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Tara Ruttley
IMAGE: NEEMO 6 Mission Specialist Tara Ruttley
NEEMO 6 Mission Specialist Tara Ruttley
*NEEMO 6 Journals
*Aquanaut Profile: Tara Ruttley

NEEMO 6 Journals

NEEMO 6, Tara Ruttley
Day 10, Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Well, here we are already at the final day of our mission. Apologies to you all for not having written in my journal until just now. My thoughts throughout the mission were recorded in a hand-written journal almost every night, and now I'll transpose some of them for you. I certainly owe you all some experiences of the NEEMO 6 mission from the female engineer perspective…

Nick once asked me toward the end of the mission if I could sum up my thoughts about our experience with NEEMO in one word, and I replied, "Learning."

Back at the office, we work so hard in this hectic world of flight hardware to ensure that quality processes are being met so that hardware is safe and reliable for the crew. But we as engineers will never fully know what it is like to be the end user of equipment (and in my case, life-critical equipment) while being hundreds of miles above the earth from the engineering team that knows its ins-and-outs so well. This NEEMO mission has given me the most unique perspective of how flight hardware should be handled in a way that no other engineering training, academic course work or flight hardware laboratory could provide. In this way, I will never look at my system the same way again. Words on JSC Engineering documents, minutes at meetings, crew debriefs, hardware part numbers, schematics, drawings, and procedures will now have a different meaning to me. The Engineering Directorate has made an investment in my career that will never be matched, and I am honored to have been trusted with a project of this magnitude.

Not a single Engineering experiment on this mission went off flawlessly, which, in my opinion was one of the best things about being here. I witnessed my three crewmates take full responsibility for the success of these experiments because they knew there were hard-working folks back home who were eagerly awaiting some data from this once-and-a-lifetime opportunity. Even the hardware that performed so beautifully in the lab had its own personality in the Aquarius habitat: some due to the unique environment (humidity, pressure, etc.), some due to computer hiccups, and some due to random other things that we could have never even anticipated in such immature prototypes. It's the beauty of using this environment and this particular mix of crew to adequately evaluate such hardware in its early prototype stages as a potential for spaceflight. It's the closest end-to-end testing you'll ever get before spaceflight development. And after the troubleshooting sessions during the mission, when these experiments worked, they ROCKED! SUCCESS! Thanks to the teams back home who kept up with us and were always on standby should we need them.

IMAGE: NEEMO 6 Aquanaut Tara Ruttley
NEEMO 6 Aquanaut Tara Ruttley

Now that was my professional perspective. Here's my personal perspective. The physical and mental challenge for me was the best of my life. Operating in an environment during the dives (our EVAs) where buoyancy control in the water was a constant safety reminder for you and your team, paying attention to details so as not to risk the team's EVA objectives, and performing in a way that meets your own expectations are just a few of the daily challenges while in the water. Add to that for this rookie things like learning the proper techniques for on-camera interviews, fully answering questions for inquisitive students over live teleconferences, meticulously capturing every minute on photo or camera so as to appropriately tell the full story to the teams back home, and sneaking in an occasional e-mail to friends and family from under the ocean so they know you're thinking of them, too.

As for being the only "girl" on this mission, yes, I looked forward to emails from the women topside, if for nothing else, the occasional "girlie" giggle. But the increased pressure on the Aquarius made the guys' voices appropriately high-pitched in a way that made up for the lack of estrogen! Besides, there's something to be said for getting your own personal changing space in such a small living arrangement.

Finally now that I'm back, I just hope that each of you knows how thankful I am for all of your investments: friends, family, co-workers, and my management. I will never be the same, both professionally and personally.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/22/2004
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