Monday, September 19, 2011

NASA Announces Crew for Next Undersea Exploration

A NASA engineering crew diver simulates anchoring to an asteroid surface. Image source: NASA.

NASA has announced the crew for its next exploration mission.

But it's not to the International Space Station.

Or anywhere beyond low Earth orbit.

It's actually an expedition to the ocean depths near Key Largo, Florida.

The NASA NEEMO project uses an undersea research station called Aquarius to simulate missions in space.

NEEMO — NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations — uses astronauts to research deep space techniques, and also to train them for potential future missions.

NASA issued a press release today announcing the astronauts assigned to NEEMO Expedition 15. They will "test innovative solutions to engineering challenges during a crewed mission to an asteroid."

NASA astronaut and former International Space Station crew member Shannon Walker will lead the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a13-day undersea mission aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla. ...

The NEEMO crew also includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. They are members of the 2009 NASA astronaut class. Rounding out the crew is Steven Squyres of Cornell University, James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts.

In addition, NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike Gernhardt, all veteran spacewalkers, will participate in the NEEMO mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they will pilot. The DeepWorker is a small submarine used as an underwater stand-in for the Space Exploration Vehicle, which might someday be used to explore the surface of an asteroid.

Jeremy Hansen and Jeanette Epps, members of the 2009 astronaut class, are the capsule communicators for the mission. Hansen is from the Canadian Space Agency, and Epps from NASA.

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