- Written by Sophie
On Wednesday, National Space Centre visitors were given the exciting opportunity to take part in a video conference with ESA Astronaut Timothy Peake. The unusual part of this conference – Tim was speaking to us from Aquarius, an underwater habitat near Key Largo in Florida.
At 20 metres below the surface of the ocean, this high pressure science lab is being used as part of the NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) project.
The crew, consisting of three astronauts and world renowned planetary scientist Steve Squyres, are using this aquatic environment as a test bed for future asteroid missions.
A Level students who had attended a National Space Academy Physics masterclass, school children and the general public were given the chance to ask the first ever British ESA Astronaut questions about life onboard Aquarius and the experiments that he is conducting as part of his 10 day mission.
When asked why the aquatic environment is useful for simulating a space mission, Tim said:
“The water allows us to use neutral buoyancy (the act of neither floating nor sinking) to simulate the microgravity environment. This gives us extended periods of training for our tasks in space like conditions.”
Tim also mentioned that the isolation below the surface and the total reliance of the crew on the support systems of the Aquarius habitat accurately simulate a space mission. At this depth, the crew experiences 2.5 times the pressure at sea level. As with deep sea divers, if they surface too quickly they will experience the bends. So, much like during a real space mission, if something goes wrong, there is no quick escape.
When asked what job he would do if he could choose any, Tim answered that being an astronaut is his dream job. The variety, the activities he experiences, the people he meets and the science he studies means that he can not imagine a better job. And to be honest, who can argue with him?!