In prep for future asteroid mission, NASA astronauts go deep sea diving, sort of

"We’re working on the techniques and tools we might use someday to explore a small asteroid," explained astronaut Stan Love.
By Brooks Hays   |   May 9, 2014 at 6:09 PM
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HOUSTON, May 9 (UPI) -- Most people sport plain, boring old bathing suits when they go swimming. Not NASA astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen; they don brand new orange space suits when headed to the pool.

But their underwater attires is more than just a fashion statement. It's science.

As a sort of dress rehearsal for a future NASA asteroid mission -- planned for sometime after 2020 -- the astronauts got zipped up in their newest traffic-cone-colored suits and took a dive into a 40-feet-deep swimming pool at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, part of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The underwater environment mimics the zero gravity of deep space, and a mockup of the future asteroid-bound Orion spacecraft made an ideal setting for a simulated spacewalk.

"We're working on the techniques and tools we might use someday to explore a small asteroid that was captured from an orbit around the sun and brought back by a robotic spacecraft to orbit around the moon," explained Love. "When it's there, we can send people there to take samples and take a look at it up close. That's our main task; we're looking at tools we'd use for that, how we'd take those samples."

Practicing their spacewalk underwater is way for the astronauts to locate potential problems and fix them before their several million miles from home.

"We need some significant modifications to make it easy to translate," Bowen said. "I can't stretch my arms out quite as far as in the [space station space suit]. The work envelop is very small. So as we get through, we look at these tasks. These tasks are outstanding to help us develop what needs to be modified in the suit, as well."

As part of its planned asteroid mission, NASA will first attempt to land a robotic spacecraft on an asteroid -- with the hopes that the craft can manipulate the space rock into an orbit around Earth's moon. Once circling the moon, astronauts would be sent up to occupy and explore the asteroid.

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