of asteroid exploration, including robotic systems, necessary crew members and associated tasks, communication systems and challenges they may face or need to overcome when working in such an environment.
Watch the live feed from the NEEMO 16 Mission

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Underwater home base
Aquarius Reef Base is designed to withstand ambient pressure equivalent to 120 feet underwater (approximately 5 atmospheres absolute). It is an 82-ton double-lock pressure vessel that is nearly 50 feet long and 13 feet wide. This underwater research laboratory is located on a baseplate 63 feet underwater. The underwater habitat offers saturation diving research opportunities to NASA as well as other scientists. Researchers can spend more time at depth completing no-decompression dives in the waters that surround the habitat.

Inside the habitat there are six bunks, a shower, toilet, refrigerator, microwave, computers and communication gear that connect to shore via wireless telemetry. This is how aquanauts can communicate with the shore-based mission control center.

On the surface, above the lab are buoy floats that provide communications towers with VHF, cellular and wireless antennae. These floats are also equipped with important life-support materials such as generators and air compressors that connect directly to Aquarius Reef Base.

After completing their mission, the aquanauts will decompress inside the Aquarius Reef Base. The pressure inside the habitat will be brought slowly from the operating depth to 1 atmosphere absolute. Then, the aquanauts will lock out and swim to the surface.
Learn more
Meet the crew
Aquarius Reef Base
NASA Extreme Environment Missions Operations (NEEMO) 16
Watch the live stream from the NEEMO 16 Mission