These female astronauts might go from Aquarius to the moon

NEEMO 23 crew | Photo courtesy AstroSamantha

Three of the women training for the U.S.’s return to the moon first trained for space missions at Aquarius — the world’s only underwater research lab.

Jessica Meir, Kate Rubins and Jessica Watkins, all participated in separate astronaut training missions at Aquarius called NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).

For 20 years, NASA has used Aquarius as an analog for spaceflight and extraplanetary habitation. Like astronauts in space, NEEMO aquanauts need to rely on their life support systems, including the habitat itself, as well as any equipment they would use during extravehicular activities (EVAs).

Watkins participated in 2019’s NEEMO 23. The all-female science crew used the Diver Augmented Vision Device that consists of an augmented reality display embedded into a diving helmet. This device allowed the aquanauts to have real-time topside views of their location and dive site along with text messages, diagrams, photos and augmented reality videos. They also tested a prototype of the Lunar Evacuation System Assembly (LESA), which could be used to assist an incapacitated astronaut on the moon.

In 2013 Rubins took part in NEEMO 17 and is currently aboard the International Space Station as part of Expedition 64. She was part of an aquanaut team that tested simulating lunar gravity and worked to refine protocols for sampling on a planetary body.

Aquanauts testing equipment during NEEMO 23
Aquanauts testing equipment during NEEMO 23 | Photo courtesy AstroSamantha

And in 2002, Meir participated in NEEMO 4, which included the construction of an underwater structure to practice what it would be like to build structures in space — critical skills for space travel.

Through NEEMO, FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base has been both an invaluable training asset to prepare women to step foot on the moon for the first time and help create an outpost on the moon that can support long-term missions to deep space and Mars.

In part because of Aquarius and the work of the university’s Institute of Environment, FIU was ranked No. 9 in the world and No. 3 in the U.S. by the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings on Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water.