NEEMO 6 Crew Interview with Tara Ruttley, mission specialist
is NEEMO, and what does it have to do with the International Space
NEEMO is NASA's
Extreme Environment Mission Operations Program. It's a program that
is run by NOAA and NASA's participating in this as a space analog
type of mission. The Aquarius is the habitat that we'll be staying
in, and that's located a few miles off the coast of Florida. We'll
be living in saturation. The similarities to International Space
Station include things such as living in an extreme environment,
where you don't see friends and family. You may have different behavioral
issues. You may see different science research objectives that you
can perform down there. And, you also have this situation where
if you're living in saturation and you're diving, it's just like
at the International Space Station in that you can't just step outside
and come home. There are physiological consequences associated with
What is your background? And, how does it qualify you to
be an aquanaut?
I am engineer
at NASA. I work in the Biomedical Systems Division where I'm the
lead for all the health and medical equipment that's up on International
Space Station right now. I'm qualified to be an aquanaut in terms
of my dive certification background. I'm an advanced open water
rescue diver, and you have to have so many missions or so many dives
under your belt to become an aquanaut. I'm qualified to do the research
that we're doing because it's all biomedical hardware, it's all
advanced equipment that we'll look into to potentially use on the
International Space Station someday.
How and why were you selected for the NEEMO project? And,
did you have to go through any psychological screening processes?
I was selected
for the NEEMO project, self-appointed. I don't know how else to
put it. From an engineering perspective, I had noticed that the
past missions have always been life sciences related. Once I got
to figuring that they're getting experiments done down there, I
kind of started wondering how engineering could participate in something
like this. I think it's of high value to engineering. So I sought
the permission from my Engineering Directorate to go out and perform
the experiments, and that's just how I ended up as an aquanaut on
Do you think you have something to offer that hasn't necessarily
been covered on previous NEEMO expeditions?
I come from the Biomedical Systems Division that looks at countermeasures
for exercise such as bone and muscle health maintenance equipment,
and also environmental monitoring equipment. And, those are all
the type of experiments that we'll be performing.
What will be your particular role in the NEEMO 6 mission?
I will be
the Lead Hardware Engineer in terms of evaluating the experiments
that we'll be taking down. I will be performing hardware evaluations.
We're looking at usability and performance of the hardware in a
metal wall environment, a closed environment for space analog, and
leading up all the seven different experiments that we'll be doing.
Why do you believe that NEEMO is a valuable training tool
for the ISS?
NEEMO is a valuable training tool for the ISS because it offers
a closed environment for an extreme environment. You can't just
come home. You can't just go out of the hatch and come to the surface
if you missed your friends and family. You focus on the research.
You focus on the mission. You focus on safety. And, those are the
primary things that you do on International Space Station.
Do you think that your NEEMO experience will help you better
understand the challenges of living and working on the Space Station?
my NEEMO experience will give me an idea of the challenges that
the astronauts face living on International Space Station in terms
of working as a team, meeting unexpected challenges that may arise,
looking at behavioral issues, maybe malfunction of hardware -- hardware
that we as engineers have problems with on the ground and as they
get up on orbit. It's the unexpected things, I think, and then the
closeness of it that I think will contribute to the analog of Space
Can you explain how training for the NEEMO mission compares
or differs from other types of training at JSC?
between NEEMO hardware training and training the crew for the NEEMO
hardware, versus training the crew for the International Space Station,
there are similarities in that for the NEEMO mission, as engineers,
we're required to prepare appropriate procedures for the crew. We're
required to spend quality time with the crew to ensure that they
understand how the hardware functions, how the hardware operates
in a safe environment in a safe way, and you get all that. It's
the same thing for International Space Station. I think with NEEMO
we're allotted a little bit more one-on-one time with the crew.
I have a lot more closeness with the crew, and you wouldn't just
get that with regular International Space Station training.
you be conducting any research during your NEEMO mission? And, how
is it similar to the research being conducted on the International
that we'll be doing on NEEMO is similar to that which is being done
on the International Space Station in a way by which it's a usability
thing, I think. Space Station hardware has already been evaluated
fully, I think, in terms of research. More of the research that
happens on International Space Station is based on outcome of results
- hard-core data that you can obtain, mostly physiological or environmental.
For NEEMO, we are actually doing something a little different in
that we're reevaluating hardware in a usability and a performance
fashion, not quite getting the science data you would expect with
the physiological or environmental. Instead we're looking at things
that with NEEMO, in how they could apply to Space Station. It's
a hard parallel to distinguish the two or actually to parallel the
two. But, we're looking at hardware that could be used on International
Space Station. We're using NEEMO as a platform for which to test
potential future hardware that would be used on the International
Will you be conducting any excursions outside the Aquarius
undersea laboratory? And how are they similar to the spacewalks
conducted by astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS?
We will be
performing several excursions outside of the habitat, or EVA spacewalk
analogs underwater. And these are similar to the International Space
Station or spacewalks from Shuttle in that you have special gear
that you're required to train to use appropriately. You're trained
for safety and how to use that gear. You're trained in how to communicate
with each other when you're in that environment and with your home
base, which would be the habitat or the International Space Station.
This is going to be the first NEEMO mission dedicated to
engineering research. What kind of systems will you be testing while
you're down there?
The type of
systems that we'll be testing when we're on the NEEMO mission includes
things such as exercise countermeasures, environmental health systems,
and health maintenance systems. Those are the core of what we do
in the Biomedical Systems Division, is we maintain crew health;
for example, we're looking at some silver ion technology on NEEMO
in its closed environment. Silver ions are woven into the shirts
and the blankets and the towels that the crew will be using, and
I'll be, at different points along the mission, sampling for control
of microbes. It's an anti-bacterial, is what the silver is for.
That's a potential thing that we could use on the International
Space Station. Another example is an exercise machine. We've got
a space analog mission going on NEEMO, then we should have a space
analog exercise machine. It's a resistive exercise machine that
doesn't require the use of gravity. And, it's something new that
we haven't used before, and we'll get the crew's feedback on that
as well. We have a series of wireless monitoring systems, where
we can monitor the environment wirelessly and look at things such
as temperature changes and light changes at different points in
How does the new exercise machine work, and how does it
differ from the exercise device that's currently on the ISS.
machine that we'll be testing at NEEMO is called the Constant Force
Resistive Exercise Unit (CFREU for short). Its purpose is to provide
a constant force when you're exercising in the positive and negative
stroke through an entire range of motions. It's different than something
such as a rubber band or a regular spring. The current machine that's
on orbit uses rubber band or a rubber system, and it maintains a
nearly constant force. But, it's not quite exact, and you lose some
resistance during the exercise. Our challenge as engineers is to
come up with the perfect exercise machine. And, although this one
that we're looking at now may or may not get to the International
Space Station, it's a good design challenge for us to think about
things like that, to consider the human-in-the-loop, so to speak.
How might the systems that you'll be testing be applied
to the International Space Station and the new exploration vision?
that we're testing could be applied to the International Space Station
and our new exploration vision, in terms of looking at autonomous
medical capabilities, and looking at improved exercise countermeasures,
and looking at improved environmental monitoring. The Aquarius habitat
offers us the closest thing there is to the International Space
Station to test our equipment. Engineering sees this as the best
opportunity to evaluate as much as we can in the 10 days that we're
Do you foresee any special challenges as the lone female
on this NEEMO crew?
a couple of special challenges in being the only female on the NEEMO
crew. There's always the aspect of personal space that you know
you don't share with the male all the time in a closed environment
as this, or such a close environment as this. But I've had time
to spend with my crewmembers, and I don't feel concerned to be the
only female there. I'm perfectly fine with it and I'm not concerned.
I don't know all the challenges quite yet, and I guess I'll learn
when I'm there.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add?
I would just
like to thank my Engineering Directorate and my management over
in the Biomedical Systems Division. These guys are outstanding!
And the people who have worked behind the scenes to make all of
these experiments come together have worked day and night for months.
It's been the best reward just this past week finally getting to
train the crew on this stuff, and watching how they react. It's
going to be even more fun to watch how they react underwater. I
just want to say "Thank you" to everybody who's participated in
and who is giving us the opportunity to go down there.