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NEEMO 9 Mission Journal

Mission Day 9
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

JSC2006-E-14939 -- Undersea coral reef display. Image above: One of the NEEMO-9 aquanauts captured this undersea coral reef display. Credit: NASA

Dave Williams:

Today marks the halfway point for the mission. The time is flying by and the fast pace continues with different experiments continuing to appear on the timeline. Our post-sleep routine of a quick breakfast interspersed with troubleshooting hardware challenges continued this morning finishing with a quick daily planning conference before we started our survey dive. The four of us left the wet porch in two buddy pairs to mark the ridge excursion line to the south every 25 meters, photograph the position of the excursion line on the reef and record bathymetric data in association with markers on our navigation device. We mapped the area surrounding the ridge, NASA and S4 excursion lines, filling our tanks at the Kamper station and at the habitat. Our efficient dive plan helped us finish the data collection with time to spare and the ExPOC sent us to map the northeast excursion line as well. We returned to the habitat before lunch and had a quick shower to get ready for an educational outreach event with medical students at a university. Astronaut Chris Hadfield was on site and gave the students an overview of the Vision for Space Exploration that will take humans back to the moon and Dr. Mehran Anvari gave the students an overview of the telemedicine experiments we are doing on the NEEMO 9 mission. During the event Nicole and Tim were able to show the students the robot we are using for the remote surgical procedures. This afternoon Mehran used the robot to sort simulated lunar specimens with remote guidance from Carl and Mary Sue, two geologists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Ron and I suited for our second survey dive of the day, this time to mark and map the fifth leg excursion line. We saw a number of spotted eagle rays and a large sea turtle, neighbors of ours that distract us from our scientific tasks with their graceful elegance and antics. When we returned to the habitat, Nicole and Tim were performing an experiment on the role of touch feedback in remote surgery with Mehran guiding them through a number of tasks. We traded places with them and by the time we were finished it was time for the daily planning conference, dinner, e-mail and bedtime. It was Ross’s birthday today and we all joined in singing happy birthday to him – perhaps a little off key! Tomorrow we have more diving to map the reef around Aquarius and the Center for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) brain wave experiment.

Ron Garan:

Well, we're past the halfway point in the mission. Today we spent a lot of time outside. This morning Dave, Nicole, Tim and I proceeded south from the habitat. Our mission was to map and mark an area of our simulated lunar landing site and communicate with Mission Control in Houston each step of the way. Dave and Nicole took turns using a navigation device that electronically maps the area under us as we traverse from the habitat. Tim and I had tags, a camera, and a tape measure that we used to mark and photograph every 25 meters along our excursion line. We had a very efficient dive and finished our objectives fast enough to call in a change in our dive plan so that we could continue mapping and tagging additional areas. After the dive we hustled out of gear and started converting our bunk room for science while simultaneously preparing for and conducting an outreach videoconference with medical students from a university in Hamilton, Ontario. Again today we set up and operated the surgical robot and conducted more telerobotic surgery and lunar sample manipulations. Tim and Jim did a great job last night making some repairs on one of the robotic arms. Dave and I also went out on a second dive where we conducted more of the mapping and tagging of our simulated landing area. This time we used a diver tracking system that allows our crew members in the habitat and Mission Control to track our location. One of the questions we want to answer is how important is it for Mission Control to have real time electronic monitoring of astronauts exploring the lunar surface. During the dive we saw some amazing sights. We saw three spotted eagle rays with a six- to seven-foot wingspan "fly" in formation with a large sea turtle following behind. Spotted eagle rays are absolutely breathtaking creatures to watch glide by. It was also apparently a very sunny day today and I found myself frequently looking up at the sun through 80 feet of water. It's been nine days since I've seen the sun in the way I'm accustomed to. Our evening after the dive was spent with more science. One of the experiments involved haptics (using the sense of feel to help guide robotic operations). In this experiment Dr. Anvari in Canada actually guided us through surgical procedures as if he was moving our hands and surgical instruments in relation to our simulated patient. As I write this a large sea turtle just decided to park its belly on our main view port (where I'm presently sitting). Right now it is very obvious that the sea state is getting very rough. The pressure in the habitat is changing noticeably with each passing wave. I can actually see the depth gauge in the habitat rocking up and down and the habitat swaying side to side. We can definitely feel it in our ears as the pressure rises and falls. We are forecast to have eight-foot seas for most of the week. Also as I write this a very large goliath grouper just lumbered past the main view port. It probably weighs at least 200 pounds. There are two of these groupers that live under our bunk room and we see them almost every night from our bunk room view port. Nicole has named them Stella and Lucy after her dogs. Well, since I am having a hard time keeping my eyes open, I'm going to call it a day.

Nicole Stott:

We woke up this morning and Tim and Ross showed us video of an amazing sight they had through the view port window late last night. At night most of the lights are turned down in the habitat, but not off completely in case of an emergency. But it is much darker inside than during the day. At night there are also lights on outside the habitat, which makes it very nice for observing the night time activity outside. What Tim and Ross saw was a very thick, white cloud of "something" spiraling down from above. There were a few of the yellow tail snapper swimming around it, but otherwise the only other fish you could see was one of our large goliath grouper friends. He was being very protective of this white, spiraling cloud. And from the video it looks like Tim and Ross had a beautiful show. The grouper was turned on its head and swimming very gracefully and purposefully around and up and down the cloud. Was like a grouper ballet. Really an impressive sight. We still aren't completely sure what it was, but think it might have been spawn falling from another of the grouper higher in the water column. Honestly though, I don't think any of us really are too concerned with what it really was, but are just very pleased to have been able to see it --- definitely makes you aware of how many wonderful mysteries there are out there!

We had a nice crew dive this morning performing a site survey of some of the outer habitat excursion areas. The visibility improved quite a bit today -- up to at least 75 feet. We did a thorough job of tagging the excursion lines and taking navigational marks with an underwater mapping tool.

This afternoon we did some really cool stuff with the CMAS surgical robot. Dr. Anvari remotely operated the robot to manipulate some lunar rock samples. On the line in Houston were Mary Sue Bell and Carlton Allen (both planetary geologists at Johnson Space Center) providing telementoring to Dr. Anvari in Canada. While Dr. Anvari handled the samples, it worked out really well for the experts in Houston to be able to provide comments on the type of rocks they were looking at and whether they would be suitable samples to return to Earth. Following the lunar sample work, Dr. Anvari transitioned to another suturing session and proceeded to once again successfully demonstrate the procedure with a two-second latency (equivalent to lunar latency). Very impressive stuff!

We then transitioned to the CMAS Haptics experiment which is a telementored task to evaluate the ability to train surgical students for telerobotic surgery using computer-based tasks to help them get the "feel." This was interesting and opened my eyes to the expert touch that the surgeon needs.

A definite highlight of my day was my phone call home to my husband and son. Every day I'm thankful for their support.

Tim Broderick:

This morning we started the morning with a well-executed excursion line marking and mapping dive. The plan we had formulated last evening worked so well that we achieved all our objectives and even moved on to map the northeast line as well. Communication with ExPOC was crystal clear using the masks with communications system. A three refill, 2.5 hour dive with a max depth of 90 feet. Beautiful spotted eagle rays and turtles kept us company for part of the dive. The team even had time to float at the view port so that Ross could take a photo from inside the habitat. Dave and Ron had a second dive in the afternoon that was equally successful.

Came back in to a very busy day of science. We set up the robot for some remote suturing and lunar sample analysis. Both performed at lunar latency and very cool. Quickly tore down the robot and set up a haptic telementoring system. This system allows the student to see and feel simulated structures -- in this case some simulated organs inside a patient. The teacher can also guide the hand of the remote student. We finished with more successful remote rover operations to round out late afternoon activities.

Really big waves overhead this evening. Feel it in our ears, but big enough we even feel it in the rest of our body. A few waves were big enough that the change in pressure during wave passage caused the air to briefly fog up in the wet porch. Big seas forecast throughout the rest of the week. If they get too big, we will have to postpone some of our dives.

Another very busy, very productive, and very tiring day...

NEEMO 9 MISSION DAY 9 Topside Report

Today brought another round of interesting activities aboard Aquarius, as we went through the exercise of robotically manipulating simulated lunar samples. One of the primary goals of astronauts returning to the moon will be to collect noteworthy geological samples for eventual return to Earth. Once they're collected and brought back to the lunar base, then what? We are fortunate to have the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) division at Johnson Space Center involved on the NEEMO 9 mission. The lunar analog sample activity today was designed to demonstrate current capabilities for remote geologic sample collecting and manipulation as well as science planning, communications, and data gathering in an extreme environment. This activity is helping to prepare for future sample collection missions in the extreme conditions of the lunar environment. We know that we need to take great care to avoid contamination issues with lunar samples. Obviously we don't want to risk contaminating our crew members with anything that might be present on the samples, but it's also important that we don't contaminate the samples with traces of Earth or Earth-bound life. We need to be sure that anything we find in the lunar samples indeed has a lunar origin. So it is likely that we will have some kind of sterile environment that the samples go into, and inside which they can be manipulated (scanned, photographed, measured, etc.). It is also likely that a remotely controlled (from Earth) robot will have a prominent role in this task, as it will free up more valuable crew time for other things - or just allow the crew time for a needed break! Today simulated lunar samples (Earth rocks that geologically resemble those we know exist on the moon) were manipulated remotely using the telerobot operated from the Center for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) in Ontario, Canada, per instructions from the science investigators back at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The robotic manipulator was able to handle every task it was assigned from picking the rocks up and displaying them to the scientists for decision making to putting the samples in containers and closing the containers for storage. Again, Dr. Mehran Anvari operated the robot from Hamilton, Ontario. Even with the two-second lunar time delay introduced, he showed once again the power of telerobotics - not only for surgery, but as a multifunction tool for exploration!

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 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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