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NEEMO 9 Mission Journal

Mission Day 3
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

JSC2006-E-13560 -- Dave Williams monitors exterior Remotely Operated Vehicle operations. Image above: Dave Williams monitors exterior Remotely Operated Vehicle operations during his stay inside the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory. Credit: NASA

Dave Williams:

Today was a busy day and we hit the deck working hard right at 6 a.m. Everyone had a quick bite and tried to get ahead with our science experiments before the daily planning conference at 7 a.m. I donned the ambulatory monitoring system to do the same experiment that Ron did yesterday. Our morning started with setting up the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) - or rover, that we can operate from either the habitat or Houston to retrieve the simulated lunar specimens. We had some technical challenges getting the video signal from the rover to the ExPOC (Exploration Planning and Operations Center) in Houston that we overcame with the assistance of our topside mission control team. Each crew member practiced driving the rover on the sandy bottom to the east of the habitat and also flew the rover through the water at different “altitudes” above the sea floor. The visibility from the camera view was excellent and the onboard compass helped us maintain our situational awareness while navigating away from the habitat. The ROV activity was followed by two educational outreach events coordinated by Erika from the Distance Learning Center at Johnson Space Center. The students had great questions for us about living and working underwater and the challenges associated with the mission. Following a quick lunch, we went through the set-up procedure to give control of the ROV to the ExPOC. The system worked flawlessly and the team in Houston flew the ROV away from the habitat to find the simulated lunar specimens. They did a great job and it was pretty impressive to see tele-robotic operations controlling a rover exploring outside the habitat. The highlight of the day for our crew was speaking to Jeff Williams and Bill McArthur on board the International Space Station. While they floated inside their spacecraft, divers floated in the water outside our habitat reminding us of the differences between our environment and theirs. Despite some differences, Aquarius is a tremendous test bed for exploration science allowing us to do the advanced tele-robotic surgical experiments inside the habitat while simulating lunar spacewalks on the sea floor outside the habitat. We finished the day with a number of interviews with TV stations in Toronto, Montreal and Cincinnati. Our daily planning conference was busy this evening as we worked to fine tune the schedule for tomorrow. It is almost time for lights out - one of my favorite times of the day when I lie in my bunk looking out the viewing port at the fish outside and reflect on what an incredible experience this is!

Ron Garan:

What an incredible day. The day started out with a test drive/flight of one of our remotely controlled vehicles (ROVs) affectionately called “Scuttle.” We started by flying the vehicle off the "porch" on the back of the habitat. We flew it over to a location where we believed simulated lunar samples were located. We landed near the site and drove the rest of the way to the location. Each of us took turns flying and driving the vehicle via remote control while watching a video image sent from cameras on the front of the vehicle. Later in the day mission control also drove the vehicle remotely from Houston. While Houston was driving the ROV, I was tending the vehicle’s umbilical from the back of the habitat. As I was feeding the umbilical in and out, several dozen School Master fish (1 to 2 feet long) lined up right next to me and remained perfectly still watching every move I made. The fish stayed right next to me the entire time I was in the water. Nicole and Tim went out for their first dive with the dive helmet that we are using to simulate our space exploration suits. During their dive I was the dive supervisor and ensured that we suited them up properly and talked to them on our communication equipment during their excursion. In addition to all our exploration activities and some telemedical experiments that Dave and Tim performed, we participated in a number of education outreach events and live media video interviews across the United States and Canada. One of the highlights of the day was a live video conference between our crew and the crew of the International Space Station. It was a very unique experience to talk with and see the crew in orbit above the Earth while they were seeing us and talking to us on the bottom of the ocean. It was especially fun since Jeff Williams has also experienced living on Aquarius and he could really relate to our experience. It's been a fun, long and productive day and I'm looking forward to hearing the crackle of the Snapper shrimp as I drift off to sleep.

Nicole Stott:

Today we had a really nice mix of exploration and science activities on our schedule. Very busy, but fun stuff. Today was the first day we got to fly the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) "Scuttle" around outside the habitat. We flew it as the operator from inside the habitat and our mission support team flew it as the operator remotely from the control center in Houston. We spent some time getting oriented with the flying and handling characteristics of the ROV as well as the system setup to run it. We simulated surveying the local area and picking up some simulated "lunar" samples to bring back for evaluation. It is pretty cool to think about this as an activity in support of going back to the moon.

We supported several educational outreach and Public Affairs events today with schools and reporters from around the country and Canada. It's really neat to see how much interest there is in the NEEMO missions. It gives me hope that that same kind of interest is out there for the space program!

Tim and Dave kicked off the robotic telemedicine activities today, performing the first sessions on the in vivo robot developed by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. These are pretty cool little robots that would actually go inside the abdomen of the patient to provide the surgeon with better situational awareness and to help minimize the number of incisions made to gain access to the different abdominal areas. For our experiments down here, we have a simulated patient (looks like a silver mailbox with some holes in the top that the laparoscopic instruments are passed through) that houses the materials associated with the different tasks we're doing to simulate surgical tasks. We're doing things like passing a marked string from one forcep to another, stretching and cutting rubber band material in specifically marked places, and stapling different pieces of materials simulating internal organs like an appendix.

One of the highlights of the day was our videoconference with Jeff Williams and Bill McArthur on the International Space Station. It was great to get a chance to talk with them from our undersea home. At the end of the conference they were both playing around doing flips and other microgravity stunts, so we played around on the video and made it look like we were floating around Aquarius. It was pretty funny.

Tim Broderick:

Quite a day! I slept great last night. I only woke once in the middle of the night to see a couple of big goliath groupers swimming by the bunkroom view port. I peacefully fell back to sleep to awake at 6 a.m. with the rest of the crew. Lots of fish about the habitat this morning.

After Daily Planning Conference, we started with "Scuttle" -- our affectionate name for the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) we are using in our exploration experiments. After orientation, we flew the rover around outside our habitat. We then landed the rover and rolled over to some simulated lunar rocks. With some pretty skilled operation, we came close to picking the rocks up -- they were a little too big for the jaws of the manipulator. Even better, later in the day we handed the controls over to ExPOC in Houston and let them explore as well. Very cool! Lessons learned included the need for good umbilical management.

Today was the first day of the mission that we used a special dive helmet. Wow. Even without weighting for simulated lunar buoyancy, it was awesome. More to come throughout the mission...

Intravehicular telehealth science today included telementored in vivo robots from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. They are robots so small that you can fit them into the patient through small "keyhole" incisions. Dave and I performed some tasks and a simulated appendectomy using these small robots. From big rovers in the ocean to small rovers in a simulated patient, these robotic technologies should help us get back to the moon and on to Mars.

Speaking of exploration, we tagged up with the International Space Station crew today. Great talking to the current Expedition crews and seeing them perform some microgravity "S-drills" they remembered from their NEEMO training. We had quite a few Public Affairs activities today all of which went well.

My day was very full, I am very tired, and it is past lights out...

NEEMO Mission Day 3 Topside Report
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Today was an extremely busy day aboard America's Inner Space Station. We had a few glitches along the way, but it was a very successful day overall, including a crew piloting exercise of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), orientation dives for Tim and Nicole in special dive gear, remote control of the ROV from our team in the Mission Control Center in Houston, evaluation of tele-surgery using small robots that go inside the patient, and a linkup with our friends on the International Space Station.

We have a small team supporting this mission from Houston called the "Advanced Operations Cadre," and they work in a versatile little control center called the Exploration Planning Operations Center, or ExPOC. They have been participating in NEEMO missions since the beginning, helping develop procedures and ops concepts, and staffing the ExPOC during the mission.

The ROV has two cameras and the ability to "fly" underwater. It can send the camera views back to the crew and/or the Houston team, and can be controlled remotely by a pilot in Houston. It can pick things up and move them with the use of a manipulator, and can roll across the ocean bottom on wheels like a rover on a distant planet. For NEEMO, it acts as an analog to a robotic arm (like we have on the space shuttle and space station), or like a surface rover. We have many interesting exercises planned for it during this mission to show as an analog for both modes.

We are testing a special hard hat diving system that, for "surface" exploration tasks, allows our aquanauts to be weighted to give a buoyancy effect like the gravity on the moon and Mars, and gives them a limited visibility helmet much like they might find in a space suit. For simplicity and safety reasons, it uses an umbilical instead of a closed-loop life support system. It has a helmet camera, which sends pictures back to the Mission Control team.

The new science today involved miniature surgical robots developed at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. These "in vivo" robots are designed to assist laparoscopic surgeons by functioning from completely within the abdominal environment. They have the capability of vision feedback and task assistance from on-board cameras and manipulators. The robots include versions that are both mobile and fixed base, and have been tested in animal surgeries with much success.

One potential use of these robots, in addition to surgical procedures at medical centers, is to use them in remote or extreme environments. Potential uses may include battlefields and long-duration space missions. With this mission we are evaluating the time necessary and ease of use to perform simple laparoscopic procedures utilizing different vision systems in a remote environment. We are also looking at the ability to be telementored to perform a simple procedure (appendectomy) after learning these tasks.

The visual feedback from the robots will be used and compared to visual feedback from a laparoscope. Results will help to validate in vivo camera robotics as an effective alternative to laparoscope use. The telementoring results will demonstrate that non-surgeons - having been trained with a specified skill set - can be telementored to build on that skill set and perform a laparoscopic appendectomy using in vivo robotics.

The space station linkup was interesting and the whole crew enjoyed it very much. It's not often that the crews of the World's only Inner and Outer Space Stations get to link up and talk with each other. It surely brought back nostalgic memories to astronaut Jeff Williams, the American astronaut who just recently arrived at the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition 13 crew. He is also an aquastronaut, having been the commander of the NEEMO 3 crew!

Thanks for following along!
- 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 14
"Scuttle bunny was flying around the reef at quite a pace with test pilot Ron at the controls."
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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 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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