NASA sends astronauts into the sea for Mars training mission

NASA's NEEMO 21 undersea training mission has started, the space agency announced today. Officially called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 21, the expedition lasts for 16 days and subjects astronauts to the kind of conditions they could expect to endure on a long space mission. It's yet another piece of NASA's Mars puzzle, not only preparing astronauts for such a future mission but also lending more data to the space agency for refining future plans.

Speaking about the project, NEEMO Project Leader Bill Todd said:

NEEMO 21 astronauts and crew will pioneer complex tasks on the seafloor utilizing the most advanced underwater navigation and science tools which are methodically choreographed to mimic a Mars exploration traverse. Equipment can fail, communication can be challenging and tasks can take longer than expected. Other tasks go just as planned. All cases are equally beneficial. It's how we learn and how we are able to assemble all of this together so that someday we're prepared for the unexpected when we are living on and traversing the Martian surface.

The undersea habitat in which the astronauts are living is called 'Aquarius,' and in it the crew will perform various studies. NASA says, for example, that a miniature DNA sequencer will be tested that is also destined for testing aboard the ISS. The team will also be conducting simulated space walks, test management software, and help with a project to restore coral.

NEEMO command is being split into two chunks, with astronaut Reid Wiseman taking control during the first half and astronaut Megan McArthur taking control the second half. International astronauts and professionals are also among the crew, including a couple folks from the European Space Agency.