Whenever we hear about a NASA mission, it is normally to a destination that lies beyond our atmosphere - However, a team of scientists is currently preparing for an underwater mission and this, is not the first time they have done it.
These special missions are not undertaken because NASA has suddenly begun to focus on the ocean but, to train researchers to work in harsh and unpredictable environments, similar to what they may encounter when they travel to the moon or other planets in our solar system.
Known as NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), the project involves sending experts for extended periods of time to Aquarius, an underwater laboratory that lies some 62ft. below the surface of the water, about 3.5 miles from Key Largo in the Florida Keys.
Here, the scientists conduct mock missions to test exploration concepts and learn more about working and surviving in harsh treacherous environments. The lab is equipped with state of the art testing and computer equipment, which allows them to simulate space experiments.
Since 2001, NEEMO has completed 14 successful missions, 13 of which were focused on astronaut training, while the 14th was conducted to test equipment and operational concepts that would be necessary, when we do venture out beyond the International Space Station.
A team of four scientists led by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is now getting ready for NEEMO's 15th mission. Scheduled to take place from October 17th-26th, it will entail the team living inside Aquarius the entire time, as they simulate landing and surviving on an asteroid.
Among the things they will test will be how to anchor on the surface, how to move around and most important of all, how to collect data. Since asteroids have very little or no gravity, their biggest challenge will be to figure out how to anchor themselves and their vehicles, before they explore the area. In addition to that, they will be also conducting underwater 'spacewalks' and cruising around in deepwater vehicles, as if they were exploring a distant planet.
The most important test they will perform will be to see how humans behave in an environment where there is no sun for an extended period of time and also, their reaction when left alone with no contact with other members of the team, or the folks at mission control.
While all these tests do not really guarantee the safety and well-being of the astronauts if and when they do venture out to outer space, it is the best NASA can do, to get them prepared for the hardships they are bound to face - For there are probably very few things that could be harder than spending an entire week at the bottom of the ocean floor.
When not being used for special NASA missions, the Aquarius laboratory, which is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is utilized by Marine biologists to study coral reef, fish and other marine life that live in the region.
Resources: foxnews.com,NASA.gov.,space.com, dailymail.co.uk