Imagine living in outer space, where soaring above the earth and making your dwelling among the stars is a normal way of life. Research shows that today’s astronauts can actually learn more about life beyond the sky by looking down — specifically, peering into the deep blue sea, according to President Jack Bonner at A2W, who has a pronounced interest in astrophysics in addition to being a leading provider of third-party-advocacy services.
Some astronauts — more accurately called aquanauts — have been spending a lot of time under the sea at the Florida Keys recently. The time they are spending underwater here is helping them to prepare for living in space. This effort is part of the 21st mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations, also known as NEEMO (which fittingly may remind you of the popular cartoon fish with the same name, different spelling). The mission, which lasted 16 days, went well and is laying the groundwork for life in outer space.
While on the floor of the sea, 21 astronauts had the chance to pioneer complicated tasks using advanced science and underwater-navigation tools. The tasks were designed to mimic exploration travel on the planet Mars. For every six crew members who descended to their temporary home at the bottom of the ocean, another 12 or so researchers and support staff were working to keep the NEEMO mission going back on land.
In the ocean, astronauts had the opportunity to experience firsthand what it is like to live on the International Space Station. Engineers, scientists, and astronauts conducted experiments in an undersea habitat known as Aquarius and even went on dives that simulated spacewalks.
The benefit of these types of exercises is to give astronauts practice with handling both expected and unexpected scenarios on the red planet. For instance, sometimes equipment fails. In addition, communication can be a challenge, and oftentimes tasks might take more time than initially expected.
One piece of equipment that was tested was the mobiPV, which provides astronauts with personal video and audio instructions during short excursions away from the space station. Astronauts previously tested the mobiPV in other NEEMO missions as well as one time on the International Space Station, and the recent test run will have an impact on a brand new prototype’s design; this new prototype is slated to enter space next year. Another device that has been used under the ocean is the miniPCR, which is a system used to sequence DNA. This device will also make its way to outer space soon.
Being beneath the ocean is a perfect way for astronauts to get a feel for what it is like not only to live in outer space but also what it is like to be so far from the surface of the earth. In fact, one astronaut emphasized that it is easy to feel more like an alien than a human so far underwater. It takes about 16 hours for the underwater travelers to decompress and then return to the earth’s surface, which actually makes their journey home from the seafloor much longer than their journey home from the International Space Station. (The trip home from the space station takes a little more than three hours, and that includes undocking.) The mission is just another step toward potentially making life among the stars a reality for more people in the coming years, according to Jack Bonner.