Using the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center, NASA and the Graduate School of Oceanography are working together to explore the Pacific Ocean in hopes to search for life in space.

The Inner Space Center is an international hub for ocean exploration and education. They conduct telepresence-enabled ocean exploration projects, meaning they use satellite and networking technology to link shore-based scientists to the ship in real time. Telepresence enables NASA scientists to help the onboard team with all the decision making, collection of samples and data. NASA is using this project as an analog for how they conduct space exploration in the future.

The System Underwater Biochemical Science and Exploration Analog (SUBSEA) is a research program that connects the findings of the deep ocean to the water found on moons and planets in our solar system. Scientists from SUBSEA, are studying an underwater volcano in Hawaii that has noticeable similarities to ocean environments in space. The ship “Nautilus” is off the coast of Hawaii conducting remotely operated dives to the seafloor.

Megan Lubetkin, a student at the Graduate School of Oceanography is the science manager for the SUBSEA expedition.

“Each of us from URI will certainly bring back new experiences to our own research and courses,” Lubetkin said. “I’m sure several of us will be sharing our experiences on this expedition in various classes and with other students.”

The researchers’ launch was planned for Aug. 23, however, it was delayed three days when Hurricane Lane struck the islands.

The idea from this project is that in the future there will be manned and unmanned exploration projects to the moon, Mars and potentially sending probes to moons in Saturn or Jupiter’s orbit. Some of these moons are thought to have oceans and NASA wants to explore these areas that may have water since they could then have possible signs of life.

“The study of this underwater volcano is an analog for what we might find on other planets or moons,” the Director of the Inner Space Center, Dwight Coleman said. “If NASA leads a mission to the moon or to Mars or sends a probe to one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, the research conducted would be similar to the way we are conducting the research off of Hawaii.”

“URI and the Inner Space center have sort of led the way in developmental technology to do telepresence led exploration and we hope to do many projects like this in the future,” Coleman said.

The mission is set to finalize Sept. 12.