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NEEMO 7: Home | Journals
Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Cady Coleman
NEEMO 7 Mission Specialist Cady Coleman

Interview: Cady Coleman

The NEEMO 7 Crew Interview with Cady Coleman, mission specialist.

Q: 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?

A: I’m 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?”

What exactly is NEEMO? And, how does it relate to the International Space Station?

Well, NEEMO 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.

How 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 at all?

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.

And, what is your role in this NEEMO mission? What exactly are you going to be doing?

We’re 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.

So, 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?

This kind 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 in doing.

What are the similarities between the saturation diving that you guys are going to be doing, life undersea, and living on the International Space Station?

Well, living 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.

How does this type of training differ from your normal training as a member of the astronaut corps here at JSC?

Training for 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!

What 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 of knowledge.

This 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?

The cooperation 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 telerobotic activity.

What are you most looking forward to in this mission?

I’m excited 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.

Tell 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.

Tell me more about what you’ll be doing when you go outside of your laboratory.

We’ve 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.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/13/2004
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