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NEEMO 9 Crew Interview: Tim Broderick - Mission Specialist


Q: You’re going to be participating in the next NEEMO underwater research mission. What’s your background? And, how does it qualify you to be an aquanaut?

A: I’m a surgeon at the University of Cincinnati. And, as a surgeon at the university, I develop advanced medical technologies, medical technologies that are going to be used in future space exploration.

Bob Thirsk and Tim Broderick Image to right: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and Dr. Tim Broderick prepare for a training dive for NEEMO 7. Credit: NASA

How and why were you selected for the NEEMO project? Did you have to go through any special certification process? Did you have to go through any screening process? Why are you involved with NASA?

I had the privilege of being a backup crewmember on NEEMO 7. I had a great experience on NEEMO 7, supporting the crew, and was also a visiting scientist on 7. And, that’s how I got involved or qualified for NEEMO 9.

What’s your role going to be in this NEEMO mission?

I’m mission specialist 3. And, I’m actually also the crew medical officer for this mission. As mission specialist 3, I am involved in a number of exploration-related scientific payloads, and I’m also, as the crew medical officer, going to support the dive medical officer in the health care of the crew.

What is NEEMO, and what does it mean to you?

NEEMO is the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. And, NEEMO, to me, is a great analog for spaceflight. It’s a technology accelerator. This particular mission is focused on exploration, and NEEMO is like igniting the solid rocket boosters on our journey to exploration. We are taking off, and NEEMO is the start of our journey of exploration.

Why do you think NEEMO’s going to be a valuable tool for future moon and Mars missions?

If you look at an underwater extreme environment, it is a perfect opportunity for us to develop the technologies, the techniques necessary for long-duration spaceflight. We are starting to explore space further. We’re headed to the moon; we’re then going on to Mars. We, in the past, in the shuttle and the station, if an astronaut was sick or injured could just bring them back down to Earth. But, when we’re a million miles from the nearest hospital on our way to the moon or to Mars, we’re going to need to have the ability to care for astronauts—care for astronauts with the advanced technologies that we are developing on these NEEMO missions.

Why is telemedicine important to future exploration missions?

Telemedicine is important; it’s a key tool that we’re going to use to provide medical care to astronauts on the way to the moon and Mars. It’s important in spaceflight; it’s important in the care of patients around the world. A good example is Katrina. There are patients who are severely impacted in a negative way by Katrina and that disaster. They don’t have adequate medical care because the doctors are separated from them. If you provide a simple telecommunication link, you can have expert medical care in the midst of New Orleans, for example, the same way you can link the doctor with the crew medical officer on an exploration mission. What are the similarities between saturation diving and life undersea and living in a space vehicle or on another planetary body? Saturation diving is a good parallel for spaceflight. The first similarity is that it is an extreme environment. Underwater saturation diving is like living in space. The habitats are similar. The Aquarius habitat is about the same size as the International Space Station. And that confined environment is similar for the crews, whether or not you’re in Aquarius or in space. The underwater environment is a technology accelerator. It’s hard for us to get the equipment down there, and it’s hard for us to use it at this atmosphere, the same way it’s hard to get the technology up into space and use it in space.

Will you be conducting any research during the NEEMO mission?

Yes, I will. As mission specialist 3, I am involved in a number of scientific payloads on this mission. One of which is a tele-surgical payload, which I’m especially excited to participate in. Tele-surgery is remote control of a surgical robot that allows a remote surgeon to put your hands inside a patient. For example, there’s a number of very interesting surgery-by-wire technologies, advanced digital technologies, that are similar to the fly-by-wire technologies we use in NASA.

What are you going to be doing to set those experiments up?

Tim Broderick preparing for a dive I am a surgeon, so I have some expertise in the use of these equipments, some of the advanced surgical technologies—laparoscopic or band-aid surgery technologies and surgical robots that I use as part of my practice and research—I’m going to be helping set up down in the habitat.

Image to left: Tim Broderick prepares for a training dive off the Florida Keys for NEEMO 7. Credit: NASA

Will you be conducting any excursions outside Aquarius? And, are these going to be similar to spacewalks?

I’m very excited about the diving I’m going to be doing in NEEMO 9. We’re using some high-tech diving equipment that is a great parallel for spacewalks, or the astronauts tell me it’s about as close as I’m going to get without actually going up into space. It’s a great way to test what we’re going to be doing on the surface of the moon and Mars in future missions.

Will you be using any robotic helpers to complete your tasks?

We are using robotic helpers, both medical robots and we’re using some non-medical robots outside on some of our spacewalks. From the standpoint of medical robots, we’re finally moving beyond the Norman Rockwell picture medical care into a Star Trek medical care with advanced robots – the robots that are going to have a profound impact on the care of astronauts on the way to the moon and Mars, as well as patients here on Earth. We’re going to use some underwater rovers as well to help us build structures that we would build if we were trying to communicate on the moon, for example.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to two things. The first is living underwater. I think I’m going to have much more profound understanding of life on our planet, and an appreciation of nature. It’s a great opportunity that few people have. I’m very thankful to have that opportunity. The second is the exploration-enabling technologies; we do need to be able to take care of astronauts on the way to the moon and Mars, and we need to have the technologies to do that. We use technologies, in medicine that are decades old. We need to take the technologies that we use in our everyday life, these advanced technologies, like the Internet or computers, and bring these into health care so that we can have a quality health care for astronauts when we’re on the way to the moon or Mars or on the surface, living on the moon or Mars—even if we’re a million miles away from the nearest hospital.

What are you least looking forward to?

I have a very understanding wife is all I can say. I have a family now of three. We just had our third girl about ten days ago. So, we have a new baby at home, and I am going to be unable to help my wife out or talk with her significantly when I’m down underwater. I have a great job; I get to go down and do all these cool things. But, my wife is back with a new baby and whether we need it or not, we have 15 minutes to talk to our families every week. And, that’s probably what I’m looking forward to least.

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