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NASA astronauts train underwater for asteroid mission

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, May 10, 2014, 1:38 PM - It looks like NASA is serious about catching an asteroid and bringing it to Earth, to the point of using astronauts to do underwater testing of the tools they'd need to handle it.

NASA released footage on Friday of astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen, performing maneuvers in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Centre. The two men have a combined total of 62 hours of spacewalk time, over nine space shuttle missions.

The 12-metre-deep tank is often used to get astronauts used to performing complicated tasks in the weightless vacuum of space, and in this case, Love and Bowen were refining the techniques a future expedition might use to collect samples from a captured asteroid.

Astronauts won't be the ones to actually snag a space rock. Rather, a separate robotic probe will be dispatched to capture one and bring it into a stable orbit close to home. A manned expedition would be sent using an Orion space capsule, and you can see Bowen and Love conducting their underwater tests alongside mockups of both the probe and the capsule.

One of the more practical challenges of such a mission would be how to extract a core sample from an asteroid. On Earth, the kind of tools used to chip away at rocks in a gravity environment wouldn't be much use in zero gravity, so the two astronauts were testing out a special pneumatic hammer instead.

The actual mission, slated for sometime in the 2020s, won't be a fool's errand: A core sample of the rock could be used to provide insight into how our solar system was formed, and how old it actually is.

SEND IN THE SPIDERS: Read about six weird space experiments here.

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