NEEMO 6 Crew Interview with Nicholas Patrick, mission specialist
you please explain to us: What is NEEMO, and what does it have to
do with the International Space Station.
NEEMO is NASA's
Extreme Environment Mission Operations Program, and it is an analog
to spaceflight on the International Space Station. It's both in
an unforgiving remote environment, and it's in a confined environment,
and that allows us to simulate operations on the Space Station quite
Can you explain what your background is, and how does it
qualify you to be an aquanaut.
an astronaut, I think of myself first and foremost as an engineer.
And this mission is an engineering mission, so I'm very excited
about that aspect of it. I'm also a certified scuba diver and in
fact, a rescue diver, which means in addition to open water training,
I've received training in how to deal with underwater emergencies.
I think that will help me prepare for what we hope will never happen
underwater, but these things you need to be prepared to deal with
should they arise.
How and why were you selected for the NEEMO project, and
did you have to go through any psychological screening processes?
I was selected
from the Astronaut Corps as one of the astronaut participants in
this NEEMO mission. Each NEEMO mission has several astronaut participants,
and we're there to participate in the experiments and also, we're
there for our own training, because this is such a good spaceflight
analog. We don't get particular psychological screening for consideration
for a NEEMO mission because we already get a lot of that when we're
selected for the Astronaut Office. They've tried to do a good job
of making sure that we are compatible with as many people as possible,
and would be the kinds of people you'd want to be in a confined
space with for a long time. It remains to be seen whether we're
successful on this mission.
Can you give me a brief description of the Aquarius module
and where it's located?
habitat is located in the Florida National Marine Sanctuary, a few
miles off the coast of the Florida Keys. It's in about 60 feet of
water, but the hatch depth, which is the all-important depth controlling
the pressure inside the module, is at about 47 feet. The habitat
itself is about 45 feet long, and it's a cylinder of about 13 feet
in diameter. It's about the size of a school bus - quite a small
space for six people to live in for 10 days.
What will be your particular role in the NEEMO 6 mission?
I will be
one of four NASA crewmembers and one of three astronauts, and all
of us will be participating in all of the experiments: evaluation
of silver ion-impregnated clothing, evaluation of the Constant Force
Resistive Exercise Unit, and several external activities, EVA activities,
that are analogs for spacewalks. I expect to be participating in
all of those things. My background as an engineer I hope will make
me very useful, particularly in the engineering evaluation of the
devices we take down with us to Aquarius.
Why do you believe that NEEMO is a valuable training tool
for the ISS?
fabulous training tool for ISS because it is the closet analog we
have to the Space Station. It is located in a place that you can't
come home from very easily. In Space Station, you can't come home
because reentry is required. And in Aquarius you can't come home
straightaway because decompression is required. It's a confined
space in which you're living with several other crewmembers for
an extended period, so it forces you to think of crewmembers in
a way you don't normally think of your co-workers. You're going
to have to live with them 24-hours-a-day in this confined space.
Finally, it's a very unforgiving environment. While we've done everything
we can to make it a safe environment, it is not the kind of environment
that tolerates mistakes very well.
Can you explain some of the similarities between saturation
diving and life undersea, and living in space on board the ISS?
you don't feel the effects of gravity - you're effectively weightless.
Although we don't have a weightless condition inside the Aquarius
habitat, we get that as soon as we go outside and we're neutrally
buoyant, floating in the water, much the way we are here at NASA's
Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at JSC. Another similarity between the
International Space Station and the Aquarius habitat is that because
the environment is extremely unforgiving, many technical systems
are required to support life: control of pressurized gases, control
of temperature, electrical power systems, are all required. And,
although we won't be the primary operators of these on Aquarius,
we need to be familiar with them and particularly how to use them
in an emergency. This again makes Aquarius a very good training
tool for flight on the Space Station.
How does training for NEEMO and Aquarius differ from other
types of training at Johnson Space Center?
from NEEMO is in fact quite similar to the training we get for spaceflight
at JSC. The main similarities are concerned with the safety aspect
of the training. We're primarily concerned, in both cases, with
making sure the crew is safe and sound and bringing them home safely.
We're also concerned with the achievement of mission goals, and
we use a lot of checklists. We use a lot of backup systems, so that
if the primary system fails we have a fallback. Some of the differences
are: NEEMO training is a lot closer to home; the environment isn't
quite as unusual as the space environment, and the mission is a
little shorter so the training can be more compressed.
Will you be conducting any research during your NEEMO mission?
And, how is this similar to the research being conducted on the
We will be
conducting research on this NEEMO mission. We'll be looking into
the utility of, for instance, silver ion shirts - the shirt that
I'm wearing right now, the fabric that it's made of has been laced
with silver ions to prevent microbial growth. If we can make this
work on a ten-day NEEMO mission, then there's a good chance that
it can be made to work or evaluated further on a Space Station mission.
This would be wonderful, because it would allow us to reduce the
amount of clothing that we have to manifest on the Space Station
missions and so on. We will also be doing research into a new resistive
exercise device, the, Constant Force Resistive Exercise Unit. Exercise
during spaceflight is absolutely crucial to maintaining the health
and wellbeing of the crewmembers. After six months in space, which
is the length of the current Space Station increment, the crewmembers
need to come back to Earth and be able to function autonomously
straightaway in case they land in a place where there isn't immediate
help. Without a really good regiment of exercise during their increment,
they won't be able to do this. The more types of exercise devices
we have and the more capable those devices are, the better prepared
our crewmembers will be when they return.
on the NEEMO mission is similar to the research on ISS in that we
only have one shot to take our hardware with us. You launch with
your hardware to a space mission, and then you use that hardware.
And if you break it, you have to fix it. Well, we are going to dive
to Aquarius with our hardware for these experiments, and if we break
them, we'll have to make do or fix them. There is one difference,
which is that we get to take one of our engineers with us on an
Aquarius mission, and we wouldn't normally get to do that for a
spaceflight. That should be a great help should things not go as
Will you be conducting any excursions outside the Aquarius
laboratory? And, how are they similar to spacewalks conducted on
We will be
conducting several EVAs, or extravehicular activities, from Aquarius.
These will be very similar to the EVAs that we conduct from ISS
in the following ways: You have a very specific timeline to follow
during an EVA from the Space Station, and we will do the same with
our EVAs from Aquarius. The environment is very unforgiving, so
you need to have backup systems, and you need to know how to use
them. And although the systems will be different underwater from
those that we have in space, the basic functioning is similar. One
of the interesting things is that the training for spaceflight is
conducted underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab here at JSC, so
that an EVA from Aquarius will be very similar to a training run
at JSC for an EVA during spaceflight.
What kinds of activities will you be conducting on your
EVAs from Aquarius, we'll be doing several things that have many
similarities to EVAs from the Space Station. We will be conducting
some coral science, measuring out a line through some coral and
then examining the corals that we find along that line. We will
be building a small underwater laboratory that would simulate the
construction of a Space Station, perhaps adding a new module for
Space Station. This will present us with several challenges, because
it's very hard to work when you are neutrally buoyant or weightless
in space, you need often a hand to keep yourself steady somewhere,
and that leaves you only one hand to work with. And we will be doing
a communications experiment in which we evaluate the capability
of our underwater communication system as we talk back to our Mission
Control here in Houston. So there are several things we're doing
that make the EVAs from Aquarius very like EVAs from Space Station.
Mike Fincke, who is now Expedition 9 Flight Engineer and
NASA ISS Science Officer onboard the International Space Station,
had once been a NEEMO aquanaut. Can you describe his experiences
as an aquanaut and how they might have contributed to his capabilities
now onboard the International Space Station?
I know that
Mike really enjoyed his experience on Aquarius and thought that
it fitted in very well with his training flow. It was probably the
first time in his training flow that he had had the opportunity
to be confined with several other crewmembers and do realistic extravehicular
activities and so on. Although I haven't spoken to him since he
has been onboard the ISS, I know that the training he considered
to be very valuable.
What are you most looking forward to?
two things I'm most looking forward to. The first obviously is the
opportunity to spend some time at the bottom of the sea, on a reef,
and to get to know the creatures that live down there fairly well
- better than you can on a normal scuba dive for sure. And, the
second thing is: I'm looking forward to working with my teammates
and then making some new friends.