August 5th 2016; Today the remaining Aquanauts returned to the surface, bringing the 16 day Neemo 21 mission to a successful end.
NEEMO - the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project - is a NASA analog mission that sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in Aquarius, the world's only undersea research station, for up to three weeks at a time. Operated by Florida International University (FIU), Aquarius is located 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is deployed next to deep coral reefs 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface.
The Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analog for space exploration. Much like space, the undersea world is a hostile, alien place for humans to live. NEEMO crew members, known as aquanauts, experience some of the same challenges there that they would on a distant asteroid, planet or moon. During NEEMO missions, the aquanauts are able to simulate living on a spacecraft and test spacewalk techniques for future space missions. Working in space and underwater environments requires extensive planning and sophisticated equipment. The underwater condition has the additional benefit of allowing NASA to "weight" the aquanauts to simulate different gravity environments.
A technique known as saturation diving allows the aquanauts to live and work underwater for days or weeks at a time. After twenty four hours underwater at any depth, the human body becomes saturated with dissolved gas. With saturation diving, divers can accurately predict exactly how much time they need to decompress before returning to the surface. This information limits the risk of decompression sickness. By living in the Aquarius habitat and working at the same depth on the ocean floor, NEEMO crews are able to remain underwater for the duration of their mission.
NASA is developing the technologies and systems to transport future explorers to multiple destinations, each with its own unique - and extreme - space environment. Future destinations may include near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and Mars and its moons. To prepare for these complex missions, NASA must conduct field tests in Earth-based extreme environments to plan, test and develop technologies that will help guide the future direction of human exploration of the solar system.
NEEMO 21 Mission
The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO-21) 16-day mission, splashing down in the undersea Aquarius Reef Base on July 21, will include a mid-mission decompression and partial crew rotation.
Crew make-up for Leg-1 includes NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Reid Wiseman, Matthias Maurer of ESA, and Marc O'Griofa (Veterans Administration & Noninvasive Medical Technologies Principal Investigator). Crew for Leg-2 includes McArthur, Maurer, Dawn Kernagis (NAVSEA & The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Principal Investigator) and Noel DuToit (Naval Postgraduate School Principal Investigator).
Shark Marine's involvement in NEEMO Missions
Shark Marine has had the extreme privilege of being involved in the last four NEEMO missions. Using our equipment and systems to assist in these missions provides vital feedback for continued improvements of what is already state of the art systems.
The NEEMO team is one of the most professional and organized groups we have had the privilege to work with. NASA is well known for thinking outside the box or for that matter outside the planet. It provides an extreme testing platform for Shark Marine systems. In past missions we have used our Shark Marine Navigator sonar imaging and navigation system to provide navigation for the Aquanauts throughout the Carpenter Basin site. We have used our Mako Diver Delivery System to provide transportation to semi-autonomously transport aquanauts to science and geology sites during an analog of a mission to near-earth asteroids. On another mission we used our Navigator mounted on our Eagle-Ray propulsion system in combination with another Eagle-Ray converted to a cargo carrier for an analog mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars.
For NEEMO mission 21, which is an analog of a manned Mars mission we are using our Navigator Dive Tablet with DNS for navigation to exploration sites and our Sub-NET multi-medium networking system to provide Mission Command and Control sharing data and commands between the aquanauts, Aquarius habitat, surface support vessels and Mission Control back on shore. The Sub-NET system will provide to all locations the ability to monitor Aquanaut (EVA) progress, send mid-mission changes of objectives and new site directions and data.
In addition we intend to use an experimental version of our Mako Diver Delivery System, the Mako Recon which will receive commands to autonomously traverse to and explore new site locations from Mission control (MCC) or the Habitat. To properly simulate a Mars mission there is a 15 minute delay, each way, of communications between the underwater Habitat and Aquanauts and the land based Mission Control.
Jim Garrington, our CEO/CTO states "Although analog missions to Mars seems a distant application to our normal customers, the most elite military forces or scientific exploration, the similarities in function are surprisingly similar." Mr. Garrington has subjected himself to the medical and physical testing to become one of the members of the support dive team. Garrington says "by becoming an integral part of the team allows me to see first-hand the interaction of our equipment in these most challenging conditions. It is only this direct interaction with real operations that allow us to further develop and tweak our systems for performance and ease of use. NASA, ESA and CSA provide the most demanding requirements and therefore an extensive critique from these organizations as well as our military customers are very welcomed as this is the only way to advance our products and technology to best suit the needs of our customers. The NEEMO missions are the brain child of NASA's Bill Todd, the comradery and direct involvement with this most elite team of experts I consider to be one of my greatest honours."
The NEEMO mission 21 will continue until August 5, 2016. Mr. Garrington' s return to our office will surely be followed by design review meetings with our advanced engineering team to discuss enhancements to perfect and develop our product lines even further.
Shark Marine's Sub-NET System