NASA may not be sending anyone to the moon or Mars in the near future, but they've discovered the next best thing: an undersea laboratory three miles off of Key Largo. It's how astronauts do Space Camp.
The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations—its friends call it Neemo—has been around for nearly a decade. This past Monday marked the kickoff of its 14th mission, sending six aquanauts down to the underwater Aquarius lab:
During their two weeks in the laboratory, the aquanauts will go on simulated spacewalks, operate a crane and perform other tasks of the sort astronauts would face in setting up a habitat on another planet. "The primary objectives are based on engineering and testing and operations design for planetary exploration," said William Todd, the project manager for the Neemo 14 mission.
Other particulars that authenticate the experience: the buoyancy of diving suits can be adjusted to reflect the one-sixth gravity of the moon of the three-eighths gravity of Mars. Communications are lagged twenty minutes, as they would be on a real Mars mission.
So why is this important now? Because the future of manned space flight is in serious political jeopardy. Because today the Senate Committee on on Commerce, Science, and Technology will hold hearings on that future. And because despite all of that uncertainty, whatever happens, it's important to know that we're prepared for whatever space exploration throws at us. [NY Times]