NEEMO 6 Crew Interview with John Herrington, commander
you tell us what NEEMO is, and what does it have to do with the
International Space Station.
NEEMO is NASA's
Extreme Environment Mission Operations Project. And, it's really
an analog to spaceflight. You take a crew of folks, you put them
in an isolated environment, an extreme environment (in this case,
underwater; about 50 feet), and we do a variety of things. Engineering
studies, we do some EVAs outside. It really is an analog to what
we do in space.
is your background, and how does it qualify you to be an aquanaut.
is I'm a Naval aviator. I've been in the Navy 20 years. I've been
at NASA for eight years. I had the opportunity about two years ago
to fly on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International
Space Station for just about seven days. My experience in flight
allows me to experience this mission as being a Commander for NEEMO-6.
Could you explain what your role was on the mission that
you flew on STS-113?
I was considered the Mission Specialist-2, like a Flight Engineer.
My primary mission on that flight was to perform three spacewalks,
or three EVAs, in support of the installation of the P1 truss. So,
I had a good chance to get outside and do some spacewalks.
How and why were you selected for the NEEMO Project? Did
you have to go through any dive certification processes? And, did
you have to go through any psychological screening processes?
we do, in terms of getting assigned to any mission, be it into NEEMO
or into some of the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) missions
we do or the Cold Lake Experiment experience in the North, is really
in performance of your job. They're looking at you for your performance
in a group of people in a stressful environment. So, I think my
experience in flight on the Endeavour put me in a position to command
this mission, but also to be able to take what I learned there and
share it with other folks. In terms of psychological testing? I
think it comes as part of what we're doing. You know, how do you
work, do you work well with other people? I think it's very important.
Did you have any particular dive certification training?
(astronauts), when they first get to NASA, does dive certification.
Some of us have our open water certificates before we get here,
as part of what we do in our training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab.
We're all certified divers. Down there, we get much more training
because NEEMO's a much more extreme environment. So, the folks that
run the facility have quite a few requirements that we have to complete
before we're allowed actually to get in the facility.
What will be your role in the NEEMO mission?
for NEEMO 6. I'll be leading two other astronauts as well as an
engineer. Then there are two hab technicians that work for the facility,
and we'll all be together in the habitat for about 10 days.
Why do you believe NEEMO is a valuable training tool for
the International Space Station?
That's a very
good question. In terms of being a training tool, there are so many
things, that I believe are going to directly translate to flying
in space. You've got a timeline you have to work, and it's compressed.
With a compressed timeline there's a lot of stuff to do. You're
stressed. You're confined. You're eating, well, not the same food,
but you're eating food that you're really not used to, and working
with others in trying to accomplish a mission. So, I think that
directly plays over to what we do on the Shuttle as well as what
we'll do on the Space Station.
Can you explain some of the similarities between saturation
diving and life undersea, and living in space on board the International
That's a good
question. Saturation diving is that we get down under water and
we're at depth. And in this case, NEEMO's about 50 feet under water.
So, we will have, for a period of time, a huge amount of nitrogen
in our bloodstream. If we have to surface during this 10-day period,
we'll actually have the possibility of the nitrogen coming out of
solution and getting the bends. So the intent is that anything you
deal with underwater, if you run out of air, something like that,
you have to stay down underwater because that's the safest place
for you. So, this is a direct analog to doing an EVA, being outside
in what's a very hostile environment.
Do you think that your experience will help you better understand
the challenges of living and working on the Space Station?
I think the
fact that I've flown into the Space Station and I've flown in the
Shuttle, I can take the experiences I've had there and directly
relate it to what I'm doing underwater. I'm hoping that I'll be
able to impart some level of knowledge to the folks I'm diving with
that, "Hey, this is really similar to spaceflight. And, these are
the things that you'll see." You know, that the timeline is compressed.
And, you're going to be trying to get your work done. And, that
is directly relatable to flying in space. So, I'm hoping that those
two things will come together and will be productive really satisfying
for me to share that.
How does the type of training for NEEMO differ from other
types of training offered here at JSC?
being an extreme environment, you just can't find that around here.
In terms of being an analog to spaceflight, it's a way we can do
it inexpensively and give people a similar experience. There are
a lot of other things we do. We have leadership training, and a
follower-ship training to go, where we go backpacking for a couple
of weeks with a group of people and seeing how the group dynamic
works. We also go into a cold environment, into Northern Canada
and see how we get together and how we work a timeline and how you
do things in an extremely cold, once again hostile environment.
This takes it a step further. This is at the end of that training
where we take the other experiences we've had, and every one of
us has done that, in the Astronaut Corps, that are on this dive,
and we'll put it all together. I mean, how close is this to a space
mission? How close is this to actually seeing what we'll have in
flight? I think there are going to be very, very close parallels.
Will you be conducting any research during your NEEMO mission?
And, how is that research similar to the research being conducted
on the ISS.
lot of research we'll do, engineering research, particularly. One
example is a fabric we'll be wearing. We have some shirts that we'll
be wearing that have silver laced into the fabric, and, silver's
known to be an anti-microbial - you can help reduce the amount of
bacteria. Wearing these shirts and having these sheets, we're going
to measure the amount of microbial growth in the habitat and compare
it to when we didn't have that. The idea being that you could possibly,
in flight, not fly the anti-bacterial ointments, things like that
and utilize just standard fabrics or a modified fabric. Wireless
networks we're also going to be working on. There also are some
resistive exercise devices we're going to work on. Those are things
inside the habitat. Outside the habitat for EVAs, we'll be building
a structure out of PVC, pretty much a truss-like structure. How
do we develop a timeline? How do we work together as a group to
accomplish this with certain constraints? And, with that, we're
doing some educational outreach, where we have students doing the
exact same thing. Not underwater or anything with scuba. But they're
building structures, in a group, putting them all together, and
seeing how they work as a team. So we'll have a chance, during the
mission, to talk to kids at schools and say, you know, "Here's how
we did it. How did you do it? And, what were the things that made
it difficult for you? Or the things that worked well?"
Will you be conducting any excursions outside the Aquarius
undersea laboratory? And how are these excursions similar to the
spacewalks conducted by astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS?
I think with
the exception of one day, we'll be doing a lot of excursions outside
the habitat. A good portion of this is the EVA, the spacewalk analog,
and we'll do it in pairs. Occasionally, with my dive buddy, Doug
Wheelock, we'll go out and we'll do certain things. We're checking
a comm. system that we're wearing - it's built into the mask. We're
actually looking at coral science. We're going to be looking at
the coral and trying to map some of the coral that's dying or some
of it that's alive and provide that back to scientists. We're also
going to be building a structure that I spoke about. There are a
lot of things we're going to do, and we'll do it both in groups
of two or in groups of four. And once again, it's a direct analog
to doing an EVA in space.
What are you most looking forward to on NEEMO 6?
It's a really,
really neat environment, and, we've been down to the habitat; we've
been inside. There are huge glass windows that you can look out,
and you can see. This is not like spaceflight because you look out
the window and see something swim by you. And, it is really a remarkable
environment. You know, there are stingrays, there's skates, there's
barracuda - all sorts of fish are around the habitat. And, to be
able to be in that and to go out and scuba around and to see that
and to interact with that is going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking
forward to the opportunity to be underwater for a period of time
and be in an environment that I haven't been in before for a period
Is there anything else regarding NEEMO 6 you'd like to add?
I just hope
that during the mission that we get a chance to interact with a
lot of students. We're interacting with some teachers. You get a
chance to bring them on board and say, "Hey, this is what we're
doing in kind of a timed community." And say, "This is what we're
doing, here's why we're doing it, and how does that impact you?
And what does it mean to you?" So, we'll have a chance to work with
some teachers and students and get them excited, because that's
part of what NASA's mission is to do, is to inspire the next generation.
And, what better way to do that than using teachers and talking
to students? So, it's going to be good.