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Forum:Exploration: Asteroids, Moon and Mars
Topic:NASA NEEMO XV mission: Life on an asteroid
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The other part of the EVA was totally different... jet packs! We had battery–powered thruster packs on our backs that we could use to move very quickly and easily from one place to another. And yeah, I have to confess, it was every bit as much fun as it sounds like it was. Quick, easy, and very cool. Problem was, once we arrived at our destination with a job to do, staying in place was a lot harder.

Sometimes the best answer to a complicated problem is to use some combination of techniques. So one way I could see this going might be that astronauts would use jet packs to move long distances over an asteroid surface, and then a boom for smaller motions and getting work done.

Or maybe they'll use something completely different! It's only Day 4 of the mission, and we've got a lot more techniques to try... so we'll see.

You can follow NEEMO XV on Twitter, Facebook and by live underwater webcam.
Robert PearlmancollectSPACE Interview
NASA's NEEMO XV aquanaut crew

On Oct. 24, collectSPACE spoke with the NEEMO XV (15) crew live from the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla.

cS: First for Shannon, can you describe briefly how NEEMO 15 differs from previous NEEMO expeditions, specifically in regards to simulating an asteroid mission?

Shannon Walker: In previous missions, the emphasis of NEEMO was to look at habitability and doing different types of science underwater, things such as telemedicine. On this one, we are specifically looking at how to collect science on an asteroid.

So this is the first one where we've done asteroid-type experiments, if you will, at NEEMO. We're sort of moving forward [with] looking ahead to see how we can use NEEMO to progress our understanding of what we need to understand and to build once we start out into the solar system.

cS: Staying with you, since you recently not too long ago came back from the space station, how does life on Aquarius compare to life on the space station?

Shannon Walker: In a lot of ways, it is very similar to life on station. We have a pretty rigid schedule that we have to keep. We're living in small quarters and there are six of us here. So in that respect, it is very similar to station.

Of course, the station is actually a lot bigger than the Aquarius habitat, so we have more room on station and no gravity up there, which gives it a different twist.

cS: For Steve Squyres, I've been reading your blog and flying jetpacks on the ocean floor while conducting a simulated asteroid mission might just be the most awesome thing I've ever heard, but the awesomeness of the activity aside, how do you expect a future real mission to an asteroid to resemble what you and your crew mates are doing now on the ocean floor? How close will it be?

Steve Squyres: Well, that's exactly what we're trying to learn. If you sit down and you imagine the kinds of techniques you might use for moving around on an asteroid, or anchoring to an asteroid, or doing work on an asteroid, there are a lot of possibilities.

I talked on my blog yesterday about jetpacks and booms, but you can use translation lines or wires strung out across the surface, you can use small spacecraft that fly people around, you can use some type of big crane — we're actually trying out all of those. And I think what's going to emerge from this is a much better understanding of which are the right techniques to use.

And I don't want to guess just now what the answer is going to be because we're only part way through this. I sort of have my likes and dislikes so far, but I think in the end, once the data are all analyzed, there is going to be a pretty clear picture to emerge of what is the best way to do business in this type of environment.

cS: And since you are familiar with working with a time delay given remotely controlling Mars rovers, I think you're doing some simulated communication delays on this mission, so is that an easier or harder challenge for a human crew to compensate than when trying to drive a rover on Mars?

Steve Squyres: I think when you have a human crew all working together, you're going to have a degree of autonomy that you can never build into a robotic spacecraft. We try to make our robotics spacecraft as smart and capable as we can, but they are never going to match what a human crew can do.

So if you have a human crew that's a long distance from Earth and they can't interact in real time with the Earth, they are going to have an ability to work together and solve problems that's going to make them much more effective than any robot could be.

Robert Pearlman
NASA's NEEMO 15 ends early due to Hurricane Rina

Due to the predicted path of Hurricane Rina, the 15th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, ended a week earlier than planned. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory and the agency determined Rina posed a risk to the safety of the mission taking place near Key Largo, Florida.

The six aquanauts of the NEEMO crew left the facility, where they lived for five days, and returned to the surface of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo on Wednesday morning.

The six-member NEEMO crew, including commander and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takuya Onishi; Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques; Mars Exploration Rovers principal investigator Steven Squyres of Cornell University; and James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, kicked off this year's mission on Oct. 20, after an initial delay caused by another storm in the area.

The NEEMO crew conducted six underwater spacewalks and one day of scientific research inside the Aquarius habitat.

They also completed four days of scientific asteroid exploration analog operations using the deep worker submersibles that stood in for NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV).

This year's mission was the first NEEMO to focus on operational concepts that would be used in human exploration of an asteroid.

The "crew [is] sad to leave early, but feel we got a lot of objectives accomplished," Saint-Jacques wrote on Twitter.

Above: NEEMO 15 crew members after surfacing on Oct. 26. From left to right – Takuya Onishi (JAXA), David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Shannon Walker (NASA), Steve Squyres (Cornell).

According to NASA, the remainder of the NEEMO 15 mission will not be rescheduled. NEEMO 16 is tentatively set for the summer of 2012.

See here for discussion of NEEMO and its simulated exploration missions.

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