Posted: Friday, May 18, 2007
Mission Days 6 and 7 - NEEMO 12: The Weekend Edition
The start of another great day in Aquarius was met by the realization that we were about to reach the mid-point of our NEEMO 12 mission. It's hard to believe that our mission is half over since it seems just like yesterday that we splashed down! This milestone serves as a reminder to all of us of how fortunate we are to experience life as an aquanaut. Heide, our space veteran, has stated that so far the mission environment is very similar to a real space mission, minus the zero-G effect of course.
Saturday morning started with our 24 hour nutrition assessment followed by making the necessary preparations needed for exploration scenario number one. This simulated moon walk involved returning to predetermined locations in sector B as a result of an earlier survey we performed. Joe provided the intra-vehicular activity (IVA) support and helped suit up the extravehicular activity (EVA) team consisting of Heide and Tim. Jose prepared the Remote Operations Vehicle (ROV) that would serve as support to the EVA team. The ROV would be controlled by both Jose from the habitat and also remotely from the topside Mission Control Center (MCC). The EVA team was very successful at sampling three of the five predetermined sites. Two of the sites were aborted due to a combination of poor visibility and the inability of the ROV to navigate through narrow winding coral. Photo documentation and sampling were highly successful at these sites. ROV operations from both Aquarius and the topside MCC were also highly successful and well documented.
Immediately after this EVA, Tim converted our bunk room into a remote surgical laboratory. The objectives involved the testing of image-guided supervisory-controlled autonomous robotic surgery. The SRI M7 robot was set up with an ultrasound probe on its left arm and an aspirating needle on its right arm. The robot's depth perspective stereo-vision camera system focused on an ultrasound phantom. Using the ultrasound probe's image, a surgeon at the American Telemedicine Association meeting in Nashville, Tenn., used the image to penetrate a blood vessel in the phantom. Perhaps even more impressive was the robot's subsequent ability to insert the needle into the simulated blood vessel all by itself--this will help the surgeon perform surgery just like autopilot helps a pilot fly an airplane. This ability will go a long way in getting around the latency issues associated with remote operations of a robot for medical applications during long space flights to the moon and beyond.
Saturday afternoon brought us another EVA exercise that basically consisted of the disassembly and reassembly of the main modules of our simulated communication tower. Heide provided IVA support for this activity while Joe and Jose made up the EVA team. Once fully disassembled, the EVA team moved every major component to a more "water current" friendly location by installing a temporary set of wheels and essentially driving each module to the new location. Jose was heard saying, "It doesn't drive like my father's Lincoln Continental but it'll do the job!" Once there, Joe and Jose reassembled the components, raised the tower and secured the structure. The EVA team finished all objectives, with no time to spare, and were able to raise the tower and see the NEEMO flag flap with the current in all its glory! Time running out, Joe was overly anxious to return to Aquarius base. However, Jose somehow managed to slow Joe down so that both EVA aquanauts could in Jose's words "enjoy the moment!"
The rest of Saturday afternoon consisted of our daily tasks of performing photo and video management, plant care and photo documentation, and the transfer of data to topside MCC. The one activity that was different from all other evenings was the scheduled night dive where all four aquanauts would venture on excursion lines beyond the limits of Aquarius' light and into the dark abyss! Well maybe not totally into the abyss as we were limited to a depth of 95 feet but it sure got pretty dark! Before our excursion, we decided as a crew not to use communication gear as this made for a more peaceful dive creating an environment upon which we could reflect upon this amazing journey! It was also the first time we donned diver fins since our arrival to Aquarius, and swimming during this dive seemed a bit strange being that the crew has acclimated to the simulated moon walks on the ocean bottom. During this night dive, the team ran across a giant sting ray that was feeding on the sandy bottom near where our simulated communication tower used to be located. We also saw plenty of lobsters, moray eels, and a plethora of different species of fish. The only disappointment to this night dive was that visibility was not at its best and thus limited our ability to enjoy the full beauty of the coral reefs and its nocturnal tenants. Dinner tonight was a special event as the topside team had the National Underwater Research Center (NURC) support divers bring down a pizza via a special water proof potting container. We can honestly say that pizza tastes just as good at 60 feet below the ocean!
We were greeted Sunday morning by bloodthirsty doctor crewmates overly anxious to perform our scheduled seventh day blood draw. The morning was blocked off as "off duty" for the crew. We took advantage of this free time by catching up on regular housekeeping chores such as cleaning and vacuuming the habitat and creating "Happy Mother's Day" greeting cards that we placed in front of the main lock camera. We created 4 different cards in English, Spanish, German, and Japanese!
In the early afternoon we took the ROV, minus its wheel chassis and mast camera, for an afternoon spin. Actually we were tasked to perform an external vehicle survey of the habitat Aquarius but just the same it seemed like taking Dad's newly washed car for a Sunday afternoon joyride! Joe, Tim and Jose took turns at the controls as we first inspected the starboard (right) side of the Aquarius and then moved on to the port (left) side. Joe even came "mano a mano" with a pretty big fish. There he was in the rover, with Joe at the controls, facing the fish and waiting to see who blinked first. Well we're not sure that fish actually blink but we can tell you that the fish moved first! We filmed the ROV's every move so I guess you can say we have the film to prove it. Yes, technology triumphs once again! It's also important to point out that absolutely no fish were harmed during the filming of this event. All kidding aside, we were actually very successful in performing a complete vehicle survey from all sides including top and bottom. This activity is very important as we can envision a similar ROV being deployed once we land on the moon as we would be very interested in surveying our lunar lander for any possible damage.
Later Sunday afternoon we had our scheduled personal family conference (PFC) where most crew members had the opportunity to hold a live video conference with their immediate family members. We had a special Mother's Day surprise for the families that attended the PFC as a NEEMO designed cake was unveiled and presented to the families. The cake was devoured by the young members of the crew's families. Having these PFC's is an important aspect of expedition living as activities such as these go a long way in lifting crew morale.
Finally, the afternoon's activities came to a conclusion with Tim once again converting our bunk room into a remote surgical laboratory. The SRI M7 robot was set up for a live demo at the American Telemedicine Association meeting in Nashville, Tenn. We demonstrated the SRI M7 robot acquiring an ultrasound image of a phantom and penetrating a blood vessel for the Acting Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command and the Assistant Director of the U.S. Army Telemedicine Advance Technology Research Center. Boy, talk about getting this demo right! Such a robot could help save the lives and limbs of soldiers on the battlefield or astronauts who are millions of miles from the nearest hospital on the way to Mars. Kudos to both our crewmates Dr. Tim Broderick and computer technology extraordinaire Dominic Landucci for pulling off this great feat and demonstrating telesurgery at its finest!
For crew journals, live webcam views, images and aquanaut profiles, visit:
For streaming video from Aquarius, visit:
For NASA's Digital Learning Network, visit:
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