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NASA NEEMO Mission Journal: Mission Day 13 Saturday, April 15, 2006

Status Report From: NEEMO
Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

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Dave Williams:

The plan for the day looked pretty busy with science experiments inside the habitat and a number of exploration objectives for the dives. Ron and I quickly donned our AMS devices after the daily planning meeting and had a quick bite to eat before helping Nicole and Tim get ready for the CMAS brainwave experiment.

After setting up the computers, we tried to start recording the signals but had problems with the software. Tim and I worked until mid-morning, initially solving the software problem only to be met with a problem in the amplification used for the signals. Despite our best efforts, we were unsuccessful in solving the problem. After narrowing the problem down to either a problem with a USB cable or the amplifier, we changed the plan for the day and decided to have Nicole and Tim go on a dive to continue building Waterlab. I asked Ron to be their IV controller while I set up the in vivo robot experiment from the University of Nebraska.

It took roughly an hour to move the CMAS experiment hardware and connect all of the video recorders, computer and robot to enable me to perform a simulated removal of an inflamed appendix. I compared the time it took using a traditional camera view used in keyhole surgery versus the view from the robot inside the simulated abdominal cavity. It is pretty incredible to be participating in an experiment to drive the development of technology that enables a mobile robot with a camera to move inside a patient’s abdomen!

Tim and Nicole finished their dive returning to the habitat at 2 PM to grab a quick bite to eat. Nicole immediately started the same experiment that I had just finished with Tim as her assistant while Ron and I set up the ROV to search for simulated lunar specimens on the reef adjacent to Aquarius.

This test is part of a task efficiency study to evaluate the efficiency of using a rover to find specific objects compared to a human performing a simulated lunar spacewalk. Later in the mission two of the crew will use the dive helmets on a simulated spacewalk to find the same objects. Our times using the ROV will be compared with those of the crew and the efficiency of the two methods evaluated. Ron and I finished just before dinner, right around the time that Tim and Nicole were finishing the robotic experiment.

Image above: One of the NEEMO-9 aquanauts captured this undersea Easter morning image of the Scuttle Bunny on a sand patch, near the Florida Keys. Credit: NASA

We grabbed a quick bite together and planned our night dive that was scheduled to start after dinner. This would be our first night dive as a crew and I looked forward to seeing the reaction of Nicole, Ron and Tim to leaving the habitat watching the lights fade through the dark blue water into blackness behind us. We followed the fifth leg excursion line, Ron and Nicole leading and went out to where fingers of white sand were interspersed between the surrounding reefs. Tim attached his primary reel to the excursion line and we swam into the dark to the south. We used our dive lights sparingly, hoping to see bioluminescent plankton in the water. We were rewarded with a spectacular display and it looked like we were surrounded by blue fireflies dancing in our wake as we swam. Pushing the water with our fingers produced a shimmer of blue phosphorescence shooting away from us! We tied our primary reel to a piece of coral and knelt in the sand to see the light from the full moon above, shining down through the water at us. The path for humans to travel back to the lunar surface beckoned us as we gazed at the shimmering light thinking about the impact this mission would have on enabling the vision for space exploration. We returned to the excursion line in awe of the spectacular display we had witnessed and headed back to Aquarius to refill our tanks. The lights from the habitat beckoned us changing the water from black to turquoise blue, guiding our way back home.

We are grateful for this amazing opportunity to become residents of the reef and to get to see things that would normally take years of diving to encounter. After refilling, we repeated the dive heading farther out onto the reef. The moon rays seemed to guide us as we swam. The movement of the glow sticks on our tanks confirming our progress over the reef. Flashing on my dive light, I noticed a scorpion fish on the bottom below me swim out of the way. We took a number of pictures with our camera but none were able to capture the amazing experience of the reef at night. By the time we returned to the habitat and stowed our gear it was 11 p.m.! Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we are all looking forward to sleeping in and a day off.

Ron Garan:

Again today we had computer problems that threatened to bring our planned science activities to a halt. We had to re-plan on the fly. We substituted the University of Nebraska mini surgical robot in for the EEG experiment and Tim and Nicole went outside to work on Waterlab.

Later in the day Dave and I conducted an evaluation of the utility of using the ROV to conduct a detailed grid search. The ROV in conjunction with the diver tracking system allowed us to ensure that we covered the intended search pattern but the ROV umbilical presented us with a big challenge to avoid becoming fouled on the reef.

At dusk Dave, Tim, Nicole, and I departed Aquarius on a night dive. It is very interesting that at some point in the mission, leaving the habitat no longer felt like going on a scuba dive. It now simply feels like we are going outside.

The four of us proceeded east from Aquarius just as the undersea world was getting dark. We traversed far enough away from Aquarius to escape the glow of the habitat lights. Nicole and I proceeded down one sand finger off the reef and Dave and Tim proceeded down another about 10 yards away. We all settled down into our sand patch observation spots 70 feet below the surface, turned out our lights and watched in total amazement as the undersea world came to life. It was probably the most awe-inspiring sight I have ever seen. With a full moon overhead the lights of bioluminescent plankton started to shine all around us. It was as if we were surrounded by thousands of blue stars. Anything we moved through the water created swirls of blue lights as we displaced the plankton. It was incredible to watch each other as each kick of a fin or each move of a hand created an incredible light show. It was a very surrealistic experience. I saw many new creatures that I have not seen in the daytime. There were different species of fish and the life on the reef became more animated. All in all we spent two hours on the reef.

As we traversed back to the habitat the view reminded me of flying at high altitude toward a city at night. At first the horizon started to glow from the lights of our "undersea city." As we got closer we started to see more and more detail and then we were able to make out individual lights. We spent some time exploring the night time world around our habitat and visiting with some of our neighbors. The four of us also popped up to the main lock view port and Ross took a picture of us outside.

After returning inside the habitat and getting out of our gear we all sat down around the galley table and shared our impressions of the experience over a round of hot chocolates. We did not get back into the main lock until after 11 p.m. It has been a long but memorable day. I am looking forward to my first Easter on the bottom of the ocean.

Nicole Stott:

This morning we woke up to start another day filled with the CMAS1 electroencephalogram task (EEG). Unfortunately we had some equipment issues that prevented us from performing the tasks. Tim and Dave did a lot of troubleshooting that hopefully will help the principal investigators determine the cause of the problem. So we had to re-plan the day.

Tim and I went out on the SCUBA rigs and did a 2 1/2-hour dive working on Waterlab. We almost finished the construction. Really enjoyed the work again on Waterlab, and it was a different experience this time working it on SCUBA rather than the dive helmets. We both got a little chilly on the dive and were thankful to Ross for the nice cup of hot chocolate when we staged in.

After we warmed up, I got to work the University of Nebraska In Vivo Robot experiment. This involves testing small robots that would be used inside a patient to provide a surgeon with better views. The tasks were performed with the surgical instruments inserted through a metal box to simulate the patient, with the little robots inside. The tasks were timed and involved passing a rope, stretching and cutting pieces of rubber bands, and a simulated removal of an appendix.

We topped things off with our crew night dive. We spent two hours out on the reef and around the habitat. It was an amazing dive. Very quiet and very dark when we had our lights off. The coolest thing was the bioluminescence. We were presented with a beautiful show of what appeared to be a blanket of little blue stars all around us. We sat on the bottom and watched the show around us. We "made" stars by blowing bubbles, waving our arms through the water, and watching them come off the ends of each other’s fins, moving ahead of one another. It's really impressive how a simple chemical reaction inside some tiny little creatures can create such an incredibly beautiful display of nature.

Tim Broderick:

A day of technical challenge and successful diving.

A new CMAS1 computer was potted down yesterday. After troubleshooting the security, the local area connection port was functional. Unfortunately, the EEG amplifier stopped working. We worked for about an hour, but we were unable to get the amplifier running. We still have great data and I can't wait to see the results.

Since the amplifier failure freed up crew time today, Nicole and I had the opportunity to work for two and a half hours on Waterlab. A very productive dive using the SCUBA dive gear. We chose these masks/tanks as we wanted to keep the dive helmet umbilicals out of the wetporch during potting operations. The hard work the crew put into Waterlab during training week really paid off; we have only about an hour left before it is completed.

Ron and Dave proceeded with Scuttle operations while we warmed up from our dive. They used Scuttle and our tracking transponder to search for simulated lunar rocks that the topside team placed about the habitat earlier in the day. They found three of 10 rocks in a little over two hours. Umbilical management was again an issue as we needed a hookah diver to free the rover.

We ended the day with a night dive. Awesome! We swam out fifth leg excursion line about 75 meters and then primary reeled off the excursion line. The nocturnal sealife was seen parading about the reef. But what a sight after we turned off our lights. Bioluminescent creatures— big and small— lit up the sea around us. I have been on a fair number of night dives, but I never have seen anything as indescribable or beautiful. Floating neutrally buoyant without visual reference in a black sea filled with "stars", I realized just how good the NEEMO space analog is... and how lucky I have been to be part of this mission. The dive was "magic" as every wave of the hand was accompanied by "sparks" shooting from our fingertips like Harry Potter. I can't even come close to describing this dive.

We ended up the evening with hot chocolate and headed to bed close to midnight.

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