NEEMO 7 Crew Interview with Mike Barratt, mission specialist.
We are talking with Mike Barratt of the NEEMO 7 crew. You're going
to be participating in the last NEEMO mission ... of this year,
coming up in October. What is, what is your background, and how
does it qualify you to be an aquanaut?
background is actually zoology from the University of Washington
with a marine emphasis. And for the longest time, I actually wanted
to be a marine biologist and live in an underwater habitat. I didn't
think I would have to join the space program to do that, but here
we are. From there, I actually went to medical school and went on
to do further training in internal medicine and aerospace medicine
and actually spent nearly 10 years here at Johnson Space Center
as a flight surgeon. So I have a medical and an operational bent
before coming into the Astronaut Corps, which I think has, has served
me relatively well. Going to an underwater habitat, which is a tremendous
analog of spaceflight, I think really fits quite well with that.
be participating in the last NEEMO mission of this year, coming
up here pretty soon. Tell me about your background and how it qualifies
you for this job.
background is, that I majored in zoology, as an undergraduate at
the great University of Washington in Seattle. I did that with a
bit of a marine emphasis, and for a long time had actually wanted
to be a marine biologist. And, living in an underwater habitat,
that was one of my childhood dreams. And now I'm realizing I had
to join the space program to do that! But I'm really thrilled about
the opportunity. From there I went on to study medicine and to take
advanced training in internal medicine and space medicine. I actually
came to the Johnson Space Center and spent nearly 10 years as an
operational flight surgeon here before coming to the Astronaut Corps.
So, I think all of that together really prepares me fairly well
for an analog to spaceflight and, and living underwater.
what exactly is NEEMO? And, how does it relate to the International
stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. We make
use of the Aquarius habitat, which is an undersea laboratory off
of the Florida Keys. It does many things for us. It gives us a training
venue, which is very, very similar to the spaceflight experience,
being that it's fairly small and enclosed and isolated, and surrounded
by a tremendous amount of natural beauty that requires a lot of
further study. And many of the aspects of making a successful NEEMO
mission are exactly the same as making a successful ISS mission.
You have a timeline that you have to keep to. You have to worry
quite a bit about self-care and team care. You have a fairly complex
payload scenario that you need to run through and make sure that
you deliver good science for the customers and all those who have
a vested interest. And even venturing outside, just like on ISS,
is, is quite a big deal. You have to get dressed up special to go
out and the view is quite spectacular. You really pay fairly close
attention,.from safety aspects to your equipment and your timelines
again. So, it's, it's an extremely [good] analog for spaceflight
in that regard.
were you selected to participate in the NEEMO project? How did that
Well, I think
a tremendous amount of luck. Again, for me this is a great thrill
to be able to do. We are trying to provide Expeditionary training
for all those who are headed to the International Space Station,
something that will give you that remote field experience, that
will prepare you better to go camping in space for six months that
also includes a technical venue. We have several other things that
we do. We do National Outdoor Leadership School trips, backpacking
and sea-kayaking. We also do cold-weather training in Canada, where
you're pulling a toboggan around at minus 30 or so for a few days
and living in a tent together. And, as in tiered process, this becomes
rather the third tier of that series of expeditionary experiences.
So I've done those first two; and, hopefully, this will be the final
part of that Expeditionary training for me. But, having said that,
the payloads, the mission that we're looking at here on NEEMO 7
is very much medically oriented. For me and my formal life, working
with the medical operations aspect of Space Station and choosing
and proving medical technologies for use in space, it's very, very
similar to that; and I think that background is also what helped
me to get included on to this mission.
be bringing that background to a lot of your work in this mission,
as you mentioned. What exactly will your role be during the NEEMO
We all have
generic, mission-support roles, if you will; all of us will be involved
in most of the experiments either as subjects or operators. But,
having said that, we, we all have special duties assigned to us.
I will serve as one of the two crew medical officers if something
actually does go wrong with one of us, to render first aid. I'll
also be in charge of the communications experiments that we do,
the robotics experiments that we, we also perform. The EX-14, which
is an advanced, Navy dive suit, I'll be the lead technical person
on that as well. And, probably a few others. We have another crew
meeting today and we all might get a few more assignments as well!
do you believe NEEMO is a valuable training tool for the International
Oh, well, I
think, as mentioned, it's a, it's a tremendous analog of, of the
isolated, small, enclosed space where getting along with your crewmates
and performing the mission and the science and the technical requirements
all are combined together. It also combines something unique that
you can't get in just a, a capsule or another training venue. And,
that is that there really is science that needs to be done. This
is a living reef that's being studied for years, and some of the
observations we make will actually add to the science base. They
are very similar to spaceflight. I think perhaps the other thing,
which I haven't mentioned, is that you are separated from the normal
world by a barrier. In spaceflight, you've got a speed barrier.
You have to slow down from orbital velocity to about zero to, to
get home. In the NEEMO habitat, we're essentially involved with
a pressure barrier, where you have to undergo a, a long period of
decompression and desaturation to rid your body of the excess nitrogen
that you've had in saturation before you can come home. So, there's
no quick or ready evacuation. You truly are isolated.
are the similarities between saturation diving and life undersea
and living on board the International Space Station and going out
one way to frame that is that, in space, you have a pervasive condition,
which is zero gravity. That affects many, many things: how your
body works, how your body functions, how your machinery works; it's,
it's just pervasive. It really makes a difference in how you design
your equipment and how your equipment performs. In saturation diving,
you have a similar condition. The background, though, is high pressure
rather than zero gravity. But it also affects how your body works
and how you might respond to certain medical events. It definitely
affects how your equipment works and performs. It's something, again,
that you have to get around before you can come home. So, it's just
a totally different force; but there is a pervasive force or, or
condition, that you have to work around. So, it's very similar.
Like EVA in space, going outside in saturation, you have to be extremely
careful in choosing your equipment and proofing your equipment and
making sure that everything is going to work 100 percent. There
are real safety aspects to it. You have to be extremely careful
not to bust depth limits. In this case, the surface is our enemy
because we are at saturation; and if you raise too quickly, you
actually face decompression sickness or "the bends." So keeping
into your depth profile is extremely important. You're always watching
your conditions, your timeline, and, of course, the task that you
have to do. But, again, I think, the view is just impossibly beautiful!
Instead of looking down at the Earth, you're looking at a very alive
reef with a tremendous amount of diversity and color and, and life.
To me there's a great similarity.
you be conducting excursions outside the lab? Are you going to be
going out there?
a few excursions outside the lab. We have a couple of specific items
on our agenda there. One of those is coral science, as I mentioned,
where we'll actually be conducting transects to look at different
coral types at certain sections of the reef. We'll also be participating
in an exercise called "Water Lab," which is the construction of
a mock facility. It involves teamwork and planning and timing, and
a lot of things that would be similar to putting a structure together
during an EVA up in the International Space Station. We'll probably
spend three to four dives just putting that together with various
combinations and numbers of divers. So, those are our, our two big
excursions. Beyond that, we'll be doing some training dives, which
involve nighttime dives and dawn dives. I'm really looking forward
does this type of training that you're going through right now differ
from other types of training here at the Johnson Space Center?
difference is just the venue; the "where we are." Number 1, we're,
we're isolated; and number 2, there really are safety implications
of, of breaking that isolation and stepping out of the bounds of
how you operate this habitat. So it's, it's very different. The
other thing is, I think it's as close to an actual mission as you
can get in that you have to plan everything months in advance. You
have to focus in on a timeline. You have to train heavily in many
diverse aspects, aside from just your payloads, the photo/TV, the
Navy EX-14 suit, for instance. And then, of course, all the nuances
of how these things are going to perform, once you get them down
there at pressure and the high humidity conditions that we face.
As always, keeping the network going, the conductivity that we depend
on to make these telerobotic and telemedical experiments a success,
will require constant tending. So, I think the main difference is
that it, it's such an analog; it's, it's such a true reflection
of actual spaceflight.
mentioned the telerobotic experiments. This NEEMO mission is going
to focus on long-distance medicine and surgery. What are some of
the experiments that you'll be conducting in these areas?
We'll be doing
these jointly with the Canadian Centre for Minimal Access Surgery
up at McMaster's University, where Dr. Mehran Anvari heads this
organization and will be teleoperating, actually, some of these
experiments that we'll be tending. This is a very cutting-edge set
of experiments that we're doing, in that Dr. Anvari, I think, leads
the world in the actual number of real telerobotic surgeries done.
And so we're very fortunate to have him at the other end of this
and involved in this mission. What we'll be doing is test-bedding
some of the technologies and techniques that Dr. Anvari and his
group have been developing over these past few years. We're doing
it in a very spaceflight-like fashion in that the conductivity really
depends on several different links, all functioning perfectly. Dr.
Anvari will be in Hamilton, Ontario; and we'll be down in the Florida
Keys, which is going to require satellite links and fiber-optic
networks, and the network from the research center on shore out
to the habitat. All of these have to work flawlessly. The experiments
themselves involve telerobotic surgical procedures, which we will
be doing on mannequins. Volunteers are difficult to get for these
types of experiments. With these mannequins, a telerobotic surgical
arm and some of the endoscopes that we have, we will do two things:
number 1, we'll be guided in some of these procedures. Dr. Anvari
will have a good view, both from the outside and then from the endoscopic
side; and he can tell us where to put instruments and to perform
the surgery ourselves with his guidance. Number 2, it will be totally
autonomous-Dr. Anvari himself performing these procedures from Hamilton
with the telerobotic surgical arm-will be draining an abscess with
ultrasound guidance. He'll be performing a cholecystectomy, a removal
of the gallbladder, on one of our very sophisticated mannequins.
In cystoscopy we're looking actually for kidney stones and how we
might deal with those. They are a risk of, of spaceflight, so it's
something we've had a keen interest in for quite a while. And, of
course, vascular repair … Some of these techniques will all be test-bedded
on the NEEMO mission.
might these experiments be helpful on the International Space Station
or any future exploration to the moon or Mars or wherever else we
an overlap of technology that, that will be useful to us. On the
International Space Station, where we don't have too much of a communications
lag, it'll actually be fairly applicable. What we perfect in the
NEEMO missions we can actually use on the International Space Station
if it suits our mission needs. The idea of doing any kind of surgery
in space is fairly daunting. But, so is the idea of having to evacuate
someone to Earth -- that's also fairly daunting and risky. So, in
looking at that risk/benefits equation, some of these might actually
allow us to perform procedures in space and the overall outcome
would probably be safer than, than having to evacuate someone. We'll
be looking very closely at the technologies that will be useful
to spaceflight, and then we will run them through a process which
will make them, hopefully, smaller, more reliable, less power-intensive,
and, above all, very user friendly so that the person on board who's
perhaps not a, a physician can actually make use of these. In this
case, the surgical brains will be on the ground. That's where you
want that expertise to be. The proficiency required is just tremendous
and difficult to fit into a standard Space Station crewmember. From
here, we'll also develop a further subset of technologies that we'll
take outward to the moon and to Mars and elsewhere. The communication
lag becomes a problem. The communication latency involved, for instance,
with being on Mars could be anywhere between eight and 22 minutes
for one-way communication. So, you won't be doing any real-time
telerobotic surgery. However, some of these could be very useful
as robotic-assist devices. The telementoring that we do, where the
people on the ground can actually provide detailed instructions,
can be done in what we call "a store-and-forward" fashion, where
a sophisticated diagnosis comes back from the crewmembers who are
equipped with, with the latest diagnostic instruments such as some
of the things we'll be test-bedding. And then, a very cogent, logical
and complete plan is formulated on the ground and transmitted back
- complete with a training video perchance, that they could actually
view and even use the instruments to go ahead and perform that procedure.
So a lot of the technology we develop will have some implications
in the future, and it's our job to find out what that subset is
and how best to proceed with developing that for space flight.
NEEMO mission will involve a lot of international cooperation, obviously,
with the Canadian involvement. What's the significance of all this
cooperation, and, how does it compare to the kind of cooperation
that goes on in building the International Space Station?
I think from
the spaceflight standpoint this is how we do business nowadays.
It's a very international arena. And it's gratifying to see this
come to the NEEMO world as well. We've got several different organizations
involved. Aside from the U.S. and Canada, we also have several independent
partners, being the Canadian Space Agency; the Centre for Minimal
Access Surgery at McMaster's University I'd mentioned;.we've got
the military TATRAC organization, which also looks at advanced medical
technologies and it's a U.S. organization. Along with that, we've
got other partners: CISCO systems, Canada; Bell Canada; many other
partners who are just involved or have stakes in the technology
that we're using and developing here, very similar to spaceflight,
there are many different organizations. Two space agencies, and,
of course, we can't forget the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, who actually owns the habitat and the, the underwater
research center at North Carolina who administers this facility.
So, all of these organizations have to work together to make this
a success and coordinate together. It's actually very akin to what
we do with the International Space Station. The one thing we don't
have is a language barrier, but I foresee that coming in future
are you most looking forward to with this mission?
I think looking
out the window.