Training for the imminent mission to an asteroid has begun in Houston, and it looks like fun. On Friday, astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen jumped in NASA's 40-foot-deep pool to try out a new suit design and several tools that could be used on the asteroid mission slated for the 2020s. Thank God they took a camera down with them.
NASA just uploaded a couple of videos of the training session to YouTube. In them, you can see the astronauts climb in and out of the Orion spacecraft — or rather, a mock up of the spacecraft that they will fly to the asteroid. They also take rock samples just like they plan to do after a robotic spacecraft captures the asteroid and brings it into orbit near the moon.
These seem like simple tasks, but everything is more complicated in space. NASA explains on its blog:
For instance, one of the primary goals of visiting an asteroid will be to obtain a core sample that shows its layers, intact — such a sample could provide information on the age of the solar system and how it was formed. But the tools geologist use to collect core samples or even chips of rocks aren't a good idea in space — swinging a hammer in front of your face isn't safe when the sheet of glass between you and it is necessary to keep you alive. Instead Love and Bowen tried out a pneumatic hammer to give them a feel for whether a battery-powered version might be useful.