Crowdsourcing Science at NEEMO-15

| Got plans for the next decade? NASA does.  The agency would like to send a crew to visit an asteroid, and we’re not going alone.  In addition to being open to partnerships that will leverage the skills of space agencies and corporations across the planet, NASA is looking at new ways to collectively leverage expertise […]

Got plans for the next decade?

NASA does.  The agency would like to send a crew to visit an asteroid, and we’re not going alone.  In addition to being open to partnerships that will leverage the skills of space agencies and corporations across the planet, NASA is looking at new ways to collectively leverage expertise of individuals: the science buff, the student, the oceanographer, the rocket scientist, and YOU – all working together to explore our universe!

What techniques can we use to do this?  Today we’re only scratching the surface of “connective” technologies will be available in the 2020’s.  Only 15 years ago, the internet was limited to corporations, universities and dial-up connections for an elite few.  Now look at your smartphone, and your television, then the car in the driveway.  Quite a shift so far.  But what about another 15 years….

NASA is looking at technologies that will let the power of our interconnectedness drive discovery.  Already we have seen how crowd-sourcing open space data can discover new galaxies, planets, and even make a detailed map of the Moon.  But what if the power of the crowd could tell an astronaut where to look for precious metals on an asteroid, or where to find a hidden aquifer on Mars?  Hold that thought for a moment….

On Thursday, October 20th, after waiting out a tropical depression which brought serious high winds and rain to the Florida Keys, the 15th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) crew is ready to splashdown.

The plan for NEEMO-15 is to send six astronauts, researchers and habitat technicians to an underwater habitat to live and work for ten days, just as they would at an asteroid.  But instead of in deep space, the mission will take place 43 feet underwater at Aquarius, an asset of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), three miles off the coast of Key Largo.  The goal of the NEEMO-15 mission is to begin to understand how NASA may one day explore and operate on asteroids, using techniques that are orders of magnitude more capable and efficient than methods we use today. To achieve this goal, the NEEMO mission team is performing a simulated asteroid exploration mission in the weightless underwater environment using a combination of divers simulating EVA astronauts to test the efficiency of different operations and to collect scientific data. The knowledge generated from this simulation will help inform cost-effective designs of future space exploration assets.  Simply put, practicing spaceflight early and often now, can save huge amounts of money and risk later.

It’s all about the science!

NEEMO-15 will leverage the field of marine science to test out new operational methods with future applicability to space exploration.  Marine biology science data will be collected from the coral reefs near Aquarius – a process that’s comparable to collecting data at an asteroid. NASA science teams will learn from the sampling techniques and will use this information to develop future concepts during an asteroid mission.  But the more data that NASA collects, the more time you need to have specialists working on it, right?  Well, maybe not.  And that’s why we need your help!

Using the power of many to explore…

Analyzing the vast amount of data that NASA brings back from its missions is an enormous task.  In order to improve collaboration internally, as well as engage citizens in NASA’s mission, the Open Government team is experimenting with different ways to process mission data quickly.  The NASA OpenGov team has enlisted the help of established NASA partners Zooniverse and Vizzuality, who have pioneered the analysis of large datasets through crowdsourcing, using the power of elegant interfaces, to engage citizen scientists in the NEEMO mission.  Using a new platform which takes a square kilometer of ocean-bottom imagery and parses it out into an easily navigable, compelling user interface, we humbly ask you to help find scientifically relevant items, in order to allow us to outline them for a broad representation of the reef.  Then, traverse planning scientists can then use this aggegated data to target, or confirm the interest items for further study.

We can’t do this kind of science on our own.  We need your help today and again when we send humans beyond the surly bonds of Earth.

The spashdown of the crew on Thursday will also mark the official launch of our beta site at neemo.zooniverse.org, part of the new Zooniverse Labs arena.  Please keep in mind that we are still in beta for the site, and the site may be down periodically.  If you find this to be the case, check out the NEEMO mission page for a while and come back soon!

As always, please tell us your thoughts in the comments, and good hunting!


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