NASA Astronauts Train Underwater for Future Asteroid Mission
NASA astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen went underwater May 9 to test tools that will be used for a planned asteroid capture mission in the 2020s.
The pair plunged into a 40-foot deep swimming pool in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center, according to a NASA press release. The pool's depth mimics space's lack of gravity for spacewalk missions.
The space agency has been searching for an asteroid that it can capture and redirect to a stable orbit around the Moon. In the underwater chamber lies a replica of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will launch a crew of astronauts to explore it and gather samples, which will be studied in preparation for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
"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," Love said. "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."
NASA believes an asteroid mission is necessary because samples from its core could provide answers on the age of the solar system and how it was formed. Testing tools in the simulated spacewalk could help astronauts best obtain these samples in the future. For example, Love and Bowen tried out a battery-powered pneumatic hammer instead of a regular one, which could be catastrophic should it accidentally hit and crack the glass part of their helmet.
They also tested a modified version of the orange Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). Having one ACES suit would lessen the amount of weight on board the Orion, given that astronauts currently have two separate suits for launch and entry.
But the underwater simulation proves the model needs work.
"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."