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NEEMO 9 Mission Journal

Mission Day 14
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Scuttle Bunny Image above: One of the NEEMO-9 aquanauts captured this undersea Easter morning image of the Scuttle Bunny. Credit: NASA

Dave Williams:

This morning I slept in until 8 a.m. – a full nine hour sleep! Lying in my bunk, I looked out the viewing port at the yellow-tailed jacks avoiding the current by maintaining a holding pattern close to the habitat. The Easter bunny was good to us and we each received a bag filled with chocolates and little malted milk Easter eggs. We took our time over breakfast and I enjoyed a leisurely mug of coffee while being entertained by the interactions of the jacks with the parrot fish and larger silvery permit fish.

A large school of around 60 barracuda swam into the area and all the smaller fish disappeared quickly throughout the reef. It is interesting watching the transition between the different schools of fish – how one group gives way to another around the viewing ports and they vanish as quickly as they arrive. We spent most of the morning getting caught up with our photography taking pictures throughout the habitat. Later in the morning the topside team surprised us with an Easter basket filled with more chocolate bars, chocolate Nemo fish, jellybeans and cards for each of us. By the time we sampled everything there was little room left for the Polynesian chicken for lunch.

After lunch we took more crew photographs wearing different crew shirts. Each of us had a video conference set-up for us to talk with our families and Nicole brought bunny ears for us to wear while talking to our kids. The bunny ears were a big hit and we enjoyed the brief opportunity to see one another again. We really appreciated our family support team and Wyle for taking time from their Easter to enable us to spend a little time with our families. At the end of Ron’s family conference we set up a telephone call with Monsignor Bob Sable, an Air Force chaplain currently working at the Vatican. He gave us an Easter blessing followed by reading the Gospel of Mark. He also gave a blessing to the crew of Columbia and for our crew to place the STS-107 mission pin on the reef.

After he finished, I donned a hookah rig and swam solo to an area of reef off the bow of Aquarius. Placing the pin in recognition of the courage, dedication and commitment to space exploration of the Columbia crew, reminded me of the loss of the crews of Challenger and Apollo 1. Their passion for exploration is an inspiration to all of us as we start to transition from the International Space Station back to the moon over the next decade. Swimming back to the habitat I reflected on how the dream of human space exploration has carried us so far in the past 50 years and how lucky I have been to be part of exploring the two final frontiers. After dinner we sat at the galley table and watched “Second Hand Lions” – a movie about a boy who goes to live with his two uncles and learns about courage, commitment and honor. It was a fitting way to end an Easter Sunday that I will never forget.

Ron Garan:

What a unique place to wake up on Easter morning. Last night during our dive I had time to reflect on the incredible blessing we all have been given to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord while marveling at God's undersea creation.

Dave brought some STS-107 pins with us on the mission. We decided that Easter was a perfect day to honor our friends who perished in the Columbia tragedy by laying an STS-107 pin on the reef off the bow of Aquarius. Dave went outside on a system called hookah which consists of an umbilical attached to an air source in Aquarius. He proceeded to the bow of Aquarius and placed the pin in a secure place on the reef. We filmed and photographed him from within Aquarius while he photographed the pin directly.

Today we also had cargo deliveries from the NURC topside divers. One of the big objectives was to take most of our scientific hardware back to the surface. The willingness to work on Easter is a perfect example of the dedication and selflessness of the topside team. Among the goods that arrived was an Easter basket and cards for each of us from the team.

Another highlight of the day was our family videoconferences. It was great to see Carmel and the boys. While I was on the video conference we patched in to Italy with Monsignor Sable who is a close family friend that lives and works at the Vatican. He led my family and the entire crew in an Easter prayer service, blessed our mission and said a special blessing for the laying of the STS-107 pin in the reef. It was an incredible experience to share such a special Easter service, led by a very good friend on the other side of the ocean, with my family, while on the bottom of the ocean. This is without a doubt the most unique Easter I have ever experienced. I think it will take a very long time before I will be able to fully reflect on the tremendous opportunity and blessing that I have been given.

We spent the rest of the day operating the ROV and I could be mistaken but at one point I thought I saw a bunny riding on the top. I think someone thought it was a good idea to bungee an Easter bunny to the ROV. We achieved all our test objectives.

The mission is drawing to a close and I definitely have mixed feelings. I am very much looking forward to reuniting with my family but I know I'm going to miss Aquarius. Happy Easter 2006!

Nicole Stott:

Easter Sunday on Aquarius. We woke up without an alarm and basically had the day off. We had a special celebration of Easter at the end of Ron's family conference. Ron called his friend Monsignor Sable in Rome and he shared some short Easter readings and prayers with us, blessed Aquarius and its crews, and said a blessing for an STS-107 pin we were going to place out on the reef later in the day. And later in the day Dave did just that and placed the pin in a beautiful piece of reef just off the bow of Aquarius.

The rest of the day we spent catching up on crew photos, talking with our families, and helping Jim and Ross get some of the equipment we won't need any more for the mission ready to be sent topside. We also had a little time to take the ROV out for a run. The Easter bunny, a.k.a. Scuttle bunny down here on Aquarius, was somewhere out on the reef and needed a ride home. We were happy to provide assistance!

Thanks to our topside team for the relaxing timeline for our Easter Sunday and for the yummy chocolates and very funny cards they sent to us. They know how to take care of us!

Tim Broderick:

Happy Easter! Nicole helped the Easter Bunny deliver chocolate treats to crew members in their bunks this morning. We woke up to calm seas, but persistently poor visibility.

After a relaxing early morning, the activity picked up with a visit from the NURC topside staff. The flurry of potting on Easter morning suggests our mission is coming to a close. The habitat seems empty after clearing out the science equipment that the weather has forced us to keep down here for over a week. We also started to shoot some crew photos. We need a little more time to finish them off over the next few days.

Topside potted down some Easter cards and candy to the crew. Easter personal family conferences were also welcome. I miss the girls, but am comforted that we will see each other later this week. Hookah and rover ops added to our local undersea celebration. The Easter Bunny took a little ride on Scuttle. Scuttle bunny was flying around the reef at quite a pace with test pilot Ron at the controls. Yee-ha! An hour and twenty minutes on hookah photographing the reef was a peaceful Easter present.

On a more serious note, we placed an STS-107 pin on the reef immediately foreward of Aquarius as a memorial to the Columbia crew. A touching and appropriate activity to end an unforgettable Easter.

Few more busy days of exploration left and then on to decompression.

NEEMO 9 Mission Day 14 Topside Report

As the second week of the NEEMO 9 mission comes to an end, the pace is starting to settle down a bit. The science objectives are largely accomplished, and the crew was able to enjoy a well-earned day off on Sunday with scheduled private conferences with their families. Several major "exploration" initiatives were begun toward the end of the week, and will be continuing for the remaining four days of the mission.

JSC2006-E-14929  Waterlab Image above: View of the structure called “Waterlab” for the NEEMO project. Credit: NASA

A centerpiece of previous NEEMO missions is called "Waterlab." At first glance this may appear to be just a rickety lattice of PVC pipes, strung haphazardly together on the sea floor. But to those of us who have previously constructed Waterlab, it's so much more! Waterlab promotes crew skills of planning out a complex task, handing over from team to team involved in the multiple construction activities required to finish it, following a procedure, and working in a cumbersome environment. It also has relevance as a lunar analog task.

During the Apollo program there was no requirement for EVA (spacewalking) crewmembers to communicate with their landing vehicle/habitat. Crewmembers during Apollo communicated directly to Earth. Due to the planned increase in lunar surface crew size, in the future it may be beneficial for crewmembers to have the capability to communicate to crewmembers remaining in their habitat while conducting surface exploration. But the lunar horizon for an EVA crewmember is about 2.4 kilometers, so in order to communicate to the habitat while on excursions beyond that distance, a communications relay station will need to be constructed - kind of like a mini cell phone tower. A 20-foot-tall (6.15-meters) relay tower would increase the communication range to about 9 kilometers. So constructing Waterlab is similar to relay tower constructions we may someday see on the moon. It is being done with a center of gravity configuration determined from the earlier experiment.

One important question facing NASA as we prepare to return to the moon is how to make our EVA time more efficient. During this mission we are collecting data concerning the crew members' work efficiency, measured by comparing the overhead time it takes to prepare for an EVA compared to the productive EVA time. This measurement is called the Work Efficiency Index (WEI). Exploration EVAs (on the moon or Mars) will be conducted at a much higher frequency than we are currently performing EVA out of the space shuttle or International Space Station. Therefore, the WEI of exploration EVAs will need to improve by a factor of 10 over current methods! The data collected from this and future NEEMO missions will provide insight regarding how the WEI can be improved both in terms of equipment design and crew procedures.

Another important question we face prior to returning to the moon is how to maximize the human and robotic resources we have. We have successfully demonstrated that human operators on Earth can control robots on a distant world with numerous Mars missions. We routinely use robotics on the shuttle and station that are controlled by in -situ astronauts. And we have the experience of hundreds of suited spacewalks. What we don't have much experience with is optimizing between the three options. Crew time is precious, so it's advantageous to move operations to ground controllers wherever possible. The ground has the time delay to deal with, but they have advantages like being able to work all night long while the crew is sleeping. In short, there is always a tradeoff between the more precious crew time and the (expected) higher efficiency of crew work. How to optimize the split of work between EVA work, crew-controlled robotics, and ground-controlled robotics is an important question that needs to be answered prior to returning to the moon.

The ROV on this NEEMO mission performs the role of the robot. It can be a surface rover, or a free flyer (resembling the end of a robotic arm.) It can be controlled by the control center in Houston, or the in situ crew. As the mission continues, we have been experimenting with all options and documenting lessons learned to help answer the larger question of how best to split work. NEEMO 9 is just the tip of the iceberg in answering this question, but over the course of multiple missions we expect to have a significant database to help drive our lunar operations concepts.

We have several activities planned during this mission to formally measure the efficiency of EVA crewmembers compared to ground-based robotics, so that working together we can optimize the science productivity of an EVA astronaut. For this study we are measuring the task efficiency index (TEI) of humans working alone compared to robots working alone compared to a human/robotic synergy solution. This TEI study is the start of a series of studies that will be conducted in various analog environments to optimize the interactions between humans and robots, using various objective measures of scientific return vs. crew time.

Thanks for staying with us!
- NEEMO 9 Topside Team

 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 15
"The barracuda seemed particularly impressed with this new structure and hovered around the truss element facing into the current! "
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 13
"But what a sight after we turned off our lights. Bioluminescent creatures ... lit up the sea around us."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 12
"We're sitting at the galley table writing our journals and as usual we're distracted by the beauty out the galley view port."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 11
"As the sun began to set in the world above, I swam into the wet porch feeling very much a resident of the reef."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 10
"It was pretty exciting to me to be here living and working on Aquarius on the 25th anniversary of STS-1."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 9
"As I write this a large sea turtle just decided to park its belly on our main view port (where I'm presently sitting)."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 8
"This marks the first time in human history an entire robotic surgical platform was transported to an extreme environment ... and was manipulated successfully from afar."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 7
"There is nothing quite like the transition from a warm bed to a cold wetsuit to wake you up in the morning!"
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 6
"The EEG net leaves a particularly attractive series of marks on the subject's head-- looks like we have been kissed by an octopus."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 5
"It's ... incredible to watch the sunset from 47 feet beneath the surface."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 4
"Today was a day filled with outreach events, both 'educational' (to school children) and 'public affairs' (to media)."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 3
"One of the highlights of the day was our videoconference with Jeff Williams and Bill McArthur on the International Space Station."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 2
"Today at 10:38 a.m. Ron Garan, Nicole Stott, and Tim Broderick joined an elite group of people in this world who have spent 24 hours under the sea in 'saturation,' making them the world's three newest aquanauts."
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 NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Number 1
"I'm looking forward to my first night of 'sleeping with the fishes.'"
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 6
"The mission as planned will be the most complex and longest NEEMO and Aquarius mission to date."
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 5
"It was an interesting experience talking to one another and looking out the windows into the ocean while standing on the bottom at 60 feet!!"
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 4
"Ross ... intentionally swam Nicole and I around in circles to try and get us lost. He did a pretty good job!"
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 3
"The pace is beginning to pick-up with more diving tasks being added every day."
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 2
"On our way out, we saw a pod of dolphins which started following the boat and leaping out of the waves."
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 NEEMO 9 Training Journal Number 1
"Today was our first day of training in our final week before the mission."
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