Skip to main content

Astronauts Test Retro Spacesuit Tech for Mock Mars Missions Under the Sea

In NASA's NEEMO NXT mission, astronauts trained underwater off the coast of California with the commercial ExoSuit and a mini submarine from Aug. 21 to 28, 2019.
In NASA's NEEMO NXT mission, astronauts trained underwater off the coast of California with the commercial ExoSuit and a mini submarine from Aug. 21 to 28, 2019. (Image credit: NASA)

Astronauts just resurfaced from a trip to the bottom of the ocean where they tested retro futuristic spacesuit and submarine tech.

From Aug. 21 to 28, 2019, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai took part in a new NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission off the coast of California in the U.S. This mission tested the kinds of underwater training methods that might be best to use for training the next astronauts to land on the moon. The mission, hosted by the University of Southern California's Wrigley Institute, is known as NEEMO NXT. 

In previous NEEMO missions, "aquanauts" have spent time in the underwater Aquarius base off the coast of Florida. But with this mission, the team resurfaced every day. The mission focused on technology and underwater tests of the commercial ExoSuit, with the help of a team of divers and land-based support. 

Related: NASA's Undersea 'Asteroid' Mission NEEMO 16 in Photos

The NEEMO NXT ExoSuit.  (Image credit: ESA–H. Stevenin)

The team tested the suit — which is visually reminiscent of those seen in the early days of science fiction — for its dexterity and potential viability for use in analog missions, or missions that mimic the activities that might take place on places like the moon or Mars. The suit was tested alongside a mini submarine, which simulated a pressurized rover, a vehicle that may accompany astronauts on future crewed missions. 

The mini submarine used as part of the NEEMO NXT mission.  (Image credit: ESA–T. Pesquet)

"With these analogue missions everything is made to be as realistic as possible without leaving Earth, so we will be as busy as astronauts on the Space Station, using similar operational techniques with mission control, briefings and procedures," Pesquet said in an ESA statement

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet swims as part of NEEMO 18 alongside commander and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and NASA astronauts Jeanette Epps and Mark Vande Hei. (Image credit: NASA)

The astronauts also tested the location itself to see if it would be a suitable analog for the environment on the moon. If so, astronauts training to launch to the lunar surface might spend portions of their time underwater working at this site. 

There are obvious differences between the moon's surface and the Pacific Ocean. However, there are some geological similarities, and the site provides aquanauts with the experience of doing field work in a real-time, high-pressure, difficult environment where things could go wrong unexpectedly, according to the statement. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music, singing, playing guitar and performing with her band Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.