NSBRI often uses analog environments that have aspects of the spaceflight environment to study tools under development for the space program. One analog, the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program, takes place in Aquarius, the world's only underwater research habitat. Located near Key Largo, Fla., and 62 feet below the surface, Aquarius is owned and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).

The NEEMO environment is similar to lunar and other exploration missions in many respects. There is isolation, confinement to a small habitat and work area, the need to work together as a team, extravehicular activities, and no immediate rescue in the event of an emergency. Another similarity to space is that the aquanauts must perform tasks requiring high performance levels.

NSBRI has participated in four NEEMO missions. NEEMO 9, 12, 13 and 14.

On May 10, 2010, two astronauts, a veteran undersea engineer and an experienced scientist embarked on the NEEMO 14 undersea analog mission. The mission ran through May 23.

The crew conducted a series of extravehicular activities (EVAs), simulating activities that astronauts would be likely to perform during missions in space. Using near-scale mockup vehicles, EVA teams conducted off-loading, retrieval and survival missions, including the transfer of an incapacitated astronaut from the ocean floor to the deck of the lander.

While inside the Aquarius laboratory, the crew performed life sciences experiments focused on human behavior, performance and physiology. The mission also included a study of autonomous crew work. This included periods of time when there is limited communication between the crew and the mission control center, much like what could happen during missions to the moon or Mars.

NSBRI's Project on NEEMO 14
Project Title: Cognitive Performance and Stress in a Simulated Space Environment
Principal Investigator: David F. Dinges, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

The purpose of this study is to collect cognitive performance and stress information on the NEEMO aquanauts and mission support personnel to:
  • Identify periods of fatigue and stress during analog missions
  • Develop normative databases on fatigue and stress in analog environments for comparison to spaceflight.
Read more about Dr. Dinges' project

Visit the NEEMO 14 website with links to photos and daily reports.

The NEEMO 14 crew sporting NSBRI shirts. First row, from left: Aquanaut Andrew Abercromby, Aquanaut Steve Chappell. Second row, from left: Aquanaut/NASA Astronaut Thomas H. Marshburn, Habitat Tech Nate Bender, Habitat Tech James Talacek, and NEEMO 14 Commander/Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris A. Hadfield.