NEEMO

Larger image of the Aquarius underwater habitat and laboratory

The Aquarius underwater habitat and laboratory (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington)


The Aquarius Habitat

The International Space Station (ISS) can be seen in Canada's night sky and also from most parts of the world. The station provides an opportunity for Canadians to participate in space research. There is a station in "inner space," that is, underwater, called Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory dedicated to marine science and education. Aquarius provides an environment remarkably similar to that onboard the station, and is similar in size to the modules of the station. Aquanauts coordinate operations remotely through the mission control centre, located 4.5 km away in Key Largo, and experiments are conducted underwater using spacewalk techniques.

The mission rationale is based on the similarity of the Aquarius environment to that aboard the ISS. The Aquarius habitat is similar in size to modules of the station. Aquanauts coordinate operations remotely through the mission control centre in Key Largo. Experiments guided by mission control are conducted underwater using techniques similar to those used for spacewalks.

Aquanauts are isolated from the outside world for the duration of their mission because saturation diving techniques require lengthy decompression before surfacing. Isolation in an extreme environment is important for studies on behaviour and physiology. In particular, the NASA Aquarius experience will be used to help build crew–mission control communication techniques, and leadership and interpersonal skills.



NEEMO 19

September 8-14, 2014

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Science Splashdown

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, known as NEEMO, sends groups of astronauts, engineers, doctors and professional divers to live in Aquarius, an underwater habitat located about 19 metres below the surface, 5.6 km off Key Largo in the Florida Keys. The undersea environment is the closest analogue on Earth to a gravity-weak environment like that of asteroids, the moons of Mars or Mars itself, making it the best place to test relevant exploration concepts.

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Jeremy Hansen joins the NEEMO 19 crew as Exploration Lead.

Jeremy will be sharing his experience from the ocean floor on Twitter. Follow @Astro_Jeremy!

Mission Journal

Journal de bord de la Mission NEEMO 19

2014-09-11 - Jeremy Hansen's Journal - I have been living 20 metres below the sea surface for three days now and the most accurate description I can provide is: WOW! Our schedule keeps us busy, but there are still times when you step back and realize where you are and what you're doing. Last night as I fell asleep was one of those moments for me.

Continue reading about the Mission Journal

Mission Overview

Quick Facts

  • 19th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission
  • 7-day saturated mission focusing mainly on the evaluation of telementoring operations for the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • Splashdown: September 8, 2014
  • Return: September 14, 2014
  • Live feed from the habitat

The crew of NEEMO 19 going for their first training dive (from left to right): Randy Bresnik (NASA), Andreas Mogensen (ESA), Jeremy Hansen (CSA) and Hervé Stevenin (ESA). September 1, 2014. (Credit: Hervé Stevenin via Twitter)

CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen after his first helmet training dive. September 3, 2014. (Credit: Jeremy Hansen via Twitter)

The Crew

Jeremy's Role and Responsibilities: Exploration Lead

During the mission, the crew will be simulating a 5-minute communications delay (10 minutes round-trip). This adds significantly to the complexity of the mission as efficiency is compromised if the crew members end up in a situation where they don't understand the objectives of Mission Control and therefore are unable to make appropriate decisions real-time to execute the mission and complete the science.

As Exploration Lead, Jeremy is responsible for the understanding and preparation for the Extravehicular Activities (EVAs or "spacewalks") as well as their execution in real-time in accordance with the objectives and intent of Mission Control. Jeremy is currently scheduled to perform four EVAs (10 hours in total outside of the habitat).

Other Canadian Involvement

CSA's Raffi Kuyumjian will act as Jeremy's Flight Surgeon and provide medical support as required, working in close collaboration with the Navy's Diving Medical Officers who are responsible for the overall crew health. Raffi will also take part in simulated Private Medical Conferences (subject to the same communications delays as mentioned above) to study how medical support and managing health issues are affected by these delays.

More about NASA's NEEMO missions (@NASA_NEEMO)

More about the Aquarius Habitat (@ReefBase)

Mission Objectives

  • European Space Agency (ESA) hardware evaluation
    Using a tablet, a smartphone and Google Glass as well as telementoring, this experiment is meant to increase crew efficiency and autonomy.
  • Exploration EVAs / Engineering investigation
    Evaluation of EVA tools and techniques for exploration tasks across gravity levels ranging from asteroids, to the moons of Mars and Mars surface. The crew will also evaluate techniques to address re-planning of exploration operations accounting for different communications time delays. Data from NEEMO missions are used in ongoing development and refinement of exploration systems and concepts of operations being conducted by NASA.
  • Engineering investigations
    Evaluation of the ability to deliver "just-in-time training" or "intuitive procedures", a highly enabling capability for ISS and future exploration missions.
  • Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) investigations
    Robotics and engineering projects focused on technologies to support future exploration missions in space and materials for underwater operations.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques tethers a drill during a NEEMO 15 "spacewalk". October 23, 2011. (Credit: NASA)

Extravehicular Activities

One of the biggest challenges in astronaut training is learning how to perform tasks in low-gravity environments. Buoyancy, which is the ability of an object to float in liquid such as water, is the reason that aquanauts are able to simulate low-gravity. Normally, the crew members would be positively buoyant, meaning that they would float in the water. However, by wearing diving equipment and weighted backpacks, aquanauts are able to work on the ocean floor with only minimal positive buoyancy. This way, NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) missions can include practicing extravehicular activities (EVA) and imitate "spacewalks" to test concepts for mobility in low-gravity.

Education and Public Outreach

Engage students, educators and the general public in NEEMO activities via social media, interactive education events and media interaction.

Crewmember Health

Crewmember health is of utmost importance when planning for space exploration, especially for long-duration missions. Since the first NEEMO mission, a key focus for every aquanaut crew has been physiological and psychological health. Studies have included how their environment affects sleep and the body's immune system, growth of bacteria within the habitat, nutrition and exercise-related studies.

In addition, coping with medical emergencies without a hospital or trained doctor can be a difficult and dangerous task. Aboard the Space Station and during long-duration missions in the future, crew member health and mission success may depend on the crew's ability to deal with emergencies without the help of a doctor. Because of its physical and psychological isolation on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, Aquarius provides the most accurate stresses needed to validate new telemedicine in an extreme environment.

Mission Teams

In addition to the participants in NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) saturation dives, teams of technicians and scientists work above the surface. They monitor Aquarius' systems and stay in contact with the underwater crew.

Surface Support Team

The Surface Support Team include the NEEMO project lead, the mission lead, and the dive medical officer and support personnel. This team resides at the Florida International University (FIU) Reef Base, in Tavernier, in the Florida Keys. Overall responsibility and authority for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) objectives during NASA missions resides with the NEEMO mission lead on this team.

During NEEMO 15 operations, CSA Astronaut Jeremy Hansen serves as the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in the Mobile Mission Control Center (MMCC). As CAPCOM, he relays voice communications from the topside team to the crewmembers. October 21, 2011. (Credit: NASA)

Aquanaut Crew

This team consists of the aquanaut personnel living aboard Aquarius for the duration of the dive.

Habtechs

Typically two FIU employee/aquanauts accompany the NEEMO crew into saturation. Their primary responsibilities are the operation of the Aquarius on-board systems and the safety of the aquanauts.

Watch Desk

The watch desk is the FIU version of NASA's Mission Control Center. It is located onshore and is staffed by a team of two employees 24 hours a day during the mission. Watch desk personnel are primarily responsible for the overall safety of the mission, monitoring the telemetry of the facility and approving all of the aquanaut dive plans. The watch desk lead is the ultimate authority on safety issues such as storm evacuation, medical emergencies, habitat system contingencies and dive plan approval.

Principal Investigators

These individuals are responsible for developing much of the science conducted by the aquanauts. They monitor the mission from a remote control center or in some instances from the FIU facilities. They periodically interface with the crew real-time during the mission to facilitate science objectives.

Mission Journal

On Mission Day 4, Jeremy took a few minutes to share his impression of the NEEMO 19 underwater mission.

Jeremy Hansen's Journal - September 11, 2014

I have been living 20 metres below the sea surface for three days now and the most accurate description I can provide is: WOW! Our schedule keeps us busy, but there are still times when you step back and realize where you are and what you're doing. Last night as I fell asleep was one of those moments for me. In that quiet moment I realized I was lying in a relatively small metal can on the ocean floor with five other humans while a symphony of marine activity was underway around us. During those quiet times in the habitat you hear so many weird and wonderful noises from the reef that both surrounds and covers Aquarius. Even the coral itself makes noise on the hull.

Yesterday I had a one hour break in my schedule, so I went outside underneath the wet porch and gazebo area with my mask and snorkel and sat still to observe the life. The highlights were a school of permit fish busy patrolling under the habitat, a large spotted ray that glided past me and the realization of the sheer quantity of life on Aquarius. Mind blowing! Last night we also watched the feeding frenzy that occurs primarily in the evening hours in the glow of Aquarius' lights. It is sheer chaos and all you can do is watch with your jaw wide open as fish dart in all directions either eating or avoiding being eaten.

I'm enjoying the company of my crewmates who all contribute to the experience. Ryan and Otter, our habitat technicians, are an incredible source of marine knowledge. They have so much time logged in Aquarius that you would think they have seen everything. The fact that they still watch with amazement is a good indication that I will only get a taste of this experience during my short stay. My crewmates Komrade, Andy and Hervé are all performing their tasks at a high level and working well as a team. This is making our stay very pleasant and we share many laughs. So far, we have managed to accomplish our objectives and our mission is proceeding according to the plan.

Today, Komrade and I did a 4-hour exploration spacewalk. It was both amazing and challenging. There was an extremely strong current. It felt like trying to walk in 200-km winds. It was all you could do to walk up current while dragging your umbilical. It was great to be on the reef for over four hours and see so much coral. We were very busy and hardly had time to take in all the things I was seeing, but it still left a lasting impression. I feel very privileged to be here. Exploration takes many forms and this experience makes me want to explore our planet even more, from the surface…and beyond.

Jeremy

Revisit the mission in pictures (Flickr album)

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen prepares for a training dive with the Superlite helmet. 2014-09-04. (Credit: NASA)

The NEEMO 19 aquanauts (from left to right): Jeremy Hansen, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut; Hervé Stevenin, Spacewalk Instructor, European Space Agency (ESA); Andreas Mogensen, ESA astronaut; Randy Bresnik, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut and NEEMO 19 Commander. September 2014. (Credit: NASA)



NEEMO 15

October 20 to 26, 2011

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Canadian Space Agency Astronaut David Saint-Jacques was a crew member of NEEMO 15, the first undersea mission to simulate a visit to an asteroid. For part of the mission, he was supported by his colleague CSA Astronaut Jeremy Hansen who, as Capcom, provided information and directions from the Key Largo surface to the NEEMO 15 team.

The undersea environment is the closest analogue on Earth to a gravity-weak asteroid, making it the best place to test relevant exploration concepts. During NEEMO 15 the crew evaluated different strategies for anchoring themselves to its surface, traveling along its terrain and collecting data. They also coordinated their efforts with DeepWorkers submersibles, one-seater submarines built and developed by Nuytco in British Columbia, Canada.

Mission Overview

Mission Facts

  • 15th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission (first ever NEEMO mission was in 2001);
  • Splashdown: October 20, 2011;
  • Return: October 26, 2011.

The Crew

  • David Saint-Jacques, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut;
  • Shannon Walker, NEEMO 15 Commander, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut;
  • Takuya Onishi, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut;
  • Steven Squyres, Professor at Cornell University;
  • James Talacek, Aquanaut, University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW);
  • Nate Bender, Aquanaut, UNCW.

Partners

Mission Objectives

Extravehicular Activities

One of the biggest challenges in astronaut training is learning how to perform tasks in low-gravity environments. Buoyancy, which is the ability of an object to float in liquid such as water, is the reason that aquanauts are able to simulate low-gravity. Normally, the crew members would be positively buoyant, meaning that they would float in the water. However, by wearing diving equipment and weighted backpacks, aquanauts are able to work on the ocean floor with only minimal positive buoyancy. This way, NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) missions can include practicing extravehicular activities (EVA) and imitate "spacewalks" to test concepts for mobility in low-gravity.

The NEEMO 15 mission provided crew members with multiple opportunities to interact with DeepWorker submersibles—one-seater submarines that are analogues for Space Exploration Vehicles. They collaborated together to test exploration, protocol and communications techniques in a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) simulated environment.

Exploration Objectives

  • Practice drilling threaded inserts (anchoring) on a simulated, hard asteroid surface;
  • Use of navigation aids to determine the best methods for traversing asteroid surfaces;
  • Collection of data;
  • NEA communications delays will be invoked; various communications protocols will be evaluated;
  • Continued assessment of EVA suit weight at various levels of simulated gravity;
  • Incapacitated crewmember rescue at a variety of gravity levels;
  • Assessment of Space Exploration Vehicle navigation aids;
  • Test workability of Mission Control Center support.

Education and Public Outreach

  • Engage students, educators and the general public in NEEMO activities via social media, interactive education events and media interaction.

Crewmember Health

Crewmember health is of utmost importance when planning for space exploration, especially for long-duration missions. Since the first NEEMO mission, a key focus for every aquanaut crew has been physiological and psychological health. Studies have included how their environment affects sleep and the body's immune system, growth of bacteria within the habitat, nutrition and exercise-related studies.

In addition, coping with medical emergencies without a hospital or trained doctor can be a difficult and dangerous task. Aboard the Space Station and during long-duration missions in the future, crew member health and mission success may depend on the crew's ability to deal with emergencies without the help of a doctor. Because of its physical and psychological isolation on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, Aquarius provides the most accurate stresses needed to validate new telemedicine in an extreme environment.

Mission Teams

In addition to the participants in NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) saturation dives, teams of technicians and scientists work above the surface. They monitor Aquarius' systems and stay in contact with the underwater crew.

Surface Support Team

The Surface Support Team include the NEEMO project lead, the mission lead, and the dive medical officer and support personnel. This team resides at the National Undersea Research Center (NURC), during the mission and training. Overall responsibility and authority for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) objectives during NASA missions resides with the NEEMO mission lead on this team.

Aquanaut Crew

This team consists of the aquanaut personnel living aboard Aquarius for the duration of the dive.

Habtechs

Typically two NURC employee/aquanauts accompany the NEEMO crew into saturation. Their primary responsibilities are the operation of the Aquarius on-board systems and the safety of the aquanauts.

Watch Desk

The watch desk is the NURC version of NASA's Mission Control Center. It is located onshore and is staffed by a team of two employees 24 hours a day during the mission. Watch desk personnel are primarily responsible for the overall safety of the mission, monitoring the telemetry of the facility and approving all of the aquanaut dive plans. The watch desk lead is the ultimate authority on safety issues such as storm evacuation, medical emergencies, habitat system contingencies and dive plan approval.

Principal Investigators

These individuals are responsible for developing much of the science conducted by the aquanauts. They monitor the mission from a remote control center or in some instances from the NURC facilities. They periodically interface with the crew real-time during the mission to facilitate science objectives.


NEEMO 14

From May 10 to 23, 2010

Tether, Fall Restraint, & Ladder Angle Evaluations

As the commander, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris Hadfield led the crew of NEEMO 14, a NASA Undersea Mission to test exploration concepts in an undersea environment off the Florida coast.

NEEMO 14 used the ocean floor to simulate exploration missions to the surface of asteroids, moons and Mars. The mission was designed to gain a better understanding of how astronaut crews interact with equipment including advanced spacesuits, a lander, a rover and robotic arms. The crew lived aboard Aquarius venturing from it on simulated spacewalks, operating the robotic arm and manoeuvring the vehicles much like would be done when setting up a habitat on another planet.

Mission Facts

  • 14th NEEMO mission (first ever NEEMO mission was in 2001)
  • Splashdown: May 10, 2010
  • Return: May 23, 2010

Habtechs

Two National Undersea Research Center (NURC) employees accompanied the NEEMO crew into saturation. Their primary responsibilities were the operation of the Aquarius on-board systems and the safety of the aquanauts.

Watch Desk

The watch desk is the NURC version of NASA's Mission Control Center. It was located onshore and was staffed by a team of two employees 24 hours a day during the mission. Watch desk personnel were primarily responsible for the overall safety of the mission, monitoring the telemetry of the facility and approving all of the aquanaut dive plans.

Behavioral Health and Performance Studies

  • Cognitive Performance and Stress in a Simulated Space Environment
  • Effects of High vs. Low Autonomy on Space Crewmember Performance
  • A Scheduling and Planning Tool in NEEMO 14 Measures of Team Cohesion, Team Dynamics, and Leadership in a Simulated Environment
  • Sleep/Wake Measures in a Space Analog Environment

Human Health Countermeasures (HHC) Studies

  • Advance Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Exploration Activities Study to Assess Human Performance Responses in Partial Gravity Environments
  • Immune Assessment During a Short-duration Spaceflight – Analog Undersea Mission

Kennedy Space Center Studies

  • Cardiac Adapted Sleep Parameters Electrocardiogram Recorder (CASPER) Monitoring During NEEMO 14 Expedition aboard Aquarius Undersea Habitat
  • Continuous Real-time Hemodynamic Noninvasive Monitoring During NEEMO 14 Expedition aboard Aquarius Undersea Habitat

By conducting these studies in and outside of Aquarius, NASA's scientists and engineers can provide for the health and safety of astronauts and others involved in long duration, extreme environment endeavors.

Communications

The physical and psychological isolation of the Aquarius habitat closely mirrors the isolation that can occur during space exploration. Communication between astronauts and Mission Control is highly important, but during future long duration missions, there will be times where this communication may not be available. Therefore, crews must be able to work independently from the mission control team.

NEEMO missions offer the opportunity to test new techniques for telecommunications. Aquanauts and engineers work to develop new ways to interact with researchers from a remote laboratory location, much like they do with the space station. In addition, they have tested new communication technology for use when a space walking crew is working at a significant distance from the laboratory.

Strong emphasis is placed on exercising team building and leadership skills among the NEEMO crews, which enables them to continue working efficiently when they are unable to communicate with a mission control center. It is important to practice the plans, procedures and training that are vital to long duration exploration missions when there is the possibility of less direct communication with mission control.


NEEMO 9

From April 3 to 20, 2006

If you have dreamed of travelling to the Moon or Mars in the future, stay tuned! The next step toward the future of space exploration is the 9th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation, or NEEMO 9, April 3 to 20, 2006. This research mission will assess new ways to deliver medical care to a remote location. In one test, doctors in Hamilton, Ontario, use a prototype robot to perform surgery on a simulated patient some 2,000 kilometres away off the Florida coast in the Aquarius undersea laboratory.

NEEMO 9 is an exciting mission for Canada to take part in. You are invited to read the mission journal of commander and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Dr. Dave Williams. Watch as crew test state-of-the-art medical care technologies developed by Canadian researchers for diagnosis and treatment of a patient who is thousands of kilometres away.

The NEEMO 9 mission team includes medical practitioners and astronauts, but all become "aquanauts" for the undersea mission. Remote medical care testing is part of the main objective, which is to prepare for exploration and navigation on the Moon. The habitat environment offers a chance to try out exploration techniques, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and technologies for gathering and sorting rock samples.

NEEMO 9 is a joint project involving McMaster University's Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS), the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, the CSA, and NASA.

Remote care in space and on Earth

Telemedicine, the delivery of remote medical care over a telecommunications link, has evolved tremendously with high-speed telecommunications technology, which has increased both the amount of information that can be transmitted and the speed of transmission. Physicians can now remotely diagnose and treat a wide range of health problems. 

One of the experiments on NEEMO 9 will demonstrate the capability of sending digital radiographs from an extreme isolated environment to a teaching hospital for interpretation. In many rural areas of Canada, the high cost of sending patients to larger hospitals for medical procedures could be reduced with new telehealth technologies. 

These technologies challenge the traditional concept whereby a hospital provides service to a specific geographic region, and offers a new vision of virtual hospitals or "hospitals without walls" that deliver regional care while also providing advanced medical support to rural facilities through new telemedicine technologies.

The future of surgery and health care

Telerobotic surgery is a new surgical approach that uses leading-edge technology to allow a surgeon to operate on a patient in another location. Three elements are required to support telerobotic surgery: high-speed telecommunications, advanced robotics technology, and surgeons skilled in performing minimally invasive surgery through tiny keyhole incisions. Canada is a world leader in all three areas. 

Throughout Canada, high-speed, state-of-the-art terrestrial and satellite telecommunications are widely used. Advanced Canadian robotics technologies, similar in concept to the robotic arm used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, have been used in developing the next generation of surgical robot, and Canadian surgeons are amongst the best in the world at pursuing innovative research on minimally invasive surgery. With its unique expertise in the three enabling technologies, Canada can take a leading role in shaping the future of remote health care and telerobotic surgery.

These new telehealth technologies will change the future of rural health care. They are also important enabling technologies for missions to send humans to the Moon or Mars. Missions like NEEMO 9 are research and technology accelerators that drive the development of smaller, portable, more capable devices for delivering advanced medical care in remote locations. Space exploration thus has a dual role: extending the capability to send humans farther into space while benefiting people on Earth.

About Hamilton's Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS)

CMAS, a McMaster University Centre located at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario, develops telemedicine technologies to help Canadian physicians in isolated communities gain better access to the latest medical knowledge, techniques and specialists.

There are three primary science objectives for CMAS on the NEEMO 9 mission:

  • Telementoring – An experienced surgeon in an advanced treatment facility in Hamilton will use pre-established two-way telecommunications link to guide either a physician or a non-physician in the Aquarius underwater habitat through a complex medical procedure. Telementoring procedures will include the assessment and diagnosis of extremity injuries and surgical management of fractures.

  • Telerobotics – Using a prototype next generation surgical robot, surgeons in Hamilton will perform real-time abdominal surgery on a patient simulator in the Aquarius habitat. By varying the signal transmission delays from less than a second to up to 3 seconds, the mission can evaluate the capability of performing telerobotic surgery in a wide range of remote settings, both on Earth and on future missions to the Moon. Miniature robotic surgical cameras within the abdomen will be used to enhance the surgeon’s view.

  • Human Performance – The effects of fatigue and a number of stressors on the capabilities of a crew to perform complex experiments both inside and outside the undersea habitat will be evaluated. This information is of significant interest to health-care professionals on Earth, but also in preparation for exploration missions to the Moon.

Dr. Mehran Anvari, who is taking part in the NEEMO 9 medical experiments, spearheaded CMAS in 1999. On February 28, 2003, the internationally respected leader in his field successfully performed the world’s first hospital-to-hospital telerobotics-assisted surgery from his lab at St. Joseph’s in Hamilton on a patient in North Bay, Ontario, nearly 400 kilometres away.


NEEMO 7

From October 11 to 22, 2004

Photo of NEEMO 7 crewmembers

NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 7 crewmembers just before they prepare to splash down. (Credit: NASA)

Photo of Dr. Craig McKinley followed by his crewmates

Dr. Craig McKinley is followed by his crewmates as they make their way to Aquarius. (Credit: NASA)

Photo of the telemetry system

The telemetry system antenna and broadcast box are located at the top of the life support buoy tower. (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of North Carolina at Wilmington)

A successful dive for telemedicine

Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk  was commander of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 7 crew, a joint mission involving Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and McMaster University's Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS). Astronauts became aquanauts October 11 to 21, 2004, and stayed aboard Aquarius, the underwater laboratory where they conducted a telemedecine mission.

Robert Thirsk worked with American astronauts Michael Barratt and Catherine Coleman as well as Dr. Craig McKinley, a CMAS surgeon. Under the direction of noted surgeon Dr. Mehran Anvari, the experienced crew demonstrated and assessed new telemedecine technologies. In 2003, Dr. Anvari became the first surgeon in the world to carry out a telerobotics-assisted operation.

Technology in the service of science

The NEEMO 7 mission highlighted two types of activity: telementoring and telerobotics. Dr. Anvari and the crew conducted telementoring exercises by performing a number of operations remotely. From a medical centre on land, Dr. Anvari used a two-way telecommunications hookup to guide an apprentice surgeon through the various stages of surgical operations aboard Aquarius.

New telerobotics techniques were tested. By means of virtual-reality technology, Dr Anvari's movements were translated into the movements of a robot on board the underwater laboratory. These experiments tested the potential for using robotics during a space mission.

Soon, the new remote technologies tested by the NEEMO 7 crew will make it possible to provide curative treatment and make diagnoses for patients at a distance. Recent Canadian discoveries in telecommunications and biomedical technologies have greatly improved our ability to provide specialized health care in remote regions of the country. By putting these advances into practice, the processes tested aboard Aquarius will also contribute to improved quality of life for Canadians.

Photo of underwater life

Underwater life (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of North Carolina at Wilmington)

Photo of Dr. Anvari explaining abdominal anatomy

Dr. Anvari explains abdominal anatomy to NEEMO 7 crewmembers. (Credit: NASA)

Photo of Mike Barratt and Bob Thirsk

Mike Barratt and Bob Thirsk learn how to operate the instruments to operate at distance. (Credit: NASA)


Image NEEMO 1

From October 22 to 28, 2001

The mission rationale is based on the similarity of the Aquarius environment to that aboard the ISS. The Aquarius habitat is similar in size to modules of the station. Aquanauts coordinate operations remotely through the mission control centre in Key Largo. Experiments guided by mission control are conducted underwater using techniques similar to those used for spacewalks.

Participants

Back, left to right: Bill Todd, Monica Schultz, Mike Gernhardt (Mike G), Dave Williams, Mike Lopez-Alegria (LA), Mark Reagan - Front, left to right: Jean-Marc Comtois, Karl Shreeves (PADI Instructor) (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington)

Aquanaut Team:

  • Dave Williams, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut
  • Bill Todd, Space Flight Training
  • Mike Gernhardt, NASA Astronaut
  • Mike Lopez-Alegria, NASA Astronaut
  • Mark Hulsbeck, National Undersea Research Center (NURC)
  • Ryan W. Snow, Marine Specialist, NURC

Topside Support Team:

  • Dr. Jean-Marc Comtois, Director of Operational Space Medicine
    CSA
  • Marc Reagan, Station Training Lead
    NASA Johnson Space Center
  • Monika K. Schultz, Engineer
    United Space Alliance

Mission Physician:

  • Rod Hagerman D.O.