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Help NASA Train Astronauts Underwater

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In the spirit of boosting citizen science projects, we're pointing to the increasing number of opportunities for volunteers -- those with no formal scientific training -- to encourage participation in real scientific research. These projects happen both on- and offline and volunteers are asked to assist with making observations and calculations alongside scientists.

(Remember last month's story about how gamers helped AIDS researchers identify important an protein with the online game Foldit?)

In the same vein, Zooniverse, a website where you can find a number of online science projects, has kicked off a new project this week and is asking for your help.

Zooniverse has partnered with NASA's NEEMO project for a mission it's conducting over the next two weeks. Due in part to the short duration of the project, NEEMO is hoping that by opening the research up to volunteers, it will have "more eyes on the problem."

NEEMO stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. It's part of NASA's training regime for astronauts, scientists, and engineers for the off-planetary exploration. NEEMO tries to duplicate the space environment by sending astronauts to work underwater.


This particular mission is taking place 43 feet underwater at the NOAA "Aquarius" facility, just off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. As the project's website explains: "An aquanaut's time underwater is extremely valuable. SCUBA divers and personal submarines to help the crew gather huge amounts of data. We need you to be on our ground team and search these images for scientifically interesting items!"

The project is similar to another run by Zooniverse, GalaxyZoo, which asks people to help classify imagery and potentially identify galaxies based on photos taken from space telescopes. In the case of the NEEMO experiment, Zooniverse and NASA are asking volunteers to help identify underwater items like corals, barrels, and gorgonians from the raw imagery around the reef where the astronauts are training. You can give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to others' identification, or if you spot something no one else has, you can highlight and mark that as well.

Zooniverse and NASA are hoping to test out the interface they use for these sorts of crowdsourcing experiments. What the scientists want to be able to find out is "if an interface where people confirm or reject each other's classifications can prove more efficient than our current approach of purely independent classification."

Using the data from the project, NASA wants to help develop data sampling techniques that it can use, not just for training, but for actual future asteroid missions.

You can sign up to participate in the experiment (just as you can for any of the Zooniverse projects), and you can opt to spend as little or as much time as you like.

Take a look and report back to us!