It's not so much the underwater aspect of the mission that will simulate a trip to Mars as it is how NASA is handling it. While aquanauts are busy running marine biology studios, testing software and working on a coral restoration project, they'll be talking to NASA on a simulated radio delay, replicating the kind of communication difficulties that one might experience on a Martian or deep space mission. In fact, NEEMO project lead Bill Todd says much of the mission will be carefully choreographed to mimic a Mars-like experience. "Equipment can fail, communication can be challenging and tasks can take longer than expected," he says. "All cases are equally beneficial. It's how we learn and how we are able to assemble all of this together so that someday we're prepared for the unexpected when we are living on and traversing the Martian surface."
While underwater, the crew will also be testing a mini DNA sequencer for use in the International Space Station, as well as a telemedicine device for future missions. You can follow the crew's exploits on Twitter right here.