By NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger
NASA’s Johnson SpaceCenter is located southeast of two highway loops that encircle the city ofHouston. The outermost highway is known as Beltway 8. While the NEEMO 16 crew conducted training April 17-20 outside this beltway, our upcoming Junemission is focused on simulating a mission insideanother beltway – the asteroid beltway!
During training week, thecrew assembled face-to-face for the first time and learned details about NearEarth Asteroids (NEAs). Future missions to these asteroids could help us learnmore about deep-space exploration and the beginnings of our solar system.Depending on the target NEA composition, future missions could also prospectand mine resources; and develop mitigation options for NEAs threatening planetEarth.
We also learned about thespacewalk tools we will be using during the mission and then practiced usingthese tools on the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS). After taking a tour of the SpaceExploration Vehicle (SEV), we flew the asteroid simulator. While there are similarities betweenflying a plane, a helicopter, a shuttle, and a Space Station RoboticManipulator System (SSRMS), flying around an asteroid is a unique experience.Asteroids may have non-uniform gravity fields and erratic spin rates – not to mention the deep-spacedebris and sub-optimal lighting – all conditions that will challenge even thebest pilots!
During the rest of trainingweek, we learned about the Aquarius Laboratory and what daily life will be likeliving in the underwater habitat for (almost) two weeks. Communication delays will beincorporated to simulate living near or on an asteroid. Each day, there will be two spacewalks,and the beginning of the mission will focus on working on a NEA that astronautscould tether to, while the second half of the mission will involve submersiblesthat will simulate the SEVs and working on an asteroid that is less cohesive.
Often times we thinkabout the solar system existing beyond us or outside of our “beltway,” but inreality, we live in a dynamic solar system, where the traffic, including NEAs,continues to be better understood. NEEMO16 will provide more data on how to work and live near NEAs.
To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/neemo.