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NEEMO 9 Mission Journal

Mission Day 6
Saturday, April 8, 2006

JSC2006-E-13663 -- Two NEEMO-9 crewmembers participate in a session of extravehicular activity. Image above: Two NEEMO-9 crewmembers participate in a session of extravehicular activity. Credit: NASA

Dave Williams:

This morning the waves were higher than they have been for the past few days. We could tell right away when we woke up due to the change in pressure in our ears. It is pretty amazing that waves on the surface change the pressure in the habitat. The other indication that the waves were bigger was the movement of particles suspended in the water when we looked out the viewing port. Despite the depth, the wave action causes particles to follow a circular path that is clearly related to the height of the waves above our heads.

Once again we hit the deck running setting up for the CMAS brain wave experiment for Tim and me, while Nicole got ready for an interview with a newspaper in St. Petersburg. Trevor, our topside CMAS hardware expert, had sent us a couple of fixes for the computer problems we had been having with the experiment and they seemed to solve a number of the problems we had been having.

After lunch we set up the ROV to perform a survey of the habitat and each of the crew members had an opportunity to “fly” the rover for a close inspection. We got some great photos out the viewing port of the ROV hovering outside the habitat - surrounded by fish apparently confused by this large yellow wheeled vehicle hovering beside them!! We sent views from the camera on the ROV back to the ExPOC in Houston and tried to have them control it but were unable to get the connection working properly.

Somewhere in there was lunch - I can't really remember when or what I had; it may have been peanut butter with grape jelly on a tortilla.

While Nicole did the CMAS experiment, Ron and I got suited for an experiment to see how changing the center of gravity of the life support backpack for future lunar spacesuits affects our stability, balance and gait. For each different weight configuration Ron and I gave ratings to Tim using a modified Cooper Harper rating scale -- similar to that used by test pilots. There is no question that the different positions of the C of G significantly affected our balance and performance and I felt that our footsteps on the bottom of the ocean are joining those of the exploration team working to get us back to the moon.

Tomorrow is going to start early with a dawn dive so we can see the sunrise during our dive. This will be my second opportunity for a dawn dive, and the spectacular view of the early morning sun beaming through the water as it comes up over the horizon is still fresh in my mind from NEEMO 1 many years ago. Within minutes of my head hitting the pillow I was asleep.

Ron Garan:

Today is Carmel's [Ron’s wife] birthday so the first thing I did when I awoke this morning was to hang a "Happy Birthday" sign on the wall immediately in front of the camera that broadcasts to the Internet. I wish I could be there to celebrate Carmel's birthday with her. The best I could do was pre-position presents and cards, send flowers via the Internet and call.

Whenever we call home we have in effect a one-way video conference because whomever we're talking to can simply log into the Aquarius website and see us on the live Internet feed. Today was also the day that Ronnie and Joseph [Ron’s twin sons] had their 15th birthday party (their birthday is not until the 10th but they had their party today). Carmel orchestrated a paintball party for 9 teenagers by herself. The success of missions like NEEMO 9 are due in large part to the support that the entire team gets from the home front. We are not the only ones who are away from loved ones. Most of the topside team is also away from home.

The highlight of the day was definitely the "sea walk" that Dave and I performed to evaluate the effect that the location of a space suit’s center of gravity has on our ability to perform tasks. We weighed ourselves out to an equivalent lunar gravity environment and descended to the sea floor wearing our dive helmets. We did tasks such as timing how long it took to walk, run, jog, pick up rocks, kneel and recover, and fall and recover. I think this experiment will provide very important data to lunar space suit designers.

During one of my timed jogs as I lifted my leg up to take a step, a stingray with about a 4-foot wing span flew under my foot. I'm sure Houston had a spectacular picture from my helmet camera of that guy.

Nicole Stott:

Today is Saturday, but we still have a pretty full schedule. Makes sense that when you have a limited amount of time in a mission like this on such a specialized facility and you want to complete as much science as possible, that you take advantage of all the days. We feel really fortunate to have such a long mission (18 days total) to work with, and because of that we'll actually get a little time off on the two Sundays we'll be down here.

Our ROV activity today was to fly the rover (Scuttle) around the exterior of Aquarius and perform an inspection. This was a lot of fun. With the exception of having to maintain a constant left yaw input on the hand-controller (we think this was due to the way the tether is attached), Scuttle actually handled pretty well. Dave flew it off the wet porch and started the inspection of the aft of Aquarius and moved around to the starboard side and flew the length of the habitat and around the forward view port in the bunkroom. Then he gave me control and I flew it around the bunkroom view port and then back up the starboard side. I hovered along the way to look into one of the main lock view ports and also used the manipulator to grab on to one of the structural rods extending from the side of the habitat. Much appreciation for Jim's very helpful tips. This was way cool. Really neat to see the Scuttle peering in at us through the view ports from inside of the habitat. Tim took over control and flew it down to the seafloor and maneuvered it around the tank farm for an inspection. Then Ron took over and flew it back to the wet porch.

Ron and Dave went out on the hard hat diving rigs and did the first of our center of gravity evaluations for Mike Gernhardt's study in support of advanced space suit design. They were weighed out to simulate lunar gravity and with a metal structure on their back to simulate a space suit back pack, their center of gravity was adjusted to different configurations, and they performed different tasks (walking, jogging, running, climbing a ladder and shoveling) to evaluate each configuration. All of the findings will be used in support of new space suit design for the moon and Mars.

It was fun today to participate in phone interviews with two newspapers (Clearwater Observer and St. Pete Times) from my hometown. It's really cool to talk to people about how exciting these missions are, what's going on here and the positive impacts it can have on life both here on Earth and in space.

Tomorrow morning we wake up to a special treat --- our first dawn dive. I'm really looking forward to seeing the sunrise from 60 ft below the surface!

Tim Broderick:

Awesome day.

The day began with the crew up before 6 a.m. We immediately started to convert the bunkroom back into our science laboratory. Throughout the day, we again measure our brainwaves during performance of tasks with latency, assessed stress levels through salivary cortisol, and cognitive performance through a standardized battery of computer tests. On a humorous note, the EEG net leaves a particularly attractive series of marks on the subject's head-- looks like we have been kissed by an octopus. The sucker marks stay around for about an hour and have prompted a few questions during our educational outreach events. Some minor technical glitches again today, but all in all a successful day of data collection.

The seas were rough in the morning. We had constant oscillations in pressure that coincided with the 5-7 foot waves passing over our heads at the surface. At the peak of the morning waves, I noticed myself subconsciously "clearing" my ears every few seconds. One of the videoteleconferenced investigators asked why the whole crew was strangely walking around moving our jaws and yawning...

We had a great time flying and driving the Outland rover "Scuttle" to inspect the habitat. Great performing ROV and fun for all crew members. Umbilical management and maintenance of situational awareness when viewing the world through the small camera on the ROV provide some lessons learned for future habitat inspection on the surface of the moon and Mars. Constant yaw required secondary to current and tether friction on underlying structures.

Final exploration activity of the day was use of special rigs designed to allow divers to perform typical lunar activities with multiple different centers of gravity. Very well organized, briefed, supported and executed. Rewarding end to the day. I really believe that we helped mankind take "one small step" back to the moon today.

Dawn dive in the morning! We are waking up early to see the sun rise from the bottom of the ocean, so off to bed….

Topside Report

The pace onboard Aquarius stayed relentless through Saturday. In addition to a very full schedule, we have been experiencing numerous smaller difficulties, each of which requires time-consuming troubleshooting, consultation with specialists, and work-arounds. Many of the problems can be traced back to the laptops we use onboard. While these are modern, capable laptops, they have been very trouble plagued throughout this mission. They each display their own quirks, and consequently we've given them each their own names! (Names from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", of course.)

You might think that as long it was safe and dry, a computer would be just as happy in space or under the sea as at your desk -- but you would be wrong! In space the constant bombardment by high energy (radiation) particles hitting the circuit boards sometimes "upsets" the computation, causing the computer to fail or need to be restarted. In Aquarius we have our own unique challenges. For starters, the increased atmospheric pressure squeezes the housings that hold the hard drives, and sometimes they can't spin up quickly enough for the computer to boot. (We've gone through many computers that DIDN'T work trying to find a few that did.) Furthermore, the high humidity environment is no friend to computers. Finally, we are just asking them to do a lot. There's a lot of software loaded on them for all of our equipment and experiments, and sometimes despite our best intentions, we find that one software package conflicts with others. To make a long story short, for several days now the crew, NURC staff, ExPOC, Topside team and various specialists have been burning the midnight oil trying to overcome these problems and salvage all mission objectives. It's been inspirational to watch, and a testimony to the capabilities and professionalism of everyone involved.

On Saturday we accomplished an objective we called a "vehicle inspection." On the International Space Station and space shuttle we sometimes need to look at something externally to understand a problem we have or damage that has occurred. This is how the protective tiles on the Space Shuttle get inspected after launch now. The primary method for doing this is to use one of the Canadian-built robotic arms and maneuver it into position so that its sensors and video cameras can show the specialists on the ground what is going on. This is a primary method (as opposed to a spacewalk) for two reasons: risk to the crew, and "work efficiency" of a spacewalk (or "EVA" as we call them.) More on work efficiency in a later report...

We envision that periodic inspections of a lunar habitat will be required just as they are on our current space vehicles, and that a robotic system will have a prominent role once again (because spacewalks carry some additional risk by their very nature.) For instance, we may notice that there's a small leak because the pressure keeps slowly falling inside the habitat. A big enough leak into the vacuum of space might be visible from the outside - kind of like seeing your breath on a cold winter's day. In our scenario, to play the role of a robotic arm we used our trusty little ROV again. The crew flew it all around the exterior of Aquarius, taking care not to hit Aquarius, but also getting close enough to see little details in the video camera. As for the vehicle inspection, the crew was able to successfully and confidently fly it all around their habitat, and get high resolution imagery while doing so.

(JSC2006-E-13624) NEEMO-9 EVA
Image above: Performing various tasks in a reconfigurable CG backpack. Credit: NASA

NASA is in the early phases of designing the space suit for lunar and Mars exploration. The Apollo moon walks demonstrated that the weight and center of gravity (CG) of the space suit and portable life support system backpack were important parameters affecting astronaut performance. To investigate the acceptable CG limits for future designs, the NASA EVA Physiology, Systems and Performance Project (EPSP) working in conjunction with the Crew and Thermal Systems engineers have developed a reconfigurable CG backpack that can be worn by divers on "sea walks". On Saturday the NEEMO divers weighed out at lunar gravity levels (1/6 g), donned the reconfigurable backpacks and performed a series of tasks representative of planetary exploration. These tasks, performed under six different center of gravity configurations, included: timed walks, jogs and runs, kneeling, falling and recovering, picking up rocks, shoveling and climbing ladders. The divers evaluated each of the tasks using a modified Cooper-Harper rating scale. The timed ambulation tasks will be compared to a control group performing the same ambulations using a partial gravity weight relief system at the Johnston Space Center. This comparison will allow the data to be adjusted for the effects of water drag.

The advantages of performing these tasks on saturation excursion dives include a real operational environment, unlimited time duration and the ability to investigate the full six degree of freedom work volume. For safety reasons the ground-based partial gravity simulators do not allow subjects to fall down. Later this week the divers will perform the same tasks under simulated Martian gravity conditions. They will also wear the reconfigurable CG backpacks while performing a structure assembly task. The divers will perform half of the task with the CG currently planned for the Lunar/Mars suit and the other half with the CG configuration that had the best Cooper-Harper ratings. This data will be combined with CG studies in other environments (partial gravity simulator and parabolic flight) to drive out the optimum configuration of the exploration suit portable life support system (backpack).

Thanks for staying with us!
- NEEMO 9 Topside Team

For crew journals, live webcam views, images and aquanaut profiles, visit:


 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 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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