Interview: Douglas Wheelock
NEEMO 6 Crew Interview with Douglas Wheelock, mission specialist
you explain what NEEMO is, and what does it have to do with the
International Space Station?
NEEMO is the
NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations program. We'll actually
be operating underneath the ocean in the Aquarius habitat that's
off the coast of Florida. It's an analog to spaceflight on the Space
Station in that we are together as a small group of folks, equivalent
to what we'd have on the Space Station, and we're given the equipment
that we have and the tasks that we need to do. And so resupply is
very limited. And then through the use of just self-care, watching
after each other, and use of teamwork, we're just trying to accomplish
tasks similar to what we'd be assigned on the Space Station.
What is your background, and, how does it qualify you to
be an aquanaut?
I'm an Army
test pilot. As an aquanaut I didn't get to do much of that when
I was active duty Army. I also am a test pilot and an engineer.
So the things that we'll be doing on Aquarius or outside of Aquarius,
in EVA-type activities outside of the habitat are actually analogous
to what we'd do on a spacewalk. So I'm training right now to prepare
myself to fly to the Station and perform EVAs, engineering tasks,
science data collection, things like this.
How and why were you selected for the NEEMO project? And,
did you have to go through any dive certification processes and
psychological screening processes?
a part in the astronaut screening for spaceflight on the Space Station
in that we go through a number of training events. This one is sort
of the final training events to fly to the Station. That's where
they put us in the extreme environment. I've done cold weather training
and some outdoor leadership training and things like that. And for
the last two years, I've been working in Mission Control. So now,
I'm going to be able to see the other side of the picture as far
as mission operations. I've been working in the Control Center for
the Space Station, and now I'll be on the operator end and be able
to work with the ground control team, and that'll round out my training
as a potential flier on the International Space Station.
What will be your particular role in the NEEMO mission?
role is I'm the Coral Science Lead. A lot of what we do is science
data collection, and I'm also doing some studies for health monitoring.
But, I'll be the lead for coral science in which we'll take coral
fields and we'll do actual measurements and science for NOAA, who
is our sponsor there on the habitat. And we'll be collecting that
data and presenting it to the engineering team, where they can do
comparisons from past studies.
Why do you believe that NEEMO is a valuable training tool
for the International Space Station?
I think it
puts us in a very hostile environment. And, much unlike some of
the training we have here at Johnson Space Center, (which is wonderful
training and simulation exercises and things like that), but at
the end of the day, in a simulation exercise, all the pieces go
back in the box and everybody goes home. Whereas with NEEMO, it's
more of an analog to actual spaceflight in that we're in this environment
and we're there for a semi-long period of time. Not as long as what
the stays would be on the Space Station, but with a compressed schedule
and accomplishing tasks that no one person in themselves can accomplish.
It'll force us to work together as a team to collect data with a
very ambitious time schedule that will help in our leadership roles
and in the basic subsystems of the mission.
What are the similarities between saturation diving and
life undersea and living in space on board the International Space
are that we'll be in a confined environment as a small team. We
do have a Commander, John Herrington. We'll be working together
as a team to collect our science data that we need to collect, and
we're also living in a closed, confined environment where self-care,
and care of your own teammates, is needed as it is on the Space
Station. Another similarity that we have is we have excursions outside
of the habitat that would be equivalent to an EVA or spacewalk on
the Space Station to gather science data, and to conduct engineering
tasks. We'll be constructing a truss-like segment on the floor just
beside the habitat that will be analogous to an assembly task on
the Space Station.
Do you think that the experience you gain during NEEMO 6
will help you better understand the challenges of living and working
on the ISS?
I think it's a fairly ambitious time schedule that we're going to
have. Now, the time is compressed into a very, very short ten days.
It's actually seems long when you're first going down, but with
all the tasks that we need to accomplish in that short period of
time, we're going to have a compressed time schedule. We'll probably
have competing tasks that we'll have to deal with, much like we'd
have to deal with on the Space Station. And just the opportunity
to work together as a team - a lot of the things that we're going
to have to do, we're not going to be able to do in other than in
two-, two-, three-, four-person teams. I think the analogy to the
Space Station is very, very similar as far as small unit teamwork.
How does this type of training you've had for NEEMO differ
from the other types of training you've had at JSC?
difference is probably the environment. We get into this type of
environment as far as being in a sort of a time-compressed environment
with a very ambitious schedule in simulation exercises and things
here at Johnson Space Center and some other places where we do some
of our training. The biggest difference is the environment that
we're in. We're going to have to pull together as a team, to learn
how to deal with a particular situation with the equipment that
we have. It's going to require probably a bit of resourcefulness
that we might not be able to exercise in a simulation exercise,
which is probably the biggest difference. I think it will prepare
us well for flight on Space Station.
Will you be conducting any research during your NEEMO mission?
And how is the research on NEEMO similar to the research being conducted
on the ISS?
We will be
doing research. This is a heavy engineering mission, so we're doing
a lot of construction-type tasks. We are doing coral science outside.
We're also doing some health science monitoring. We have resistive
exercise devices that we're actually taking a look at, and some
of this will actually allow us to develop new pieces of equipment
for the Space Station and help us to try out some of the things
that we're going to be using on future Station flights. We have
new fabrics that we're going to be testing out for anti-microbial
properties. Also, we'll be constructing a truss-type segment on
the floor of the ocean right beside the habitat that is analogous
to a fairly complex, assembly task on the Space Station.
Can you explain how your excursion outside the Aquarius
is similar to the spacewalks conducted by astronauts and cosmonauts
on the ISS?
We're in an
extreme environment, much like you would be in the vacuum of space.
Only here we're in a saturation-type dive where we can't surface
because of the nitrogen in our system, and we need to control our
buoyancy. It's a very, very complex operation as far as going out,
including, just navigating under the water. Sometimes we have to
get away from the excursion lines for science data collection and
things like that. We also monitor our equipment, and must be able
to understand where we are relating to pressures. We're also diving
with a buddy. The analogy there is that we've used the same type
of buddy checks that we would do on equipment that we have on a
What are you most looking forward to for NEEMO 6?
I guess professionally
what I'm most looking forward to is being on the operator end of
a real mission. I've been working for the last two years or so in
Mission Control for the International Space Station crew, and, I
feel like I've got a good handle on how the ground control team
is organized and how they interface with the crew. And, it'll just
be a great experience, I think, to be on the other end of that and
just see how difficult it is, including some of the hurdles that
we have in communication and things like that from the operator
end. Personally, I don't have a lot of open water dive experience,
so this will be sort of a first for me. I went through scuba training,
open water training, just to support our NBL activities here at
Johnson Space Center, but this is my first real open water experience.
I'm just really looking forward to the environment and the confidence
it will give me in taking care of my equipment, self-care and, and
working together as a team in such an extreme environment.