Hurricanes have been known to damage not only environments but also best-laid plans, including NASA's NEEMO 15 mission. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the Aquarius habitat that serves as home base for the mission, concluded this week that Hurricane Rina's projected path posed too great a danger to the safety of the crew and mission in progress off the coast of Key Largo, Florida.
NEEMO, the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project, uses Aquarius to simulate some of the challenges of working in space, according to the NEEMO website. Crews spend up to three weeks at a time living and working in the undersea station.
The six aquanauts - Shannon Walker, Takuya Onishi, David Saint-Jacques, Steven Squyres, James Talacek, and Nate Bender - surfaced Wednesday morning after completing five days of the NEEMO 15 mission. While their stay on Aquarius was cut short, the crew still completed a substantial amount of work. Among the tasks completed were six underwater "spacewalks," a full day of research inside the habitat, and four full days of simulated exploration of an asteroid.
The rest of this NEEMO mission won't be rescheduled, but we can look forward to NEEMO 16, currently set for the summer of 2012.