Re-surface prep started with crew wake-up this morning! In a manner similar to the de-orbit prep activities on board the Space Shuttle; we used our last two hours in the habitat to re-configure Aquarius to its between mission configuration. The habitat pressure showed that the pressure inside was the same as sea level and we got ready for James to open the blow-down valve to rapidly return the habitat pressure to the surrounding water pressure. With the noise of the compressed air entering the habitat surrounding us, the air warmed noticeably.
It reminded me of filling a SCUBA tank when the compression of the gases warms the tank cylinder. This time however, I was inside the cylinder!! Jim opened the door to the wet porch once the pressure had equalized and we quickly put on our fins and mask, took a bail-out bottle and placed the regulator in our mouth to give us the air we would need as we slowly went up the safety line to the surface. The weather was perfect - a bright sunny day with virtually no waves visible on the surface.
I took my time with the ascent, holding the safety line with one hand letting my legs drift horizontally in the mild current while looking at Aquarius recede in the blue mist. I watched as Ron, Tim and Nicole swam in sequence to the NURC boat riding the slight swell and finally it was my turn. Keeping the stern of the boat clearly in view, I swam towards the ladder that would take me back to the surface, friends and family. As we headed back to shore we had a chance to share the adventure with everyone aboard and it was great to see James Doherty, Head of the Canadian Astronaut Office. As we approached the dock I could see Cathy and the kids waving, both Evan and Olivia were pretty excited to finally have me back again.
Looking at the date on my watch reminded me that at this time eight years ago I was in space, three days into a sixteen day mission that was an equally memorable experience. Congratulations, hugs, kisses, pictures and more as we stepped ashore to see our loved ones!! Later in the day, Ken Kamler - a fellow physician and mountaineer with many Everest expeditions behind him, welcomed me back and asked me to join the Explorers club. Founded in 1904, the Explorers club is dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. It was a fitting way to end NEEMO 9 and look to the future at other NEEMO missions and spaceflights getting ready to send humans to follow the footsteps back to the Moon and the on uncharted path to Mars. I think this mission was a big step!
We were up right at 6:00 this morning to get ready for our last dive of the mission. Last night we received the dive objectives from the EXPOC and I reviewed them with Jim before going to bed. We used the daily planning conference to discuss the strategy for the dive, designed to have us search for and retrieve a simulated lunar cargo vehicle. Re-supply vehicles for future lunar missions will undoubtedly have transponders aboard to help the lunar astronauts locate the landing site. For this dive, we simulated the failure of the transponder and had to perform a search of the area of the reef that corresponded to the foot print of the landing site.
Working closely with the EXPOC, we planned to swim out the Kamper excursion line to initiate a line search with Tim, Nicole, Ron and I. We had attached the diver tracking system transponders to the tank of one member of each buddy team so the EXPOC could follow our path away from the habitat. Leaving the wet-porch, I did a quick com check with the EXPOC and noted the visibility was between 25 and 30 feet. As we swam down the Kamper line, each of us was quiet with our thoughts of the mission coming to a close. The diver recall test brought an end to the quiet moment and we each checked in with the EXPOC and the habitat. The visibility improved significantly and by the time we reached the 75 meter mark I was able to see Tim at the 100 meter mark - almost at the Kamper filling station.
I pushed the toggle switch on my Mark 48 communication mask and suggested to Tim that he extend farther to the Kamper station to start the search. Tim's primary reel was attached to the Kamper excursion line at the 75 meter mark and we spread out evenly along the line from the primary reel. We swam together in unison, slowly looking around the reef to the cargo vehicle. With visibility approaching 30 meters, it did not take long before we saw the simulated spacecraft. We retrieved the cargo canister and swam back to deliver it to the habitat. Since our search had gone so well we decided to use the remaining dive time to take down the waterlab structure we had worked so hard to build. We had around an hour remaining in the dive but the four of us, working together, were able to take it down in forty minutes.
We spent the remaining twenty minutes of dive time swimming around our home on the sea floor. I felt like I was now a resident of the reef, a sea dweller. I was not visiting briefly for an hour, to see the amazing sites in this underwater world, I had shared experiences with my team members living and working in this unique environment for the past 17 days and it would be hard to leave. The yellow-tailed jacks escorted us as we swam under the habitat to look at the grouper hovering in the dark shadows above our heads.
The time went by quickly and it was sad to have to wave goodbye to our neighbors as we swam into the wet porch. The showers were perhaps a little longer than normal since our water supply was more than sufficient for the last day of the mission. Following a welcome change to dry clothes, we had lunch and started getting the habitat ready for the slow decompression profile to bring us back to the surface. It was scheduled to start at 4 in the afternoon and will finish by eight tomorrow morning.
After closing the water tight door to the wet porch, we climbed onto our bunks fifteen minutes early to be ready to start on time. James, one of the NURC topside team, joined us as tender for the decompression. Right on time he asked us to put our oxygen masks on to start the first of three, twenty minute sessions to breathe oxygen and begin removing the dissolved nitrogen from our bodies. Oxygen can be toxic when breathed for too long at higher pressures and we paused for a few minutes between each of the sessions. DVDs are the usual source of entertainment during decompression, and while "Finding NEMO" seemed an obvious choice, we elected to watch the movie "Wedding Crashers". By the time it finished, the oxygen sessions were finished and for the first time in the mission we had nothing to do but relax, eat and watch movies!! After two more DVDs we were ready for sleep. I thought about how quickly the mission had gone as I watched the grouper hovering at the bunk room viewing port.
Tomorrow night I will be sleeping in a hotel room, not as exciting but it will be great to see Cathy, Evan and Olivia again!!
The IV telemedicine science has been completed and the remainder of the mission will deal primarily with the exploration science on the dives. We still are completing some of the NSBRI behavioral science but the pace of the schedule has noticeably lightened.
This morning we discussed the two planned dives for the day at the morning planning conference. Nicole and Tim will start with a two hour Super-lite dive to find simulated lunar specimens that have been placed on the sandy sea floor to the East and Southeast of Aquarius. Tim found two of the markers while taking his umbilical away from the habitat and once Nicole was in the water they proceeded to each site to mark the point with the Cobratac navigation device. Nicole was wearing the diver tracking device and I recorded the range and bearing from the habitat for the EXPOC to compare with the Cobratac data.
After collecting data on the position of the first two markers, they started a grid search using the Cobratac as a reference for the grid pattern. The biggest challenge they faced was managing the umbilicals that became snagged on small rocks on the bottom. This is an important observation suggesting that the use of umbilicals on lunar missions may be somewhat limited to the area around a lunar habitat or a lunar rover. They found two more markers before ending the dive at 10:45. We had lunch and got ready to two educational outreach events hosted by the Distance Learning Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The events started shortly after noon and lasted until 2 PM.
As soon as the event finished, Ron and I started preparing for our afternoon dive to work with the ROV and finish construction of the waterlab. We worked with Bill and Marc from our topside team to photograph the ROV bringing us tools to help us building. It saved us a lot of time having the ROV bring us what we needed instead of walking back to the stowage area to switch out tools. We finished constructing all of the waterlab elements and installed the majority of the truss segment on the base before we had to clean-up the worksite and return to the habitat. The barracuda seemed particularly impressed with this new structure and hovered around the truss element facing into the current! We finished cleaning up from the dive and got ready for dinner, the daily planning conference (DPC) and once of the NSBRI behavioral experiments.
At the DPC we added a test objective to our evening schedule to try flying and driving the ROV at night. By 8 PM we had the ROV in the water with Ron and Tim taking turns piloting. The lights on the front provided pretty good illumination and we were able to see waterlab appear in front of the ROV as it drove around the sea floor. I made the equivalent of an "eye" chart to test the vision of the ROV camera with the lights at their maximum setting. Jim held the chart in front of the ROV at increments of a meter and by the time he was three meters away we started having difficulty reading the smaller numbers. By the time he was five meters away we could no longer read any of the numbers. With a successful conclusion to the test, Tim flew the ROV back to the wet porch and we went back to sorting our daily photographs and finishing our journals. Tomorrow we have a number of interviews first thing in the morning so tonight we need to get to bed early!!
This morning I slept in until 8 AM - a full nine hour sleep!! Lying in my bunk, I looked out the viewing port at the yellow tailed jacks avoiding the current by maintaining a holding pattern close to the habitat. The Easter bunny was good us and we each received a Ziplock bag filled with chocolates and little malted milk Easter eggs. We took our time over breakfast and I enjoyed a leisurely mug of coffee while being entertained by the interactions of the jacks with the parrot fish and larger silvery permit fish.
A large school of around 60 barracuda swam into the area and all the smaller fish disappeared quickly throughout the reef. It is interesting watching the transition between the different schools of fish - how one group gives way to another around the viewing ports and they vanish as quickly as they arrive. We spent most of the morning getting caught up with our photography taking pictures throughout the habitat.
Later in the morning the topside team surprised us with an Easter basket filled with more chocolate bars, chocolate NEMO fish, jellybeans and cards for each of us. By the time we sampled everything there was little room left for the Polynesian chicken for lunch. After lunch we took more crew photographs wearing different crew shirts. Each of us had a video conference set-up for us to talk with our families and Nicole brought bunny ears for us to wear while talking to our kids. The bunny ears were a big hit and we enjoyed the brief opportunity to see one another again. We really appreciated our family support team and Wyle for taking time from their Easter to enable us to spend a little time with our families.
At the end of Ron's family conference we set up a telephone call with Monseigneur Bob Sable, an Air Force chaplain currently working at the Vatican. He gave us Easter blessing followed by reading the Gospel of Mark. He also gave blessing to the crew of Columbia and for our crew to place the STS-107 mission pin on the reef. After he finished, I donned a hookah rig and swam solo to an area of reef off the bow of Aquarius. Placing the pin in recognition of the courage, dedication and commitment to space exploration of the Columbia crew, reminded me of the loss of the crews of Challenger and Apollo 1. Their passion for exploration is an inspiration to all of us as we start to transition from the International Space Station back to the Moon over the next decade.
Swimming back to the habitat I reflected on how the dream of human space exploration has carried us so far in the past fifty years and how lucky I have been to be part of exploring the two final frontiers. After dinner we sat at the galley table and watched "Second Hand Lions" - a movie about a boy who goes to live with his two uncles and learns about courage, commitment and honor. It was a fitting way to end an Easter Sunday that I will never forget.
The plan for the day looked pretty busy with science experiments inside the habitat and a number of exploration objectives for the dives. Ron and I quickly donned our AMS devices after the daily planning meeting and had a quick bite to eat before helping Nicole and Tim get ready for the CMAS brainwave experiment. After setting up the computers, we tried to start recording the signals but had problems with the software.
Tim and I worked until mid-morning, initially solving the software problem only to be met with a problem in the amplified used for the signals. Despite our best efforts we were unsuccessful in solving the problem. After narrowing the problem down to either a problem with a USB cable or the amplifier, we changed the plan for the day and decided to have Nicole and Tim go on a dive to continue building waterlab. I asked Ron to be their IV controller while I set-up the in vivo robot experiment from the University of Nebraska. It took roughly an hour to move the CMAS experiment hardware and connect all of the video recorders, computer and robot to enable me to perform a simulated removal of an inflamed appendix. I compared the time it took using a traditional camera view used in keyhole surgery versus the view from the robot inside the simulated abdominal cavity. It is pretty incredible to be participating in an experiment to drive the development of technology that enables a mobile robot with a camera to move inside a patient's abdomen!
Tim and Nicole finished their dive returning to the habitat at 2 PM to grab a quite bite to eat. Nicole immediately started the same experiment that I had just finished with Tim as her assistant while Ron and I set-up the ROV to search for simulated lunar specimens on the reef adjacent to Aquarius. This test is part of a task efficiency study to evaluate the efficiency of using a rover to find specific objects compared to a human performing a simulated lunar spacewalk. Later in the mission two of the crew will use the Super-lites on a simulated spacewalk to find the same objects. Our times using the ROV will be compared with those of the crew and the efficiency of the two methods evaluated.
Ron and I finished just before dinner, right around the time that Tim and Nicole were finishing the robotic experiment. We grabbed a quick bite together and planned our night dive that was scheduled to start after dinner. This would be our first night dive as a crew and I looked forward to seeing the reaction of Nicole, Ron and Tim to leaving the habitat watching the lights fade through the dark blue water into blackness behind us. We followed the 5th leg excursion line, Ron and Nicole leading and went out to where fingers of white sand were interspersed between the surrounding reefs. Tim attached his primary reel to the excursion line and we swam into the dark to the south. We used our dive lights sparingly, hoping to see bioluminescent plankton in the water. We were rewarded with a spectacular display and it looked like we were surrounded by blue fireflies dancing in our wake as we swam. Pushing the water with our fingers produced a shimmer of blue phosphorescence shooting away from us! We tied our primary reel to a piece of coral and knelt in the sand to see the light from the full Moon above shining down through the water at us.
The path for humans to travel back to the lunar surface beckoned us as we gazed at the shimmering light thinking about the impact this mission would have on enabling the vision for space exploration. We returned to the excursion line in awe of the spectacular display we had witnessed and headed back to Aquarius to refill our tanks. The lights from the habitat beckoned us changing the water from black to turquoise blue, guiding our way back home. We are grateful for this amazing opportunity to become residents of the reef and to get to see things that would normally take years of diving to encounter. After refilling, we repeated the dive heading farther out onto the reef. The Moon rays seemed to guide us as we swam, the movement of the cyalume sticks on our tanks confirming our progress over the reef. Flashing on my dive light, I noticed a scorpion fish on the bottom below me swim out of the way. We took a number of pictures with our camera but none were able to capture the amazing experience of the reef at night. By the time we returned to the habitat and stowed our gear it was 11 PM!! Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we are all looking forward to sleeping in and a day off.
Today was a diving day!! Breakfast and the daily planning conference went by quickly and Nicole and I got suited for a Super-lite dive to continue building waterlab. The dives are building in complexity as the mission continues.
Today's dive will have Nicole and me working in conjunction with the ROV controlled by the EXPOC. Bill, Karl and Marc from our topside team will dive to photograph the ROV helping with waterlab tasks. One of the exploration objectives for the dive is to evaluate how robots and humans can work together to perform complex tasks - to identify which task is better suited for robotic operations and which is better for humans.
We started by donning our simulated lunar spacesuit life support systems and worked quickly attaching additional structures to waterlab. The EXPOC used the manipulator on the ROV to pick up a bundle of structural members and bring them to me with additional tools to help me perform the construction task. The objectives for the dive included flying the ROV towards me and hovering 3 feet off the bottom for the manipulator release and hand-off as well as driving the ROV along the sea floor for the han-off. In both cases, our ROV operator at the EXPOC did an excellent job of following my commands flying and driving the ROV. We shot a lot of photographs and had a brief chance to talk with our families watching our dive from the EXPOC.
The southern stingray swam by as we finished our tasks and took up its' usual spot by the tank farm - a group of compressed air cylinders that provide air to the habitat. Tim and Ron had hot chocolate waiting for us and we quickly doffed our wetsuits to warm up and have lunch. After lunch we had a briefing with the EXPOC to review the dive objectives for our second dive of the day. Tim and Ron were scheduled to use the Super-lite to perform a grid survey of the area adjacent to the habitat with the Cobratac, this time walking instead of swimming. We attached a diver tracking device to Tim's tank that enabled us to track their range and bearing from the habitat.
After completing their "surface" and in-water checks they climbed down to the sea floor and stretched out the umbilicals that provide them air to breathe and communication back to the habitat. The tracking system provided a very accurate depiction of their path as they walked and confirmed the grid search mode was working as planned. The diver tracking was also sent back to Houston giving controllers the capability of following the activities of the divers and guiding them back to the habitat if necessary. Developing a similar capability for lunar missions would be of tremendous benefit during lunar spacewalks. We captured the computer data from the "sea walk" and sent it topside for comparison with the navigational data from the Cobratac. Nicole spoke students throughout North America and with Erika from the Distance Learning Center at Johnson Space Center in two back to back educational outreach activities. I took a quick break from talking to Tim, Ron and the EXPOC to say "Hi" to students from Richmond Hill and throughout Canada on the Canarie network. It is exciting to think that one of those students may very well become one of the next generation of space or ocean explorers continuing the quest to learn about these two final frontiers!!
The dive finished at five o'clock in time for our daily planning conference and a medical conference with our diving medical officer in Florida and our flight surgeon in Houston. Tonight we are using our time to catch up on crew photographs and our journals. Tomorrow will be a busy day for us with CMAS experiments and our night dive. We are all looking forward to a break on Sunday and a chance to talk with our families once again.
This morning I slept in a little after staying up for our movie last night. We had a quick daily planning conference and Ron and I got ready for our Super-lite dive to continue building Waterlab. Once in the water, we put on our simulated life support systems weighed out for lunar gravity. There were two different configurations and Ron and I switched halfway through the two hour dive. When we started to set-up the worksite, there we two Southern stingrays in the spot we had chosen and they reluctantly swam away to leave us to our task. One was much smaller than the other reminding me of the scene in "Finding Nemo" where the ray leads the little fish off to school at the edge of the reef!
The time flew past and we heard from Nicole that our families were in the EXPOC in Houston watching us while we worked. They had a perfect view of the worksite from the camera on "Scuttle", the ROV that we can control from the habitat or Houston. Tim and Nicole did a great job working with the EXPOC and Nicole was our IV crew member. She did a great job keeping us on the timeline and helping determine which parts connected to one another. We returned to the habitat and I was pretty cold from the dive, despite my 6 mm wetsuit. A warm shower and a mug of hot chocolate awaited us and my shivering gradually stopped. Of course, sweat pants, woolen socks, a shirt and polar fleece top may have played a role as well!! Once warm, I had to disrobe again to put on the ambulatory monitoring device to record my physiological data. After it was on and the signals verified, I gratefully scrambled back into my warm clothes trying not to disconnect any of the electrodes in the process.
We set-up the CMAS ultrasound and knee surgery experiment after a quick lunch and reviewed material to teach us how to perform and ultrasound. The telementoring from the Hamilton team went really well and all of us got great images of each other's knees. Tony, the CMAS orthopedic surgeon, mentored me as I performed an arthroscopy of a simulated knee and surgically repaired a torn meniscus inside the knee. Basically, I inserted a special fiber optic camera into the knee joint to see the torn cartilage and then used a special instrument to remove the torn material. It went very smoothly, a testimony to Tony's surgical expertise, and I was amazed at how it seemed like he was looking over my shoulder in the same operating room!! I finished my afternoon with a hookah dive, using an air hose connected from the habitat to my regulator instead of a SCUBA air tank to breathe effortlessly as I glided around our undersea home. As the sun began to set in the world above, I swam into the wet porch feeling very much a resident of the reef. Forms, forms and more forms awaited me when I returned as we all had to record our impressions on the success of the experiments for the day and have our reaction times tested!! I think tonight will be an early night - another great day underwater has left me looking forward to a good night's sleep!!
This morning Nicole and I worked on troubleshooting the data download from our Cobratac navigation device before breakfast. We had some problems with the serial port connection and stopped for a quick bowl of oatmeal before the daily planning conference.
Ron and I got suited for a dive to the north and south of the Kamper line to map the area where the reef transitions into a sandy area to the east of the habitat. While we were outside collecting exploration data, Nicole and Tim were inside collecting medical data recording their brain waves again for the CMAS experiment. After we returned from the dive Nicole and I continued troubleshooting the download issue with Cobratac. After playing around with a number of different connections, we were finally able to get it to work and we sent the data to a very excited team at the EXPOC.
Jim and I then started to work on troubleshooting the Linkquest diver tracking system that enables our topside and Houston team to track the position of our divers when they are out on a dive. We were able to get it working pretty quickly on our computer in the habitat but we had some challenges sending it to our topside team. Dom joined us on the phone to solve the final video connections to send the image of the computer screen to Houston. Once we got it going it worked really well and gave us great information on the position of Nicole and Tim when they went out for their afternoon dive to continue documenting the area around Aquarius. After our daily planning conference we had a video-teleconference with our families and the EXPOC team for a mid-mission celebration. It was great to see everyone again and it looked like the kids we having a great time getting a tour of our Houston Mission Control. Terry, our crew secretary, did a fantastic job ordering all of the food and a large crew cake in the shape of our Neemo 9 patch!! Earlier in the day we had a similar party for our topside team in Florida and Tammy at CMAS once again made it all happen.
After the party, we settled down to watch "Life Aquatic" wearing our blue Neemo 9 fleece tops and red watch caps. We all looked like we were part of team "Z"!! The finished the movie, a little after our ten PM bedtime, and climbed into our bunks tired from a long and busy day. Tomorrow brings another attempt at building waterlab, a large structure made out of PVC tubing that resembles a lunar telecommunications station. Ron and I will be given weights to resemble lunar gravity and we will once again study the effects of different centers of gravity on our ability to perform the task. It should be fun!
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 trouble shooting 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 2 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 Cobratac 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 NE 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 McMaster University. 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 5th 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 CMAS brain wave experiment.
This morning I grabbed a quick bite of oatmeal and read through the procedures to troubleshoot the remote control of the ROV by the EXPOC. Our topside team did a great job loading a new computer with the necessary software and sending it down to us. Everything that is sent to the habitat comes in waterproof cylinders called pots, which have a pressure equalization valve in the latched end so that we can open the lids in the habitat.
The NURC topside team, our undersea Sherpas, have been keeping us supplied with experiment hardware, food and film!! I was able to get control of the ROV sent to the EXPOC with one of our computers but had to hand off the computer to Ron for science experiments. They were thrilled nonetheless to know that we now had a solution to the problem and we worked out a time for them to drive the robot later in the day.
Tim and Nicole had a couple of educational outreach events in the morning and afternoon while Ron donned the AMS garment to record his heart rate and other physiological recordings for one of the NSBRI experiments. Both Nicole and Ron did the CMAS radiology experiment, sending digital x-ray images to a radiologist in Hamilton for interpretation. We did not actually take x-rays in the habitat - the previously exposed digital x-rays plates were sent down to us and they were connected to the computer and sent over the internet. Ron and Nicole successfully diagnosed all of the cases and the experiment was a tremendous success!! After lunch, Ron and I put on our Kirby Morgan Super-lite helmets to perform simulated Martian surface spacewalks wearing weights to create the 3/8 gravitational environment on Mars. We collected great data and noticed significant differences with the different weight configurations. We swapped places with the ROV on the wet porch and sent it out for the EXPOC to drive around the sea floor for about an hour.
They did a great job driving around the sandy area by the habitat for about an hour before we brought the ROV back. Dinner and the daily planning conference quickly took us through to bedtime and tomorrow we will be halfway through the mission. It is amazing how quickly the time is going!!
Dawn dive - I awoke at 5:45 in anticipation of our dive this morning. Half asleep, I had a quick bite of oatmeal and got changed into my cold wetsuit. There is nothing quite like the transition from a warm bed to a cold wetsuit to wake you up in the morning! We started our dive brief at 6:15 and climbed down the steps of the wet porch into the dark water to get into our equipment. In addition to our regular gear, we brought flashlights and both a video and still camera to photo-document the underwater sunrise.
Tim led us down the Kamper excursion line followed by Ron and Nicole. I followed, watching the orange Cyalume safety light sticks on their tank manifolds glowing in the swirling dark mist. We went to the 75 meter marker that Ron and I had placed last week and attached our cave reels to the excursion line so that we could safely find our way back as we turned towards the reef to the southeast. We stopped in a patch of pure white sand, illuminated by the dancing beams of our flashlights and settled between the coral heads to watch the sunrise. Hundreds of small silvery fish were swimming around me scattering the light of the sunrise. Our bubbles floated towards the surface leaving silvery trails illuminated from above. It reminded me of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I saw from the Space Shuttle, which occur every 45 minutes as we orbit the earth every 90 minutes.
Once the sun was up we went to the Kamper station to refill our tanks and continued our dive on the adjacent reef. At 8:45 we swam back to the habitat but were unable to enter as our topside divers were bringing in supplies and it would be too crowded on the wet porch. Instead, we proceed out the NE excursion line and refilled out tanks, retuning to the habitat at 9:15 to finish our two hour and twenty minute dive. We were pretty excited talking about the dive and the great photos that we took but quickly dressed to start setting up the robot for the tele-robotic surgery experiment with Dr. Mehran Anvari.
With all of us working together we had the bunk room converted to an operating room with the robots in position for Mehran to repair an incision in a piece of simulated tissue. Working with a latency of close to a second, Mehran demonstrated his world class surgical skills by deftly suturing the wound. Later, he performed a similar task with a two second delay. It was a very impressive demonstration of skill and new technology that will change the face of surgical care. Tele-surgical procedures challenge traditional concepts, by demonstrating the reality of operating rooms without walls - where surgeons can use their skills combined with advanced technology to treat patients at a distance. It gives me great pride to know that Canada is a world leader in the telecommunications and robotic technology that enables surgeons to challenge the geographic barriers to health care and improve access to care in remote communities. The application of Canadian space robotic technology has produced Neuroarm, a neurosurgical robot used at the University of Calgary and future surgical robots are being developed based on Canadarm II technology.
We finished the day with video-teleconferences with our families and it was great to see the kids and their excitement seeing fish out the viewing port beside our galley table. It has been a tremendous day and I am looking forward to getting to bed early. Tomorrow will be a busy day with multiple dives and ROV operations as well as the science inside the habitat.
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.
Six in the morning can certainly come pretty early! This morning we tried to download data from our Cobratac navigation system and were unsuccessful due to a communications error with our computer. We grabbed a quick bite before starting our daily planning conference and were pretty excited to talk to the EXPOC about our dive to map the area around the habitat with the Cobratac. While Nicole and Tim got ready for the CMAS experiment to record brain waves, Ron and I got suited on the wet porch for our dive. We both entered the water with a lot of extra equipment - Ron had the underwater camera and a tape measure to measure our distance from the habitat and I had the Cobratac navigation system, a clipboard and some markers to put on the excursion line every 25 meters.
After checking in the EXPOC we swam away from the habitat on the Kamper excursion line, mapping and marking as we went. A dive team from Discovery Channel Canada swam beside us taking pictures of our activities and our juggling technique with all of the things we were carrying. We finished our 100 minute dive by mapping the ridge excursion line and returning to the habitat. The visibility was limited to around 15 feet or so but there was no current which helped us with our activities. We picked up an escort of a couple of fish who seemed pretty curious about what was going on! After we returned to the habitat we jumped into trouble shooting computer issues.
Tim and Nicole had been having a number of challenges getting the computers to work properly for the CMAS experiment. Despite our best efforts, we continued to have problems throughout the day and we are looking forward to help from Trevor, our topside expert from CMAS. Around lunchtime we had a house call from Damon, our Navy diving "doc" who came for a routine visit to see how we were doing. Everyone is doing really well and we had a great chance to visit before he had to leave for the surface. Tim and Nicole did a great job troubleshooting a computer issue with the EXPOC control of the ROV while Ron and I swapped spots with them and tried to resolve the computer challenges we were having with the CMAS experiment.
We have two on board computers, one of which decided to act up today! The daily planning conference lasted an hour and a half discussing all of the technical issues we were trying to resolve as well as the plan for tomorrow's dive. Mike Gernhardt, one of my crewmates from NEEMO 1, will be diving to the habitat tomorrow afternoon to help us with an assessment of how the center of gravity of our equipment affects our gait and balance with simulated lunar gravity. Tolasted an hour and a half discussing all of the technical issues we were trying to resolve as well as the plan for tomorrow's dive. Mike Gernhardt, one of my crewmates from NEEMO 1, will be diving to the habitat tomorrow afternoon to help us with an assessment of how the center of gravity of our equipment affects our gait and balance with simulated lunar gravity. Tolasted an hour and a half discussing all of the technical issues we were trying to resolve as well as the plan for tomorrow's dive. Mike Gernhardt, one of my crewmates from NEEMO 1, will be diving to the habitat tomorrow afternoon to help us with an assessment of how the center of gravity of our equipment affects our gait and balance with simulated lunar gravity. Mike has adjusted the weights that will be added to our suit to mimic the 1/6 gravity on the Moon. Ron and I are both looking forward to the dive - footsteps on the ocean floor heading towards that path back to the Moon.
When I woke this morning I looked out the viewing port into a school of fish darting in and out of the light around the viewing port. Wow!! We were up early again as we had a chance to do pre-science activities in our post-sleep period. Yesterday, we had technical problems with using one of our computers to control the in vivo robot and I tried a different computer to see if it would solve the problem. The solution worked and after a quick reward of apple and cinnamon oatmeal, I got ready for the daily planning conference.
This morning Ron and I went out of the habitat wearing our Super-lite helmets. The similarity between walking on the sea floor and my memories of the Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon was striking. Ron and I both had a chance to re-enact John Young's vertical jump on the lunar surface and took a lot of pictures of each other and the area surrounding the habitat. We returned from our 80 minute sea walk and Ron went to do the CMAS orthopedic experiment while I configured the ROV for remote control by the EXPOC. After working with the ROV I went to do the experiment Ron had just finished and was amazed at how effectively Tony, our orthopedic surgeon in Hamilton, was able to tele-mentor me through reducing and stabilizing a broken bone using an external fixator.
Each of the crew members finished the orthopedic experiment before lunch and we took a quick break to get ready for a visit from Bill Weir and his ABC film crew. Bill had a number of questions for us about the science we are doing, what it is like living and working undersea. We talked about the remarkable similarities of exploring the two final frontiers and the lessons we can learn undersea that will help us get ready to send astronauts back to the Moon. After the film crew left, Nicole and Tim started their Super-lite seawalk, bringing with them a device to map the seafloor around the habitat. While they were outside the habitat Jim, Ross and I patched their communications to the habitat through to the EXPOC in Houston and tended their umbilicals to prevent them from getting tangled. Ron did a great job with an educational outreach event we finished off the day with other behavioral experiments from the NSBRI. It was 8:00 PM by the time we finished our experiments and the daily planning conference. Everyone grabbed a quick bite to eat, had a brief phone call home and headed to bed to get ready for a dive first thing in the morning.
Today was a busy day and we hit the deck working hard right at 6:00. Everyone had a quick bite and tried to get ahead with our science experiments before the daily planning conference at 7:00. I donned the ambulatory monitoring system to do the same experiment that Ron did yesterday. Our morning started with setting up the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) - or rover, that we can operate from either the habitat or Houston to retrieve the simulated lunar specimens. We had some technical challenges getting the video signal from the rover to the EXPOC in Houston that we overcame with the assistance of our topside mission control team.
Each crew member practiced driving the rover on the sandy bottom to the east of the habitat and also flew the rover through the water at different "altitudes" above the sea floor. The visibility from the camera view was excellent and the onboard compass helped us maintain our situational awareness while navigating away from the habitat. The ROV activity was followed by two educational outreach events coordinated by Erika from the Distance Learning Center at Johnson Space Center. The students had great questions for us about living and working underwater and the challenges associated with the mission.
Following a quick lunch, we went through the set-up procedure to give control of the ROV to the EXPOC. The system worked flawlessly and the team in Houston flew the ROV away from the Habitat to find the simulated lunar specimens. They did a great job and it was pretty impressive to see tele-robotic operations controlling a rover exploring outside the habitat. The highlight of the day for our crew was speaking to Jeff Williams and Bill McArthur on board the International Space Station. While they floated inside their spacecraft, divers floated in the water outside our habitat reminding us of the differences between our environment and theirs. Despite some differences, Aquarius is a tremendous test bed for exploration science allowing us to do the advanced tele-robotic surgical experiments inside the habitat while simulating lunar spacewalks on the sea floor outside the habitat. We finished the day with a number of interviews with TV stations in Toronto, Montreal and Cincinnati. Our daily planning conference was busy this evening as we worked to fine tune the schedule for tomorrow. It is almost time for lights out - one of my favorite times of the day when I lie in my bunk looking out the viewing port at the fish outside and reflect on what an incredible experience this is!!
This morning we woke at 6:00. After our first night underwater, Ron, Tim and Nicole became aquanauts joining the group of explorers that have lived and worked on undersea habitats. We had an hour of post-sleep time to get washed, eat breakfast and get ready for the day.
With the schedule for the day filled with science experiments we got to work quickly at 7:00 converting our bunk room to a laboratory to set up our first CMAS experiment in which we recorded brainwave activity while we performed a series of complex tasks on the computer. The tasks have different delays built in such that the response to our inputs can be delayed up to three quarters of a second. That makes it more challenging performing the tasks accurately. I helped Ron don a garment that will record a number of different physiological parameters including respiratory rate, heart rate, muscle activity and skin temperature. This type of technology may help us with future lunar missions to enable doctors on the ground to monitor the health of astronauts performing spacewalks on the Moon. Nicole and Tim spent their morning with the CMAS experiment while Ron and I received a briefing from Ross on the hookah diving rig that we can use to go for short dives outside the habitat. The hookah uses a small hose to deliver breathing gas during the dive and the length of the hose keeps us close to the habitat.
After a busy morning we had a quick bite to eat before our first educational outreach event with students from a number of schools in Hamilton. The two way video teleconference allowed us to take the students on a virtual tour of the habitat that was followed by a question and answer period. We really enjoyed answering all of the questions and it was obvious that the students had spent a lot of time thinking about the different challenges confronted living underwater.
We continued the afternoon with Ron and I switching places with Tim and Nicole to complete the CMAS experiment. We finished the experiments by 7:00 PM and had the second daily planning conference of the day. In the morning and the evening we speak with our topside team, the equivalent of mission control, and discuss the changes to our scheduled activities and any problems that may have occurred.
Today we had a computer problem while recording the brain wave activity but we were able to work around the problem to complete the science objectives for the experiment. This evening we converted our laboratory back to a bunk room and reviewed all of our photos and video, worked on our plans for tomorrow and cleaned. As the day draws to a close, I find myself thinking back to the educational event earlier today and how fortunate I have been to have had a chance to fly in space and live undersea. For me it took many years of studying, hard work, patience and persistence when things seemed unachievable, but days like today make it all worthwhile. Wouldn't it be amazing if one of the students we spoke to today were to become an astronaut on future missions to the Moon or Mars!!
All of the crew missed diving today but that will resume tomorrow with Nicole and Tim diving on the Super-lite in the afternoon. We are also hoping to speak to the astronauts on the International Space Station after the dive - it should be an exciting day!!
This morning we had no difficulty getting up at 6:00 - even with the one hour time change over the weekend! The whole team was pretty excited to get started with the mission and we ate breakfast quickly to get our dive equipment ready for the dive boat. We also packed our clothes that will be sent down to the habitat half way through the mission and left hem in the condo for the topside team.
At 8:00 we were ready to go although our departure was scheduled for 9:30 so we spent an hour or so having pictures taken by NASA photographers from Kennedy Space Center. At 9:15 we got the call that everything was ready for us to depart and we climbed onto the boat with our NASA topside team, the NURC team and the KSC photographers. It was pretty crowded on the boat and the weather was perfect with a beautiful sunrise over a calm flat sea!! The boat flew over the smooth surface of the ocean and the time passed quickly as we headed out to the habitat. Otter gave us a dive briefing for our first dive of the day which took us on a tour of the excursion lines to the south-east of the habitat.
We paused half-way through the dive at the Kamper way station, an open bottomed dome filled with air. Kamper is made of Plexiglas so we can stand up and take our masks off to talk to each other and the habitat, all while looking around us at a spectacular view of the surrounding reef!! The fish seemed equally interested in us as they surrounded Kamper in a myriad of colors. We continued our tour ending at the wet porch of the habitat where we said goodbye to Otter. It feels like it will be along time before we see him again but I know from my previous Shuttle flight and NEEMO mission that the time flies past. Bill and Marc choreographed our crew photo and waved farewell as we swam into the wet porch of our new home.
After removing our equipment and washing our wetsuits, we took a quick shower, dried off and got ready for our tour of the habitat. Ross showed us all of the life support systems of the habitat and we reviewed the various emergency procedures. Although smaller that the International Space Station, the World's only undersea research habitat is similar in many ways to the ISS and will be a great research and training platform for us over the next couple of weeks. After our tour we started to unstow our clothes and experiment hardware, completed our first experiment for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and had a quick bite to eat. It reminded me of the post-insertion timeline on a Space Shuttle flight where the crew is busy stowing their spacesuits and getting the Shuttle ready for the next stage of the mission.
With two experiments behind us, we headed to the wet porch to get ready for our first dive outside the habitat as aquanauts. Tim ran us through the pre-dive checklists and cue cards and we entered the water on the wet porch to do our checks with our Mark 48 communication masks that enable us to talk to one another. The masks seemed to work pretty well and I heard each aquanaut as they checked in. After leaving the wet porch I tried a communications check with the EXPOC, our mission control in Houston. My transmissions were broken initially and we returned to the wet porch to re-mate the electrical connector on my mask. After that my transmissions were heard by all and it was pretty amazing to be talking to Houston as we swam away from the habitat to the NE way station 50 feet below the surface. Ron took some great video footage of us as we swam along the excursion line and we paused to listen to the emergency recall transmission, a test of the system that we use to tell us to come back to the habitat in the event of an emergency.
The swim to the NE way station took 12 minutes and Tim and I stood up inside to speak to James and Ross in the habitat. Nicole and Tim led us back to the habitat and we continued our communications checks with the EXPOC before finishing our dive around 17:45. After cleaning equipment and showering we were briefed on the video polycom unit that we will use for our outreach events. Two more NSBRI experiments were completed and we finished the daily planning conference on time to get ready for dinner. It was a fantastic first day and the crew is working really well as a team.
Being back in Aquarius again after my first NEEMO mission in 2001 is like returning home after being away awhile. It is great settling back in watching the fish while eating dinner. As I am typing I can't help but reflect on the differences between lifting off in the Shuttle with 7 million pounds of thrust taking us to explore outer space while reaching inner space is but a 10 minute swim away!! Both represent final frontiers, unforgiving environments that amaze us with awe inspiring beauty creating in us an awareness of the need to protect our planet for future generations. Tomorrow will be a busy day with a lot of science experiments. For now, it is time to rest relax and watch the fish in the swimming around the habitat.
The training week is drawing to a close and today's plan is to switch from SCUBA diving to diving with a Kirby Morgan Super-lite helmet.
After crew wake-up at 7:00 we had a quick breakfast, worked on e-mails and crew notebooks and went to the mission science briefing at 8:30. The crew and the NASA, NURC, CMAS and NSBRI team members attended the science brief which lasted for around an hour. We discussed all of the science objectives for the experiments inside the habitat and the exploration objectives during the dives.
The mission as planned will be the most complex and longest NEEMO and Aquarius mission to date. The longest previous missions on Aquarius were 14 days although the longest saturation diving mission was on Tektite 1 for 58 days in 1969. Inspired by the thought that the work done on NEEMO 9 will help future lunar missions, the brief ended and the crew went for a tour of the NURC watch desk - the equivalent mission control for a spaceflight. During our mission we will be speaking with both the NURC watch desk and the NASA exploration planning and operations center (EXPOC) in Houston.
During our dives, the EXPOC will follow the activity of the crew outside the habitat using a diver tracking system to evaluate the benefit of tracking future lunar astronauts performing spacewalks on the surface of the moon. They will also help us keep track of our air consumption during the dive and ensure that we follow the timeline to complete our tasks.
The briefings finished with an overview of the networking capability inside the habitat that we will use to upload our digital photographs and videos to the topside team. Roger, our NURC trainer for the Kirby Morgan Super-lite helmet took us outside to be weighed with all of our wetsuit and equipment needed for the helmet diving. Knowing this weight helps us determine how much weight to add to be neutrally buoyant or negatively buoyant while walking on the bottom of the ocean.
One of the exploration objectives for the Super-lite dives will be to evaluate the effect on our gait of changing the center of gravity of our equipment with our total weight underwater simulating the 1/6 G experienced walking on the Moon. If the center of gravity of future lunar spacewalkers is too high, they run the risk of falling over repeatedly on the lunar surface. Standing on the scale with my arms loaded down by all of the equipment, I watched the display jump from my typical weight of 195 lbs to 260 lbs [88.6 kilograms to 118.2 kilograms]! It reminded me of being in space where, in the absence of gravity, my body elongated 1 and ¾ inches [4.4 centimetres] so that I was 6 feet 2 and ¾ inches tall [1.9 metres]!
We boarded the boat suitably impressed with all of the gear we would be wearing for the upcoming dive. The waves around the habitat were 1.5 to 2.1 metres so we went to a sheltered location on the leeward side of the reef where the waves were 0.6 to 0.9 of a metre and the water depth 4.6 metres.
It was a bit of a challenge walking across the heaving boat deck wearing all of the equipment and I was relieved to jump into the water and descend to the bottom on the excursion line. The topside team ran me through the "in water" checks and then shut off my primary gas supply so I could practice breathing on the emergency gas system. It was very easy breathing in the helmet and the communication with the topside team was crystal clear.
After finishing the practice drills I was free to walk around the bottom, do handstands (to see if the helmet would leak when I was upside down - it didn't) somersaults and other body positions to get used to the suit. Despite all the gear, pushups on the bottom were pretty easy as my weight underwater was less due the buoyant effect of my wetsuit. After 17 minutes I climbed back up the line to the boat and was brought aboard by the topside team.
We all had a chance to practice being the dive supervisor and tender before we headed back to the shore to clean our equipment and finish of the day with the daily debrief. To celebrate the completion of our training we took a long dinner and finished off with e-mail and working on our crew notebooks. Tomorrow we have a day off, or more accurately a day without scheduled training as we wrap up a few loose ends before the mission starts next Monday.
The fatigue is beginning to build and I slept right through to wake-up call at 7:00. We had watched the launch of the expedition crew last night before we went to bed and it brought back memories of flying on STS-90. There may be a possibility that we will get a chance to talk to Jeff Williams and Bill McArthur in space from Aquarius and we are very excited about the potential opportunity.
There was more time for breakfast and other activities today before we started our briefings at 8:30. Otter started by giving us a virtual tour of Aquarius, which is also available on line (http://www.uncw.edu/aquarius/). We talked about all of the different systems throughout Aquarius and discussed a number of guidelines for living in the habitat. After a quick break, Otter continued the briefing with a review of all of the habitat emergency procedures. He gave us a great overview of what gets done if there is a loss of air supply, loss of environmental control unit, loss of electrical power or fire and smoke within the habitat. As in the case of spacecraft, the habitat systems have a history of being reliable and have a lot of built in redundancy to ensure continuity of life support capability in the event of an emergency.
With two dives planned for the afternoon, we did not have much time for a break as we got our dive gear together while grabbing a quick bite to eat. By 11:45 we were on our way to Aquarius to dive our new communications masks and become more familiar with the excursion lines around the habitat. The departed the dive boat by the NE mooring and swam down to the gazebo that is at the end of the NE excursion line. The gazebo looked like a large inverted barrel positioned above a platform with windows in both sides.
Two at a time, we swam onto the platform and stood up in the gazebo with our shoulders and head in air and the rest of our body in the water. It was an interesting experience talking to one another and looking out the windows into the ocean while standing on the bottom at 18 metres! The gazebos have a communications link back to the habitat and a fill port for us to fill our SCUBA tanks. We practiced using the high-pressure fill port and left the gazebo to buddy breathing with the communications masks while we swam towards the habitat.
The communication masks enclose both your face and mouth and the regulator has an oval pod attached to it that enables it to be clipped in front of your mouth. With normal use, the space in front of your mouth is clear of water and you can swim, talk and breathe—all at the same time!! To buddy breathe, we hand the regulator back and forth to each other but don't clip the pod to the mask.
Once at the habitat we practiced more air sharing drills and finished the dive after 55 minutes. We surfaced to debrief the first dive and give ourselves enough time to get rid of the excess nitrogen in our blood before starting our second dive to practice using the communication masks. With the masks turned on, we used the push to talk switch to talk to each other. It was much easier to hear the other person if you are not breathing, but you can't hold your breath forever so we started speaking by calling the other person's name three times to get their attention. Otter gave us a tour of different excursion lines and we went into the wet porch of Aquarius to chat. We finished the dive after 36 minutes to avoid decompression while surfacing. After a short debrief we returned to NURC and had 30 minutes to get changed, wash our equipment and get ready for our next briefing on the Kirby Morgan Super-lite 17 diving helmet. This fiberglass helmet is similar in many ways to the helmet of a spacesuit and enables us to breathe air from an umbilical supply and have communications back to Aquarius. Instead of swimming, we will walk around the bottom in the Super-lite using enough weight to simulate the 1/6 gravitational environment of the Moon. Tomorrow we will get to practice with them!
Wake-up at 6:30 and it's a big day for the crew today with more diving training finishing off with a mask-off lost line drill! But, I'll have more on that later.
After a quick breakfast of oatmeal with apples and cinnamon, a couple of cups of coffee and a glass of orange juice, we all settled in to getting caught up on e-mail and crew journals. The week is going by quickly, it seems much faster than I remember from my first NEEMO mission in October 2001. The training from NEEMO 1 came back quickly and a number of exercises like the shut-down drills were pretty familiar.
Training activities started with photos of the crew and the topside team and continued with briefings on our communications masks, journal protocols, emergency radios, signaling devices and cave reel procedures for a lost diver to find an excursion line to get back to the habitat. We went outside to practice the cave reel procedures and also learned how to inflate a sausage buoy that we can deploy to the surface in the event of an emergency.
The briefings finished at 11:15 but we didn't have time for lunch, grabbing a quick snack while getting our dive gear ready for an 11:45 departure from the dock. The wind and waves were less than yesterday with a nearly one-metre swell bouncing us around on the ride out to Aquarius.
We are all looking forward to getting into the habitat where we can go diving as easily as walking out the front door at home. To get into the water at Aquarius we step down stairs into the water on the wet porch, put on our dive gear and swim away!! The concept of the wet porch is somewhat similar to that of an inverted bucket underwater with air inside it where the air pressure is the same as the water pressure outside and stops water from entering the bucket.
The first dive of the afternoon was to find an excursion line and get back to the habitat using the cave reel technique we had learned earlier - except we had to perform the search without our face mask!! The swim down to the training site was more leisurely as the current from the day before had abated somewhat.
Ross, one of our NURC instructors and fellow hab-tech, intentionally swam Nicole and I around in circles to try and get us lost. He did a pretty good job! We worked as a team to attach our cave reel to a piece of coral that became the center of our expanding search circle. However, before we could start the search he took our masks away and our visibility dropped significantly.
Everything was pretty blurry as Nicole and I extended the cave reel and stated the expanding circular search. We went around a full circle without success. With the salt water irritating our eyes, we started the second expanding circle and went three quarters of the way around to be rewarded by finding the excursion line. We then had to choose a direction back to Aquarius. We both agreed on the correct direction and started to swim back to the junction of another excursion line that would take us back to the habitat. Once we correctly pointed the way back to the habitat Ross gave us our masks back. Ah relief!!! Once I cleared the mask my eyes were still a bit blurry from the salt water.
We then went to practice more shut-down and out of air drills. The 50-minute dive finished so Ross and Otter could get to the surface and switch tanks as they were using single tanks and did not have as much we did in our aquanaut diving rigs. We had a ten-minute break on the surface during which we practiced rescue breathing and we headed back down for the second dive.
Once on the bottom Ross asked Nicole and I to buddy breathe, using one regulator passed back and for the between us while we swam. In keeping with the training objectives, this was done with our masks off. We proceeded along the excursion heading toward the habitat intermittently holding our breath and breathing from the regulator. Ross seemed happy with our technique and rewarded us with more mask off shut-down drills!
With 15 minutes left in the dive we practiced deploying our sausage buoys, making sure we didn't get snagged on them and pulled to the surface by mistake. All of us successfully accomplished the training objectives and we flopped onto the boat and did the dive debrief before heading to shore.
Once back at NURC we had 45 minutes to clean our dive gear and get ready for more bench review of our experiment hardware. We were pretty tired when we finished by 7:00 PM! By the time we finished dinner, phone calls and more e-mail we were ready for bed by 10:00. Tomorrow brings more dive training, this time using communication masks that allow us to talk to one another. Should be fun!
This morning we woke up at 6:30 as we adjust to the new time zone. After breakfast there were introductions of all of the NURC staff, the topside team and the crew. As in the case of space flight, there is a large pyramid of support to enable the crew to perform our mission and we are grateful for everyone's tremendous effort on our behalf.
The first dive training started after the introductions as Ross Hein gave us an overview of the technical diving rig that we will be using during the mission. Because going to the surface is not an option in saturation diving as it is in regular SCUBA diving, the equipment has a number of important safety features. We wear two aluminum cylinders of three cubic metres on our backs (larger than those used in regular SCUBA diving) that have inflatable wings surrounding the tanks to enable us to maintain neutral buoyancy in the water. Despite wearing 6-mm-thick wetsuits, we do not need a weight belt as both tanks together weigh around 68 kilograms. The tanks are joined together by a common manifold for the air we breathe and we can isolate one tank from another in the event of a leak. We have two regulators in case one fails and we can also isolate the point at which the regulator attaches to tank if the regulator starts to leak. The NURC team has done an outstanding job in putting together this system to ensure our safety.
After the briefing we went for our swim test: 365 metres in 12 minutes followed by swimming some 20 metres underwater. We practiced in water rescue breathing and had to tread water for 10 minutes. We moved quickly in the brisk wind to get back to practicing putting on our diving gear and running through some simulated emergencies.
After lunch, we boarded a NURC boat, the Research Diver, which took us out to the training area by the habitat. The 30-minute boat ride went well with half-a-metre waves bouncing us around. On our way out, we saw a pod of dolphins which started following the boat and leaping out of the waves. What a great way to start the mission!!
After donning our gear on the rocking boat, we "splashed" into the water to start our first training dive of the mission. We swam down to the white bottom in turquoise blue clear waters and settled on the bottom to demonstrate our ability to remove our masks, buddy breathe—sharing air with each other, make ourselves neutrally buoyant and perform the isolation drills we had done earlier in the morning. We followed the excursion lines from the training area to the habitat and back to where we started giving us the opportunity to see lobsters, eels, eagle rays and a number of fish. The 50-minute dive ended too quickly and we returned to base excited at the prospects for two more dives tomorrow.
Today was our first day of training in our final week before the mission. The crew arrived from Houston and Cincinnati Saturday evening and we did our food shopping for the first few days of training. We are staying in a condo at the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) and the facilities are excellent. NURC is affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) and runs the Aquarius undersea habitat.
Crew wake-up was at 7:00 with an hour for breakfast, e-mail and preparation for the training. Training started at 8:00 with Tim, Ron, Nicole and I spending two hours reviewing the CMAS 3 Ortho experiment. This experiment is no evaluate whether non-physicians and physicians can be given directions from a remote specialist (telementored) to manage broken bones in the lower leg. Instead of using a cast, the crew will use an external fixator, similar to a K'Nex set, to immobilize the broken bones.
We then split into two groups with Ron and me learning to set-up the surgical robot while Tim and Nicole learned how to use an ultrasound to look for simulated injuries in the knee. We then switched places and finished off the morning with Mexican food for lunch. After lunch, the crew got back together to learn about using small robots with small cameras attached that can be inserted into the abdomen to help surgeons see what they are doing as they perform keyhole surgery!! Finishing off the day we were briefed on our ROV, an underwater rover than we will drive around the bottom of the ocean to recover simulated samples of moon rocks.
Tomorrow promises to be pretty exciting as we start out SCUBA training with the technical diving gear we will use as aquanauts during the mission.
Have a great NEEMO day!!