Astronauts at NASA went underwater to test tools that would be used in a future mission to an asteroid planned for the 2020s.

Stan Love and Steve Bowen, two experienced NASA astronauts who between them had spent more than 62 hours in space on nine shuttle mission spacewalks, went underwater in a 40-foot-deep swimming pool in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Friday to help engineers determine what astronauts will need on the space agency’s next asteroid mission.

The swimming pool, which helps provide the lack of gravity needed for astronauts to practice for spacewalks, housed a mockup of the Orion spacecraft that would carry astronauts to the asteroid. There was also a mock-up of the robotic spacecraft that would be used to capture an asteroid and bring it into a stable orbit near the moon.

Stan Love and Steve Bowen are lowered into the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at Johnson Space Center to test spacewalk suits and tools for a mission to an asteroid. Photo: NASA TV

“We’re working on the techniques and tools we might use someday to explore a small asteroid that was captured from an orbit around the sun and brought back by a robotic spacecraft to orbit around the moon,” Love said in a statement. “When it’s there, we can send people there to take samples and take a look at it up close. That’s our main task: We’re looking at tools we’d use for that, how we’d take those samples.”

According to NASA, the tools that geologists use to collect core samples or to chip of rocks on Earth are not safe to be used in space. Therefore, Love and Bowen tried out a pneumatic hammer to give them a feel for whether a battery-powered version might be useful. The astronauts also evaluated a version of the spacesuit that could be worn on an asteroid.

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“We need some significant modifications to make it easy to translate. I can’t stretch my arms out quite as far as in the [space station space suit],” Bowen said. “The work envelop is very small. So as we get through, we look at these tasks. These tasks are outstanding to help us develop what needs to be modified in the suit as well.”

NASA has already started working on identifying an asteroid, which could be reached by a robotic mission to capture it and bring it into a stable orbit around the moon. Once the asteroid is at the desired postion, the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket would launch a crew of astronauts to explore it and gather samples.

Check out the videos here:

In this video, astronauts Stan Love and Steve Bowen discuss their work underwater to test tools and techniques for exploring an asteroid.

Here Love and Bowen practice climbing out of the Orion spacecraft and take samples from an asteroid in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at Johnson Space Center.