NEEMO 7 Crew Interview with Cady Coleman, mission specialist.
We’re speaking with Cady Coleman of the NEEMO 7 crew. You’re
going to be participating in the last NEEMO underwater mission of
this year, coming up in October. What’s your background, and
how does it qualify you for this mission?
an astronaut who’s been in space twice, and I’d like
to go again. I’d like to go on a Shuttle mission. I’d
like to go off on the Space Station. And, I’d like to be one
of the folks that is, that goes even further than the International
Space Station. To do that takes a lot of preparation; and NEEMO
7 is one of those kinds of preparation exercises. I have also been
to Antarctica to stay for six weeks in a tent about 250 miles from
the South Pole. These are all different experiences that help me
to become prepared; but, more importantly, I bring back the knowledge
that I gain from these experiences to our NASA culture and help
us understand “What does it take to explore?”
exactly is NEEMO? And, how does it relate to the International Space
is our name for actually living underwater in a habitat about 60
feet under the surface of the water. I will go there with five other
people; and we’ll spend 11 days. It’s a lot like being
in outer space, even though you’re under the ocean. That’s
because it’s actually physically dangerous for us to come
up to the surface whenever we want to. We need to actually decompress
for about 17 hours before we do that. So, it’s a very safety-driven
environment; it’s a very small environment. I don’t
really anticipate that the spaceships of the future are going to
be large. We do need to understand how we accomplish a mission when
we’re all within really close quarters. NEEMO (or Aquarius,
the habitat) will allow us to do that.
is it that you were selected for this mission? Did you have to go
through any sort of dive certification or any sort of special training
I feel like
the luckiest person alive to get on this NEEMO mission. I have actually
loved diving most of my life; and my father was involved in experimental
diving and diving and salvage for the Navy. And so, exploration
has been part of what I grew up with. He was part of the project
where men first lived under the sea. And so, I thought it was natural
to do those kinds of things. The fact that I now explore in my own
way, through the space program, and that I’m coming full circle
to use undersea exploration to help us understand what it takes
to explore space. That’s pretty special for me.
what is your role in this NEEMO mission? What exactly are you going
to be doing?
going to be doing telerobotic and telementored medicine; specifically,
surgery. And, one of our goals is to understand both for remote
medicine, say, medicine in Antarctica or medicine in a remote region
of Canada, places where we can’t get a doctor or a doctor
who’s got exactly the right certifications to do a specific
surgery: How can we get good medical care to those places? We’d
like to know: Can we get it there by having somebody like me, who’s
an ordinary exploration citizen, can we coach someone like me? We
call that telementoring. Or, can we actually, with good communication
links, have that qualified surgeon be wherever he or she lives and
works and then, through communication lines and robotic interfaces
at my end, at the local end, can we actually accomplish our medical
procedures that way, telementoring, coaching, and telerobotics,
actually doing that surgery from a distance? I am the novice person
who doesn’t have a medical background. We’re trying
to see if someone with very little medical background [can] be coached
to do things successfully.
all of this is going to be applicable to life in remote locations
here on Earth and, possibly, to any sort of exploration we do down
the road—Mars or the moon, whatever? How do those things relate?
How does the sort of work you’re doing going to help make
those things happen?
of telemedicine, remote medicine, has a lot of different applications.
One is to raise the standard of care across large geographies, which
is pretty exciting, even in the U.S. We have places that are remote
and don’t have access to the highest standard of medical care.
And certainly, in other places that’s true. As we explore
places like Antarctica, the North Pole, places like that, we’d
like to make sure that those people can be as safe as they can be.
As we now look towards the moon and towards Mars, we need to understand
how to keep those crews safe as well. I’m not sure that with
the communication delays we could actually do telerobotic surgery
right now on the moon, even if we were there right now, because
of the communication delays. But in the future, we may, may not
have those delays. Also, we’re working on the other front.
We’re working both that direct robotic interface through communication
lines as well as coaching, being able to talk to somebody like me,
send me a videotape that says, “This is what you need to do
as a surgeon in this situation.” How can we get them the information
and the tools that they need and over a long distance? So, it’s
got implications for a lot of things that everybody’s interested
are the similarities between the saturation diving that you guys
are going to be doing, life undersea, and living on the International
someplace like the Space Station, where I haven’t been but
I have been on the Shuttle, and I will tell you that it’s
an amazing view and, and a very special platform to observe the
Earth from. And it’s magical. It’s a place that I have
to admit I don’t really want to come from all the time. But
the reality is: If I’m up there, I can’t actually come
home exactly when I’d like to. That’s the reality of
space. It’s also the reality of a habitat undersea like Aquarius,
where we are actually living at about 1.5 atmospheres, more pressure
in the air than we have up here on the surface. In order for us
to come to the surface, we need to accomplish a 17-hour decompression
profile, where we actually gradually make our atmosphere just the
same as it is up here on the surface. It’s kind of a long
time to do what scuba divers do all the time, which is to come slowly
to the surface so that any gases that are dissolved in their blood
come out very slowly as opposed to like big bubbles that could then
be very physiologically harmful. So, space? We can’t come
home whenever we’d like, because we have to, we have to get
home. Home is closer in a habitat like Aquarius, but we still actually
have a time, 17 hours that we need to safely come to the surface.
We have to take that into account when we live there and when we
work there. And, we try to do those things safely.
does this type of training differ from your normal training as a
member of the astronaut corps here at JSC?
NEEMO is a very focused thing. We spent a week last spring doing
sort of a pre-dive certification checkout to make sure that we have
the basic dive skills that we need to live safely in that environment.
Then, the week before we start the mission, we will actually dive
several times a day and practice using our equipment, which is not
standard dive equipment, to make sure that that is second nature
to us -- so that we can live in the Aquarius environment and go
out on our, our spacewalks underwater, and be completely familiar
with our equipment and also the safety applications of that equipment.
So, it’s a very focused kind of training. I have to say: It’s
really pretty fun in that, you know, I, as an astronaut, I get to
do a lot of really amazing kinds of training. But, it’s often
spaced out with a lot of meetings and, and classes in between. And,
I’m going to get to go and do a few weeks of diving; and it’s
going to be my job! So, I think that’s pretty exciting!
are you going to be doing on these excursions outside of your laboratory
there? How is that similar to a spacewalk?
Going out and
diving from Aquarius, first of all, it’s like stepping off
your front porch, but we actually step down into the water. We have
to be careful not to go actually too far up towards the, the surface.
Our object is to live down there and to carry out our mission objectives.
While we’re down there, we do have time to do some diving,
which helps accomplish some of the scientific objectives of why
Aquarius is there. One of those things is coral science. We’re
going to go and document, photograph, and assess areas of coral
to help understand: How is that reef preservation area? How is it
doing? How was it doing a year ago, when NEEMO aquanauts did these
same measurements? And, how will it be doing next year? We’re
trying to understand the, the health of coral reefs. And then as
temporary citizens of that reef, we get to contribute a little bit
NEEMO mission also has a lot of international cooperation. Obviously,
the Canadians are involved to a large degree. What’s the significance
of this cooperation? How does it compare to the cooperation that
takes place in the International Space Station Program?
for this NEEMO mission is immense and amazing. It’s a cooperation
between the Canadian Space Agency, our U.S. space agency, hospitals,
and medical associations in, in Canada. They are our customer actually.
They have given us our assignment to demonstrate telementored and
telerobotic procedures. That’s really exciting. But, I have
to say, it’s actually not new. Because that’s what we
do all the time on the International Space Station. As someone who’s
been in space and seen the planet from above, it’s very difficult
to feel like you only live in one place. I feel like we are citizens
of the world. I look at picture books all the time with my little
4-year-old that show all the planets and the places we’d like
to go, and, and we just come from one country on this Earth. And,
it’s, I think, tremendous that our International Space Station
is an effort of cooperation of so many different peoples around
the Earth, because that’s the way it needs to be. And, I’m
very proud to be part of the NEEMO mission, where Canada and the
U.S. are really leading the way in this very, very, interesting
are you most looking forward to in this mission?
about living underwater. It’s been a dream of mine for many
years, ever since my father was involved in undersea exploration.
I won’t say that I had to settle for space, in that I have
loved my place in the space program. But, it does bring things full
circus, full circle for me to go and then live underwater—a
place that my father helped explore and really started this kind
of exploration initiative. So, for me to be part of both ends of
that spectrum is pretty special. I can’t wait to spend 11
days under the water, although I’ll say that I’ll, I’ll
miss my family while I’m there.
me about your personal experiences and how those are applicable
to what you’re doing now in this NEEMO mission?
I had the privilege
of going to Antarctica a few years ago as a representative from
our office. I was part of a meteorite-collecting team. I lived in
a tent about 250 miles from the South Pole. We actually had two
tents with four people total. We spent about six weeks out there
collecting meteorites. Our team plus the other team totaled about
1,000 meteorites. It was quite an amazing expedition to be a part
of, in the sense of collecting scientific data that’s going
to be used to help understand our solar system. But also, it was
great practice for Space Station for anybody. Not just me, but I
think some of the lessons that I have brought back I think have
been used by other people. It’s challenging to go and be somewhere
that is a little bit dangerous, where safety is definitely the highest
priority, and yet the second priority is your mission; and your
mission’s more important than whether you’re cold or
whether you like your crewmates -- you don’t get to pick them.
The mission really has priority; you need to get it accomplished.
To get it accomplished, you need to get the most out of that team.
I’ll tell you, that that’s not something that comes
naturally to everybody. I think everybody has something to learn
about how to maximize what a team can do together, how to really
get the most out of your crewmates, whether you like them or not.
I had a great set of crewmates in Antarctica! But I learned really
a lot about what it takes to be part of a team. I think those are
lessons that are directly applicable to living on the International
Space Station and exploring farther, being part of, groups that
are probably fairly small that go on to the moon and to Mars. Even
if I can’t go, I’d like to think that the things that
I’m learning on that Antarctic mission, on my space missions,
and now on this mission to an undersea habitat, that those listens,
lessons will help the folks that go on those journeys.
me more about what you’ll be doing when you go outside of
got several different objectives outside as well as the, the medical
objectives inside the habitat. One of those is to build what has
been affectionately called “Water Lab.” And, it’s
a series of PVC pipes that’s almost like Tinker Toys that
all go together in a certain way. We’ll be constructing what
is almost like our Space Station that sits on the bottom of the
ocean. It’s physically something that one person can’t
do alone, and not even two. It’s going to take our entire
team to build it. Even without Mission Control, maybe throwing in
some curve balls to make things more difficult for us, which I understand
they’re not planning to, it takes a lot of communication and
it takes teamwork, and it takes all of us maximizing the others’
contributions. What is that person on that team good at that I’m
not good at? And, how can I bring that out of them? How can they
bring out from me what I bring to the team? Because it’s going
to take that whole entire team to put that Water Lab space station
together. That’s one of our objectives.