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NASA SELECTS FAU HARBOR BRANCH RESEARCHER TO JOIN INTERNATIONAL UNDERSEA CREW TO PREPARE FOR FUTURE MOON EXPLORATION  

NASA Deep Sea

The pictured NEEMO 22 diver is collecting a scientific sample for coral research using proxy tools, techniques, technologies, and training envisioned for future NASA planetary science exploration missions. Image Credit: NASA


BY LYNDA F. RYSAVY | May 24, 2019

ShirleyShirley Pomponi, Ph.D., research professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (FAU Harbor Branch) will be joining NASA's international crew who will be living underwater for 10 days, to prepare for future deep space missions, beginning June 12.

NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 23 will focus on both exploration spacewalks and objectives related to space missions such as the International Space Station and future deep space missions to the Moon and Mars. As an analog for future planetary science concepts and strategies, marine science will be performed under the guidance of FAU Harbor Branch. During the NEEMO 23 expedition, Pomponi will be conducting experiments to test various tools developed for small volume tissue sampling, measuring of sponge metabolism and sponge reproduction.

"NEEMO provides a platform for developing or adapting instruments and procedures that can be applied to space—and ocean--exploration," said Pomponi. "The procedures, hardware, and software in development by NASA for deep space missions may be applicable to ocean exploration, biological sampling, and data management."

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will command the NEEMO 23 mission aboard the Aquarius laboratory, 62 feet below the ocean surface near Key Largo, Florida. Cristoforetti was part of space station Expeditions 42 and 43 from Nov. 2014 to June 2015, where she spent 200 days living and working in the extreme environment of space, currently the longest spaceflight of a European.

Cristoforetti will be joined by NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins; Pomponi; and Csilla D’Agostino, research assistant professor from the University of South Florida.

“The close parallels of inner and outer space exploration will be clearly demonstrated during this undersea mission,” NEEMO Project Lead Bill Todd said. “The daily seafloor traverses, or extravehicular activities in space jargon, are jam packed with technology and operations concept testing, as well as complex marine science. In the interior of Aquarius, aquanauts and astronauts will tackle an array of experiments and human research related to long duration space travel.”

Objectives for the crew include evaluating scenarios for using science instruments and tools on the lunar surface, such as tools and hardware for getting science core samples; using augmented reality to guide an untrained operator from module to module by autonomously recognizing where it is; and studies of body composition and sleep.

The NEEMO crew and two professional habitat technicians will live in Florida International University’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat 6.2 miles (5.4 nautical miles) off the Florida coast.