How to Visit the Florida Keys Like a NASA Aquanaut

To prepare for space, astronauts spend some time under the sea

(NASA)
smithsonianmag.com

This story originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.

Practice makes perfect—especially when nobody has any idea what to expect.

In order to prepare astronauts for future missions to extreme conditions like Mars, NASA is sending six of them to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Like the European Space Agency's training program that sends astronauts into caves in Italy, the underwater expedition is intended to teach the trainees to work together while adapting to very different conditions from life on Earth's land.

The astronauts, engineers and scientists of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) team, are spending 16 days at Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys. The expedition, which started on July 21, will mimic a trip to deep space.

While civilians will not be able to experience the same extreme conditions as NEEMO’s aquanauts (and really, would you want to?), they can dive close to the station and get a glimpse at how tough astronaut training can be.

Under Pressure

The pressure inside Aquarius is 2.5 times greater than surface pressure. At the end of missions, scientists must undergo a 16-hour decompression process, where the station is slowly brought back to normal pressure.

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