NASA Astronauts Help Restore Coral Reefs while Training for Missions to the Moon and Mars

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

  • Astronauts and other crew members from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will be living in an underwater habitat off the Florida Keys for 10 days to train for deep space missions to the Moon, Mars, and the International Space Station.

  • As part of their training, the astronauts will be building and installing a series of underwater Coral Tree nurseries in collaboration with Coral Restoration Foundation™ (CRF™) and Florida International University (FIU)

  • These unique Coral Tree Nurseries will provide coral restoration practitioners with vital data to help save coral reefs around the world.



Image of astronaut installing a Coral Restoration Foundation™ Coral Tree during NEEMO 22. Image credit: NASA

How do you train astronauts and their crews to work in the bizarre conditions of outer space and on other planets? By sending them on missions to the bottom of the ocean, of course!


In a few weeks, astronauts and crew from NASA and the ESA will be joining an international team of researchers in Florida to do just that. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 23 (NEEMO 23) expedition is scheduled to begin on June 10th. During the mission, the crew members will be living and working underwater alongside marine scientists in the Florida International University’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat in the Florida Keys for 10 days.


NEEMO 23 will give the astronauts and their team training for space flights and other objectives related to space missions such as the International Space Station and future deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.


An integral part of these missions to other worlds involves scientific research. To give the crew the training and experience they will need to explore the surfaces of other planets, NEEMO 23 will have the astronauts build and install a series of Coral Tree Nurseries near the Aquarius Reef Base. This task mimics some of the skills they will need to employ while conducting research in deep space.



All images above taken by NASA during previous NEEMO missions


An integral part of these missions to other worlds involves scientific research. To give the crew the training and experience they will need to explore the surfaces of other planets, NEEMO 23 will have the astronauts build and install a series of Coral Tree Nurseries near the Aquarius Reef Base. This task mimics some of the skills they will need to employ while conducting research in deep space.

Coral Trees are structures that were developed by Coral Restoration Foundation™ and which are now used by coral restoration groups around the world to grow large amounts of corals, fast. Coral Restoration Foundation™ will be providing NEEMO 23 with Coral Trees and boulder coral fragments that will be grown on them. The CRF™ team will also be giving the astronauts land-based training on how to assemble, install, and attach coral fragments to the Coral Tree structures.


Installing this Coral Tree Nursery will give the astronauts experience that includes traversing the surfaces of extraterrestrial environments, and manipulating vehicles and tools to undertake complex tasks in conditions similar to those found in deep space.


A Coral Tree - a reef-saving technology developed by Coral Restoration Foundation™ - full of staghorn coral ready to be returned to Florida's rees. Image credit: Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™


But the unique nursery will also provide coral restoration practitioners with important data. Once NEEMO 23 is completed, the Coral Tree Nursery will be maintained by FIU, who will be studying the young corals, looking at nutrient and herbivory rates and how these change based on the nurseries’ proximity to the Aquarius structure.


Amelia Moura, Coral Restoration Foundation™ Science Program Manager says, “We are thrilled to be part of this extraordinary mission. The environment at the Aquarius Reef Base is completely different from where we traditionally grow our corals. This makes it an exciting opportunity to further understand how different coral species and different genetic strains within certain species react to different environments, different fish communities, and different light conditions. This is all important data that will guide our restoration work, ensuring that we have the best possible chance of saving our disappearing coral reefs.”



For more information on this story, contact Alice Grainger alice@coralrestoration.org

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