NASA uses the "Aquarius" undersea habitat as a research analog for space missions to develop concepts for long-term space habitation. 62 feet below the surface off Key Largo, Florida, the Aquarius welcomed an international crew of four to the 16th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) undersea analog mission in June of 2012.
The isolation and microgravity environment of the ocean floor allows the NEEMO 16 crew to study and test concepts for how future exploration of asteroids might be conducted. NASA's Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket, which currently are in development, will allow people to begin exploring beyond the boundaries of Earth's orbit. The first human mission to an asteroid is planned for 2025.
In previous missions, the crew performed life sciences experiments focused on human behavior, performance, and physiology, including a study to characterize iron metabolism and related oxidative damage by the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory (in collaboration with the National Institute of Health). These mission plans also called for autonomous crew work - periods of time when there was limited communication between the crew and the surface mission control center, similar to what could occur during long-duration space flight.
NEEMO is one of several different types of flight analogs NASA utilizes to conduct research on earth to make space flight and exploration safer, and a convincing analog for the tasks and challenges crew members could experience in space.