NEEMO 14 (NASA's 14th Extreme Environment Mission Operation) gets underway today off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, where a crew of six – including two astronauts, an engineer and a scientist – plan to spend 14 days deep under water in conditions that simulate deep space.
The crew will be living on the ocean floor in a lab, Aquarius, that’s owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the same folks who are tracking the Gulf oil spill).
The previous crew has left mockups of a lander, a rover and a crane nearby, so the new crew will pretend they’ve landed on another planet (which they have, in a way) and will step outside to practice moving and maneuvering these vehicles. They’ll try to walk, kneel, fall and pick up rocks just as if they were spacewalking.
They’ll also participate in experiments inside Aquarius, whose close quarters and isolation are similar to what they’ll experience in space. To add to the intensity, communication with the surface will sometimes be limited. One reason NASA does these types of simulations is that the crew doesn't get to go home at the end of the day.
Smart Planet has asked to interview some of the crew members, and if we do we'll update this post. In the meantime, you can follow their progress over these Webcams at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, which operates the lab. (There’s no privacy in space either!)