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Dawn Kerngagis

In order to prepare hardware, software, protocols, and human beings for space, space agencies are first testing many of these things in another extreme environment by sending them undersea.

Living on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) evaluates tools and techniques being tested for future space exploration by living in simulated spacecraft conditions and conducting simulated spacewalks outside of their undersea habitat. This past summer, the 21st NEEMO crew and two professional habitat technicians lived in saturation at 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean at The Aquarius Undersea Reef Base, owned and operated by Florida International University under permit by NOAA and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Inside the habitat, the international crew conducted a variety of research and operational studies, such as testing a mini DNA sequencer and a medical telemetry device that will be used for future space applications. During their simulated spacewalks, the crew collected samples for marine biology and geology studies, teamed with underwater remote operating vehicles, tested operational software, and participated in a coral restoration project. Throughout many of these tasks, the mission also tested time delays in communications to simulate scenarios often encountered in space exploration...

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