Posted: Friday, May 18, 2007
Mission Day 11 - Our final day in the habitat
This morning as we awoke, we knew that today would be a bittersweet day. It would be our last full day in the habitat. The wet porch is now clear of all our diving equipment and wet suits. Drs. Tim and Joe drew our blood this morning for the next of our physiologic and metabolic studies. We'll do more studies and "debrief" (detailed discussion of the mission) with our mission support team when we return to land. The frantic pace of the timeline has now shifted to ensuring we have every piece and part of our equipment accounted for and organized for shipping to the surface. We packed all of our gear. The potting divers have appeared in more numbers, loading all of our equipment into the large pressurized cans, ensuring the delicate electronics are protected and that most of the air is out of our packing bags as they will otherwise greatly expand when they reach the surface.
A highlight of our mission today was a "ship to ship" call from the Aquarius Habitat up to the International Space Station! The ISS had just passed over the Florida Keys, and with the great help of our Public Affairs Office and Mission Control back at the Johnson Space Center, we were able to talk directly with the ISS crew. Suni Williams, a former Aquarius crew member herself, has been living on the ISS for the past six months. We had a great conversation with her, sharing her memories of living here and on the similarities on living there on the ISS. Suni was very happy to see our large picture of her dog "Gorby" on the wall near the viewport. What an experience to link up good friends and fellow explorers, three above the Earth and six in the ocean!
Mark Hulspeck, our mission's lead NURC dive trainer, has now joined us for the preparation for the decompression phase of our mission. He also brought down some awesome lasagna prepared by his wife Sue, which we promptly had for dinner! Dr. Peacock, from the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit also visited the habitat for a quick medical checkup and to brief us to watch for any signs of oxygen toxicity. Mark and James prepared all the valves and gas supplies for the decompression.
Our habitat has now become a very large dive chamber for our 17-hour decompression. We've closed the heavy entry lock door and begun to slowly vent our air to the water outside. Lying in our bunks and under our blankets to stay warm, we breathed pure oxygen for three 20-minute periods to begin to purge the nitrogen from our bodies. Our ears continue to "pop" as if we were in airplanes, as the inside pressure has now reached us halfway to the surface pressure, even though we have not physically moved from the depth. If we were to move too rapidly to the surface, all that nitrogen would rapidly come out of our bodies' tissues, bubble up in our blood streams, collect in our joints and cause significant pain. By moving slowly to the surface, our bodies will be able to purge that nitrogen by breathing it out through our lungs and equalizing with the atmosphere in the habitat, which also slowly rises to surface pressure. It is really important to slow our ascent even more as we reach the surface, as the magnitude of the pressure difference increases there, and so the risk of decompression sickness.
We had one last official duty and that was to take our crew photo. Then the rest of the afternoon was spent watching a movie and just spending time looking out our beautiful viewports to get one last look at the wonderful environment that we have been living in for the last 11 days.
NEEMO 12 Mission Day 9-11 Topside Report
Mission Day 9 opened with an historic event: the dedication of a geodesic marker that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Aquarius Habitat and the 200th anniversary of NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (NGS). Heide went outside and was joined on the reef by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Tim Keeney who was on scuba. NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher joined in by telephone to celebrate the occasion.
One of only two such markers in the world that are under the sea, it indicates not only the latitude and longitude but also the depth of Aquarius. Since 1807, NGS and its predecessor agencies have placed hundreds of thousands of these permanent survey marks or monuments throughout the United States. Today, the National Geodetic Survey's database contains information on approximately 1,200,000 survey disks, set all over the United States and its possessions. This network of precisely placed survey marks is the set of reference points used by geologists, surveyors, and others interested in precise positioning on the Earth's surface.
This event was yet another example of the important partnership between NOAA, NURC and NASA which have all embraced the challenge of exploration in extreme environments.
NASA is in the early phases of designing the space suit for lunar and Mars exploration, and the NEEMO Project continues to be deep in the heart of the solution. The Apollo moon walks demonstrated that the weight and center of gravity (cg) of the space suit and portable life support system backpack were important parameters affecting astronaut performance.
On 3 previous NEEMO missions, the acceptable center of gravity limits for future space suit and portable life support system backpack designs were evaluated. In those studies, the divers wore a reconfigurable cg backpack developed by the NASA EVA Physiology, Systems and Performance Project (EPSP) working in conjunction with the Crew and Thermal Systems engineers and performed activities representative of lunar exploration tasks. Based on data collected in these missions and other NASA based studies, the NASA engineering team is in the process of refining their space suit design to limit the cg effects. For this mission four new cg locations replicating the next generation in space suit design were evaluated as they once again performed a series of tasks representative of planetary exploration activities which have now been arranged into a timed course. These tasks included: timed walks and jogs, ascending and descending a 20 degree ramp, kneeling, falling and recovering, picking up rocks, shoveling and climbing ladders.
Another important space suit design consideration involves the weight of the space suit and its effect on one's ability to perform exploratory tasks. Having a space suit which is too light may result in poor traction for performing tasks such as lifting objects or climbing ramps and ladders. However, if a space suit is too heavy, then much effort is lost to moving the suit instead of performing planetary exploration objectives. For this reason, the NEEMO aquanauts donned special suits which could be reconfigured for six different suit weight variations. They then systematically conducted the exploration tasks in series as a timed course to evaluate the effect of varying suit weight on their performance. Subjective data as well as overall completion time will be used to evaluate the optimal weight for future space design.
We had a couple of other visitors of note on day 10. Loredana Bessone, from the European Space Agency (ESA), has been here this week to evaluate the suitability of the NEEMO space analog for future ESA use. Also, Dr. Sapna Parikh, Medical Correspondent for Fox 5 News in New York City, paid us a visit and conducted interviews for an upcoming story.
Finally, day 11 is "deco" day - the day the aquanauts go through the extensive decompression protocol that allows them to return safely to the surface on Friday. Once your body is "saturated" with nitrogen from the elevated pressure of living under the sea, it simply isn't possible to return to the surface at will. The fact that this ~ 17 hour decompression is required is a key element to Aquarius being in an "extreme" environment for humans. That critical dimension is one reason this makes such a good space analog.
Thanks for joining us.
-- NEEMO 12 Topside Team
For crew journals, live webcam views, images and aquanaut profiles, visit:
For streaming video from Aquarius, visit:
For NASA's Digital Learning Network, visit:
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