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NASA EDGE: Extreme Analogs Part 2 NEEMO
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NASA EDGE: Extreme Analogs Part 2

Extreme Analogs
NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO)
- Barbara Romig
- Joe Kosmo
- Bill Todd
- Steve Chappell
- Thomas Marshburn
- Mike Gernhardt
- Andrew Abercromby - Otto Rutten
- Lesley Lee
- Nick Skytland
- Heather Paul
- Chris Hadfield

All of NASA's analog field tests are extreme. NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations,) however, takes it to another level. An undersea level. The NEEMO crew spent 14 straight days living in the Aquarius, a facility about 60 feet underwater. Four NASA Aquanauts, multiple EVAs daily, and a dedicated support team crunching lots and lots of data for future space exploration all come together in this complex and very cool exercise. So, put your floaties away and discover how NASA uses an underwater environment to prepare our astronauts for life on other planets, asteroids or lunar like surfaces.


BLAIR: This is incredible. How can I be a part of D-RATS? I’ve got to be a part of the team. I’ve earned my dues.

BARBARA: I think we have a position for you.

BLAIR: Awesome!

JOE: Yeah, that’s right. We do have a job, a good position for you. Would you like to be a rescued crewmember?

BLAIR: You’re not kidding with me, because if this is a joke, I’m going to be very sad. This is not a joke?

JOE: No, we’re very serious about it. Barbara and I have been counseling…

BLAIR: I get to be a rescued guy?

BARBARA: Uh-huh.

JOE: You bet.

BLAIR: That’s perfect. So, what do I need? What do I need if I’m going to be rescued?

JOE: Not too much. Maybe just an overnight bag…

BLAIR: An overnight bag.

JOE: And a sandwich.

BLAIR: Couple, couple sandwiches maybe.

JOE: Maybe a couple.

BLAIR: High metabolism, I’ve been working out.

JOE: It won’t be long.

BLAIR: That’s good but I’m strong. I can handle it. If it’s long, I can handle it. Right? I’m a tough guy.

JOE: I’ve seen you before in action and I’m sure you can do it.

BLAIR: Okay, I’m going to go get my stuff. Thanks, guys. This is great!

JOE: We’ll be here. You bet.

[intro music]

CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: Back and better than ever.

FRANKLIN: In our studio voices.

CHRIS: This is part 2 of...

BLAIR: The Extreme Analog Show.

CHRIS: If you want to see part 1 of our Extreme Analog Show, go to our website, download it. It’s a very cool show. Question, though. At the beginning of the show you were part of the crew rescue vehicle for the Space Exploration Vehicle at Desert RATS.

BLAIR: Absolutely.

CHRIS: We never heard the results of that field test you were a part of because you never made it back with us on the trip.

BLAIR: I did participate in this rescue mission. I was in this vehicle for what felt like 6 months but they say when you do science that is what happens. You sort of lose track of time.

CHRIS: We were involved in watching Lucien to see if he could get CHARIOT over the rock canyon…which he did, finally.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, it was a tough road. I was afraid for a second he wasn’t going to make it but he did.

CHRIS: The focus for this show is another analog field test called NEEMO. Let’s focus in on NEEMO. What’s NEEMO about?

BLAIR: Well, NEEMO obviously named after Captain NEEMO from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but it also stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. It takes place, as you know, Chris, down in Key Largo.

CHRIS: Actually underwater, doesn’t it?

BLAIR: Correct. It’s almost entirely underwater.

CHRIS: A matter of fact, you had a chance to go down there to do some interviews. Let’s…

BLAIR: Take a look at the video.

CHRIS: Yeah, take a look at the video.

BILL: Interestingly, there are a lot of places on Earth you go that are isolated. You can go and lock yourself in a room for a long time and be isolated but the difference is that here it’s isolated and extreme, meaning that once we’re in the habitat and have stayed there for 24-hours and become an aquanaut because our tissues have become saturated with nitrogen. So, we’re a saturated diver. What that means is we can’t come to the surface, even if we wanted to come to the surface we have to go through a 15-hour decompression profile. Just like in space in the space station where we would have to do a 15-hour reentry in an emergency. We’ve got to do a 15-hour decompression cycle.

BLAIR: That’s good not only for the astronauts but for all the staff that’s around them. They’ve got to be prepared for that and be able to think through that and understand that to be ready for an event should one happen.

BILL: What a neat thing for NASA to find a facility because this government agency NOAA is the sister agency to NASA and they have to have similar thought processes and procedures for emergency conditions, just like our astronauts.

BLAIR: What’s been the biggest challenge in doing these kinds of exercises underwater, especially since it’s not like the NBL, where you can just go home afterwards?

STEVE: It’s not been too bad. From this standpoint we come inside and have a fully comfortable environment in here. It’s small, dense living but it’s comfortable. We have everything we need from a small kitchen to a bunk room to a small shower. Pretty amazing that we can live down here and do what we’re doing. It’s very unique.

THOMAS: Most of our training is in classrooms, in simulators talking to instructors. This is the closest I’ve experienced to an actual space flight. There’s no question even though I look out the window I don’t see the earth and we’re not in zero-g’s, still it’s a unique enough environment and extreme enough because we are pressurized right now. We cannot come up without decompressing without risk to our lives. We are truly isolated. All those things have an impact on a human being both psychologically and physically to where we want to see how much that affects our ability to operated efficiently and work together well.

BLAIR: How many EVAs are you probably going to perform during the NEEMO mission on average?

THOMAS: We’re each hopefully going to get eleven, about one a day. Each one of the EVAs will last about 2 hours to 2 ½ hours. We hope to get them all done. They’re a lot of work just like a real space walk but they’re a lot of fun also. The environment is so unique. Everything is fascinating.

BLAIR: And they have a full-size lander mock-up underwater?

MIKE: A full-size lander mock-up.


MIKE: It looks just like the view graphs. It was a great effort by the whole team to build that and get it installed on the sea floor. We had a lot of foresight. We built it with a central pedestal that is very structurally sound, like 37 to 150 factor. Then we used this stuff call speed rail to do façade of the lander that is geometrically proportional so all the obstructions, the ladder angles and all that are realistic based on today’s design. We recognize that the flexible path architecture can change, this whole lander configure could change, so we’re adaptable down here so we can change the façade to match any evolving lander that comes up whether it be a neos-lander, mars lander, Phobos-lander…

BLAIR: Any lander.

ANDREW: The first thing we’re going to have to do when we deliver our robot to a surface is get it off the lander that it was delivered on. The ways in which we can do that vary from sophisticated, highly automated, robotic off-loading system or on the other extreme we can do something that is a lot more manual but simpler such as using a crane or davit, like the one we have here at NEEMO. By building a full scale mockup of the lander and a rover and using this crane, we’re understanding what the design implications are both for the rover, itself, for the off-loading system, and the lander, and the EVA interfaces; the ladders, the handholds, the tethers, and fall restraints and so forth that would be required to offload a significantly sized payload from a pretty high lander. We built it to drive it for example wasn’t important for this mission so we’re not going to be doing that. However, at Desert RATS this year, you’ll see two of these prototype rovers, high fidelity rovers driving around the desert, north of Flagstaff in Arizona.

BLAIR: I look forward to that because you don’t have to worry about driving on the wrong side of the road even if you’re from Scotland. You’re pretty much on a different surface. It’s wide open.

ANDREW: That’s right. And for the record we drive on the correct side of the road.

CHRIS: The cool thing about that video is Thomas Marshburn saying that living in Aquarius down there was the closest to actually being on station.

BLAIR: And I was really pleased the interview went as well as it did because I kept asking you for questions and I got nothing. Franklin, you can appreciate this. I had to go all on my own down there and run the show. I don’t know what Chris was doing.

BLAIR: Chris, I know you like to decompress after your aromatherapy sessions but this is a little more excessive than I had in mind. Buddy, you’re going to have to give me some questions because I’ve got to go interview some astronauts. [knocking]

FRANKLIN: Well, Chris and I were here.

CHRIS: Yeah.

BLAIR: Interesting. Maybe that explains why the environment was so extreme for me down there, not having the support of you guys. Seriously, it was fascinating to get the whole sense of how everybody operated just like an ISS mission. You had the guys on the surface in the control room talking to the astronauts. Everything was scheduled out just like life on station. Just from the organizational standpoint you see that happening all the time.

FRANKLIN: You can actually see the difference between analog tests at Desert RATS and down at NEEMO. When the astronauts left the LER, they were walking out in elements and they didn’t have to decompress. They didn’t have to go through the stages that they did on NEEMO to survive.

CHRIS: Right.

FRANKLIN: So that real extreme environment really applies here.

CHRIS: More extreme, because once you’re in the Aquarius, you’re not leaving anytime soon.


BLAIR: Yeah, that’s kind of an interesting aspect to the whole thing is you are limited. Now they do, just so you know, for safety, they do have two NOAA team members on the Aquarius with them. They’re doing there own things too but they’re really making sure things stay safe in the event they have to evacuate somebody, they could.

CHRIS: How is living in the space exploration vehicle when you were part of the recovery team at Desert RATS different than Aquarius. Is it basically the same size, larger?

BLAIR: As you know, I didn’t go down into the Aquarius but from everything we saw it’s not a whole lot bigger. The structure is a lot bigger. They had an LER next to the Aquarius, so the physical structure is much bigger but the confines inside are not much bigger. Like I said they do have 6 people in there.

FRANKLIN: Kind of similar to a mockup of the ISS?

BLAIR: Yeah, or a mockup of a college dorm is about what kind of space they have.

CHRIS: NASA conducts these analog field tests in different types of extreme environments. They’re looking for a set of objectives at Black Point Lava Flow. They have a set of objectives at NEEMO, at Pavilion Lake, the Devon Island.

BLAIR: And they all help everything come together and work.

CHRIS: Let’s take a break and when we come back maybe you can teach Franklin and I more about NEEMO.

BLAIR: Okay, we’ll do that.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.


BLAIR: It turns out for the co-host they have a special mixture for diving. Let’s try it out. [inhales, exhales] Wow, pretty good. Pretty good; little cool, and ah, little minty. Um, does my voice sound funny to you? Sounds a little funny. Is that me? Maybe it’s me.

BLAIR: Aren’t you happy my voice has totally recovered.

FRANKLIN: I think… how old are you?

[all laughing]

BLAIR: It turns out and this is very important…

CHRIS: He just got his driver’s license.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: That wasn’t the right tank and no you don’t breathe helium. It’s not good for you health wise.

CHRIS: Did you get certified?

BLAIR: Actually, ah, no.

FRANKLIN: See, what had happened was…

[all laughing]

BLAIR: No, seriously.

CHRIS: Did you dive at all?

BLAIR: No, but what you have to understand about this. It’s very important. They have rigid, rigid guidelines for diving down there. Even though, I am officially certified the problem is the conditions were so rough. There were 5 to 8 foot waves. And as Bill Todd said… I approached him and said Bill, are we going to go out? He said, we probably we could go but got to really feel comfortable about it. I said, would you go? He said, I wouldn’t go out. So, I knew we would not be going out.

CHRIS: So the whole NEEMO team, you had a lot of support down there during the mission.

BLAIR: That’s the thing. It’s one thing to look at the astronauts down in the Aquarius but it’s not just those guys in the Aquarius. It’s the entire team topside, everybody that’s checking health issues, how they’re staying on schedule. There are people analyzing software. There are all these different things. We can take a look at the video.

CHRIS: Okay, let’s check it out.

OTTO: It’s the world’s only underwater habitat right now and has been for the last 20 years. There is no habitat store.

BLAIR: Habitat Depot.

OTTO: Right. I wouldn’t say we make it up but we have to come up with ways to do things off the cuff all the time. We have a very smart crew that is good at troubleshooting; figuring out what we need to do. And they’re really good at altering existing equipment that’s on the market to make it suitable for what we need. Maintenance is constant. I always tell people it’s a piece of metal with electricity going to it in saltwater. It’s just…

BLAIR: Recipe for disaster.

OTTO: Exactly.

LESLEY: There’s an aluminum structure that we put on the crew’s back and have them perform a lot of tasks like walking, shoveling, climbing ladders. The kind of things they would do on another planet to either set up a habitat or do geology tests. And we get them to subjectively rate how that feels with a high center of gravity, a low center of gravity.

BLAIR: Oh, the CG rig; center of gravity rig. Perfect.

LESLEY: Right. We actually have nine different combinations we’re using on NEEMO. We have three different weights and three different locations for the center of gravity. We mix and match all three at each level to try to get the best combination of weight and center of gravity locations that optimizes crew performance.

NICK: One of the things we’re doing on this mission, which is pretty cool, is that we are practicing what we call incapacitated crewmember opportunities and objectives. If you’re out on an EVA, both of you are doing a spacewalk. We both go out and I follow and hurt my leg and I need to be pulled into a rover or back into a space vehicle. How would that look? And would you be able to do? Would you be able to pull me back in?

BLAIR: Well, I could do it because you would be lighter in another environment.

NICK: That is true but imagine if you were 5 kilometers away and you had to bring somebody all the way back and lift him up onto a 30-foot high lander. How do you do that? We have things like rock climbing gear rigged up and we use davit cranes to lift the crewmember up onto the lander deck to bring them into the airlock.

MIKE: The other thing that’s really interesting is we’re evaluating mission control and their role in exploration missions as a function of communication time delay. So we’re starting this mission with real time comm and we’re having daily planning conference and as we progress we’re going to go to Mars comm where you can never talk directly to the crew. We’re keeping all kinds of metrics on their performance and so forth with the real time comm. Then we’re going to go to this Mars comm. mode where things are very different, where you’re doing video taping of questions and answers and then sending that to the crew, then they doing the same and sending it back to you.

BLAIR: That’s what seems so natural to me for something like this because it’s a real tactile way of feeling that separation.

MIKE: Right.

BLAIR: It’s a real visceral way.

MIKE: It really is. And I can’t over emphasize you can study this stuff, you can do paper studies, you can talk about it but until you really do it and experience it, you learn a thousand things you never thought you were going to learn. Truth is stranger than fiction.

CHRIS: It seemed like they had a huge support team down there at Key Largo.

BLAIR: Yeah, it was great. There were teams, tons of different people covering all different phases of the test. As you saw the CG rig which is interesting. What they were doing was weighting the astronauts differently during activities to find out what would work better under different conditions. It’s impressive.

CHRIS: What kind of support team do they have down there that’s comparable to Desert RATS that we saw in Arizona? Did they have an IT team? Did they have dive team, engineers, and scientists? Was it an eclectic group like at Desert RATS?

BLAIR: Yeah, the best way to look at it is the Desert RATS team covered all the same elements plus diving support.

CHRIS: So some of the same people out at Black Point Lava Flow were at Key Largo.

BLAIR: Absolutely but you don’t want to minimize the diving support because it was not just simply divers who were going down. There were the two NOAA divers on the Aquarius. There were divers that would go down and monitor. There was the buddy system when you dive. You have to have a buddy and then guys…. What?

CHRIS: I just envision him in the field talking like he did at the beginning of this clip to all the engineers out there. Hey, how ya doin’? [in high-pitched voice]

BLAIR: Helium has that effect on me. What can I say?

CHRIS: But you didn’t have helium, just to clarify. Safety first. Let’s take another break. Franklin, I got word from a NEEMO team member down there was a pushup challenge between Blair and somebody. Let’s go to break. When we come back, we’ll see some of that video and see how you did.

BLAIR: If that video is allowed to be seen.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: You got beat by a girl.

BLAIR: We do want to have our pushup competition.

HEATHER: Absolutely.

BLAIR: We’ll schedule this up and I’ll show you what real pushups are like.

HEATHER: Really?

BLAIR: Yeah.

HEATHER: How ‘bout now?

BLAIR: Right now?

HEATHER: Right now.

BLAIR: You got time? I can do a lot of pushups.

HEATHER: Really? Well, let me just dust off a few things here and let’s do it.


HEATHER: Yeah, right now. It’s “go” time. Come on.

BLAIR: Hang on. All right, let’s see what you got.

HEATHER: All right, here we go.


HEATHER: Let’s go. Let’s do this.

BLAIR: Have you started?

HEATHER: Oh yeah… it’s like 999.

BLAIR: [laughing] Ugh… one. Can we take a nap?

HEATHER: Is that all you got?

BLAIR: This is nice right here.

HEATHER: What you got?

BLAIR: [groans] Five.

HEATHER: Come on, come on, get up there. Don’t get schooled by a girl.

BLAIR: How many…what number are you on, 10?

HEATHER: Hold on. I’m switching to one arm. Hold on.

BLAIR: Oh, come on. Yeah, me too. I’m switching to one arm. Aw, yes, much better.

BLAIR: You know I think Heather…

CHRIS: Franklin, Franklin, help me out here.

BLAIR: No, Heather was using helium. She was using helium.

FRANKLIN: She was using muscle.

BLAIR: Aw, yeah, well.

CHRIS: She dusted off her guns and you couldn’t come back?

BLAIR: I have told her we will meet again. Heather, you’re hearing me first; at D-Rats I will bury you.

FRANKLIN: Is this double or nothing.

CHRIS: In your future, you better start working out.

BLAIR: Yeah, I may not have much of a future here at NASA EDGE at this point. But NEEMO certainly has a future.

CHRIS: Was NEEMO fourteen this year?

BLAIR: Yes, they’ve had 14 missions so far. It’s like great movie sequels. They’re continually adding and building on these analog tests. We’ll let them do the talking but there are some really cool ideas they plan on.

CHRIS: Let’s check it out.

BLAIR: It seems to me every diver I have talked to out here loves diving to begin with but when you’re working around these vehicles and props if you will, it’s hard not to get really excited and think about the possibility of the future.

BILL: Absolutely. You see it on the sea floor. You see these mockups and the way these astronauts interface with them. You can visualize what it’s going to be like to be working on Mars or an asteroid or another planet. It really is a very visual thing going on and kids get it. People get it. They see it and say I understand why you would do it in that environment.

MIKE: Next year, we’re going to focus even more on the asteroid-type mission. This year, as I mentioned, the later part of the mission we’re going to perfect our techniques. We have a jet pack for example.

BLAIR: Interesting.

MIKE: I’ll show you some great video. We prototyped this in the fall; you’re flying this jetpack around which maybe isn’t the right way to do an asteroid in the sense you have to carry a lot of gas, a lot of delta v on and the jetpack can get so big. But certainly it would have a role as a contingency like a souped up safer like we use.

BLAIR: Sure.

MIKE: We’re going to be evaluating different techniques of how you would anchor yourself into either rock or loose rubble but now if we anchor that into an asteroid, how do you get stuff off? On the moon or Mars you have gravity helping you.


MIKE: Here we’re going to need transfer lines that pull you off. Things like that, so we’re going to explore that whole workspace as a function of gravity level. This year is lunar, Mars, and next year we’ll focus a little bit more on the microgravity environment of an asteroid.

CHRIS: We’re really busy with what we’re doing but we’re extremely proud of what we’re doing. This is a new human experience and we’re in the middle of it. There’s always the hubbub of noise and day-to-day combat back and forth of how things are going to happen in the future but the reality of it is we have people living on the space station. We have people training all around the world ready to launch on the Soyuz to go live on the space station. Thousands and thousands of people are working together building the new vehicles that will take us even further. And we’re right in the thick of that and extremely happy and proud of it. Thanks for talking with us.

FRANKLIN: I’d like to have an underwater jetpack.

BLAIR: Who wouldn’t want to have an underwater jetpack?

CHRIS: Absolutely. And I think Chris Hadfield sums it up beautifully by we’re all in this together. No matter what the goal is down the road, we have a great staff here working together as a team.

BLAIR: And they’re constantly thinking, “okay, here’s NEEMO 14, what’s NEEMO 15? What’s NEEMO 16?”

CHRIS: Innovative group.

BLAIR: Yeah. Absolutely.

CHRIS: Well, that wraps up a jam-packed show. I think we still had more interviews I think we could have tried to squeeze in but of course we didn’t have the time.

BLAIR: Yeah, even Brandon, our intern, was out in Hawaii for med school for an interview. He didn’t actually make it to an analog field test because I gave him bogus directions but that’s neither here nor there.

CHRIS: But you can see the extra clips from our Facebook fan page. Check it out. You’re watching NASA EDGE

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: And I have issues with Joe Cosmo.

JOE: Well Barbara, another successful year at Desert RATS.

BARBARA: Yep. But don’t you think we ought to tell Blair we’re not going to rescue him this year.

JOE: Rescue him? We didn’t say we weren’t going to rescue him but we didn’t tell him we were going to rescue him this year. Let’s do it next year.


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