NASA astronauts are getting ready to start to prepare for what could be one of the most challenging mission to date, a trip to an asteroid. Next month they will begin a training programme that will teach them how to operate vehicles, conduct spacewalks and gather samples on the surface of an asteroid. The work will be mainly scientific, but the data gleaned from the asteroid could one day be useful if there is ever one with a destiny for the surface of Earth. Major Tim Peake, a former British Army helicopter test pilot who is now the first official British astronaut with the European Space Agency, had this to say: "With enough warning we would probably send a robotic mission to deflect an asteroid, but if something is spotted late and is big enough we might come into Armageddon type scenarios where we may have to look at manned missions to deflect it."
The training will start next month when Major Peake will join 5 other people in an underwater training station off the coast of Florida. The capsule they will share is 43 feet long by 20 feet wide tube, is 65 feet under water, and will be their home for 12 days. The facility is called the Nasa Extreme Environment Mission Operation or NEEMO. "NEEMO is as close to the real thing as we can manage on Earth. We are in a confined space and living quarters are very tight," said Peake, "We will need at least 12 hours of decompression before we can resurface safely so we are sort of trapped down there, and that makes it much more realistic."
The mission is hoping to use the Orion spacecraft that sits atop the Space Launch System. Once there, the astronauts would live in a Deep Space Habitat and traverse the landscape using a Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV).
Picture courtesy the ESA.