Status Report

NASA NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Mission Day 1 Monday, April 3, 2006

By SpaceRef Editor
April 8, 2006
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NASA NEEMO 9 Mission Journal Mission Day 1  Monday, April 3, 2006

Dave Williams:

This morning we had no difficulty getting up at 6 a.m. — even with the one hour time change over the weekend! The whole team was pretty excited to get started with the mission and we ate breakfast quickly to get our dive equipment ready for the dive boat.

We also packed our clothes that will be sent down to the habitat halfway through the mission and left them in the condo for the topside team. At 8 a.m. we were ready to go although our departure was scheduled for 9:30 so we spent an hour or so having pictures taken by NASA photographers from Kennedy Space Center. At 9:15 we got the call that everything was ready for us to depart and we climbed onto the boat with our NASA topside team, the NURC team and the KSC photographers. It was pretty crowded on the boat and the weather was perfect with a beautiful sunrise over a calm flat sea!!

The boat flew over the smooth surface of the ocean and the time passed quickly as we headed out to the habitat. Otter gave us a dive briefing for our first dive of the day which took us on a tour of the excursion lines to the south-east of the habitat. We paused halfway through the dive at the Kamper way station, an open-bottomed dome filled with air. Kamper is made of Plexiglas so we can stand up and take our masks off to talk to each other and the habitat, all while looking around us at a spectacular view of the surrounding reef!! The fish seemed equally interested in us as they surrounded Kamper in a myriad of colors.

We continued our tour ending at the wet porch of the habitat where we said goodbye to Otter. It feels like it will be a long time before we see him again but I know from my previous shuttle flight and NEEMO mission that the time flies fast. Bill and Marc choreographed our crew photo and waved farewell as we swam into the wet porch of our new home. After removing our equipment and washing our wetsuits, we took a quick shower, dried off and got ready for our tour of the habitat. Ross showed us all of the life support systems of the habitat and we reviewed the various emergency procedures. Although smaller than the International Space Station, the world’s only undersea research habitat is similar in many ways to the station and will be a great research and training platform for us over the next couple of weeks.

After our tour we started to unstow our clothes and experiment hardware, completed our first experiment for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and had a quick bite to eat. It reminded me of the post-insertion timeline on a space shuttle flight where the crew is busy stowing their spacesuits and getting the shuttle ready for the next stage of the mission. With two experiments behind us, we headed to the wet porch to get ready for our first dive outside the habitat as aquanauts.

Tim ran us through the pre-dive checklists and cue cards and we entered the water on the wet porch to do our checks with our communication masks that enable us to talk to one another. The masks seemed to work pretty well and I heard each aquanaut as they checked in. After leaving the wet porch I tried a communications check with the ExPOC, our mission control in Houston. My transmissions were broken initially and we returned to the wet porch to re-mate the electrical connector on my mask. After that my transmissions were heard by all and it was pretty amazing to be talking to Houston as we swam away from the habitat to the NE way station 50 feet below the surface. Ron took some great video footage of us as we swam along the excursion line and we paused to listen to the emergency recall transmission, a test of the system that we use to tell us to come back to the habitat in the event of an emergency.

The swim to the NE way station took 12 minutes and Tim and I stood up inside to speak to James and Ross in the habitat. Nicole and Tim led us back to the habitat and we continued our communications checks with the ExPOC before finishing our dive around 5:45. After cleaning equipment and showering we were briefed on the video polycom unit that we will use for our outreach events. Two more NSBRI experiments were completed and we finished the daily planning conference on time to get ready for dinner. It was a fantastic first day and the crew is working really well as a team. Being back in Aquarius again after my first NEEMO mission in 2001 is like returning home after being away awhile. It is great settling back in watching the fish while eating dinner.

As I am typing I can’t help but reflect on the differences between lifting off in the shuttle with 7 million pounds of thrust taking us to explore outer space while reaching inner space is but a 10-minute swim away! Both represent final frontiers, unforgiving environments that amaze us with awe-inspiring beauty creating in us an awareness of the need to protect our planet for future generations. Tomorrow will be a busy day with a lot of science experiments. For now, it is time to rest, relax and watch the fish swimming around the habitat.

Ron Garan:

What an amazing day. After spending the weekend getting prepared for the mission, going over our equipment and procedures, we departed Key Largo at 9:30 a.m. The team said goodbye and wished us well. We dove down to Aquarius around 10:30 and navigated around the reef to get the lay of the land.

After our dive, we entered Aquarius and started the long process of stowing our belongings and equipment. We then did another dive out to the northeast limit of our allowable area. During this dive we checked our communication with Houston, Aquarius and each other. It was a very interesting experience to be in a beautiful coral reef in 90 feet of water and talk to my crewmates in the water with me and Mission Control in Houston.

The day went incredibly smooth and it’s a credit to the large team of dedicated professionals who make NEEMO what it is. Aquarius is an amazing facility.

As I write this, I’m sitting at the galley table looking out the main view port at 100’s of different species of fish of all sizes and colors. The sun has set and the ocean is now dark. Schools of fish, apparently attracted to the light of our habitat, are gathering at our view port. I feel as if I am the one inside the aquarium and the fish are curious as to what we’re doing here. It’s been a wonderful day but a long day. I’m looking forward to my first night of “sleeping with the fishes.”

Nicole Stott:

Splashdown!!!!! (10:37 a.m.)

It’s still a little hard to believe this day is finally here! This morning we were blessed with a very different sea state than we had during our training week — it was beautiful! No more than 1-2 foot seas; as far as we were concerned it was like glass. It was so nice to get suited up without worrying about falling down on the boat before ever getting in the water. (Thanks to Otto for expertly delivering us to our dive sites all week!) We were all a little tired after spending our weekend busy with the final preps for the mission, but it was easy to see the level of excitement rising as we got closer and closer to splashing down to our new home.

Today we had a bigger crowd on the boat. It was nice to have the group of people with us that had been giving us so much support during the prep for the mission and that will continue to keep things going throughout the mission (big thanks to Marc, Bill, Dan, Kristen, Alex and Trevor for joining us on the boat). And thanks to our new photographer friends from KSC (Scott and Corey) — we look forward to seeing how good you make us look. It was also nice to have our NSBRI friends, and Ryan and Mike from the NBL, and many other smiling faces at the dock to send us off. We really are thankful to all of you for the enormous amount of support that has gone into making this mission possible.

Otter led us from the boat on our splashdown dive. During this dive we made our first trip to the Kamper fill station. This fill station is pretty cool, because unlike the others it has a clear dome. So while you’re at 90 feet inside this dome filling your tanks you can still see all around you. After this orientation dive we said our goodbyes to Otter (thank you, Otter, for the most excellent training!), and then met back up with Marc and Bill who were waiting to take some crew photos. They took some of us grouped by the gazebo, swimming down together from the habitat, and swimming along the excursion line (very well orchestrated). Marc and Bill — we love you guys!

While we were riding out on the boat this morning, our two other crew members Jim and Ross were already busy working in the habitat and expecting our arrival. We greeted them first after our dive in the wet porch. We got out of our wet suits, took a quick shower, dried off, and then Ross and Jim led us through a very informative habitat briefing. The habitat is such a cool place — a lot like I’d envision a submarine, with the hatches separating each area or lock. It’s also a very “cool” place — Jim keeps the temp at about 71 F. Think my standard attire will be a long-sleeved t-shirt and sweatpants. Fortunately they are able to maintain a really comfortable humidity within the living area. We spent some time helping with the stowage of equipment being potted down, and organizing our bunk area. We collected our baseline data for the stress-related experiments (saliva collection and some computer-based exercises).

Tim led the brief for our afternoon orientation dive. On this dive we checked out our comm. system on the full face masks (our first greetings to ExPOC – thanks, Susan!) and also did some videotaping out to the northeast excursion area. This dive took us to a max depth of 92 feet. From now on due to our saturation limits, we can’t go deeper than 95 feet or shallower than 40 feet. These limits will be strictly adhered to throughout the mission.

After this dive we did the same wet porch routine, and then dried off for the night. We each worked some more of our baseline data collection, and continued helping with the stowage. We had our first DPC with the topside team and then our first evening meal together. We had the best table in the house for dinner with a prime view out the galley window. It’s dark outside and the lights on the outside of the habitat bring out all the beautiful colors on the many, many fishes swimming outside the window. I have to wonder if they are looking at me with the same wonder as I am looking at them (maybe asking themselves, who are these new people in the Aquarius bowl…?) It’s very easy already to get mesmerized by the changing view out the windows. I think I’ll be all right with that though!

Looking forward to my first night’s sleep in the bunk room — tomorrow morning we wake up aquanauts!

Tim Broderick:

We woke to a beautiful morning. The wind has died down considerably and the seas are reportedly calm. A nice treat for splash down considering the seas we had for training last week. The team grew overnight with the addition of some divers from the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and photographers from Kennedy Space Center. The NEEMO 9 team members are excited to start the mission.

We arrived at the Life Support Buoy to find nice calm seas with moderately good visibility. It was very nice to gear up without the boat pitching beneath our feet. The topside team was there to wish us well when we splashed down at 1037.

The first dive of saturation began with orientation about the habitat. We toured down the Ridge excursion line and crossed from S4 to Kamper. Kamper is a neat fill station with a clear dome that provides great visibility when you are filling your tanks. We then swam back up Kamper excursion line to the habitat. After gesturing our good-byes to Otter, we then proceeded to shoot a few pictures and head in to the habitat.

What an awesome feeling to end the dive at the door of our new undersea home. Hatch depth is at 47 feet. The door– which is located on the underside of the habitat– stays open all the time. The water comes up through the “door” until the air pressure inside the habitat equals the water pressure outside. After 24 hours living at a pressure of about 47 feet sea water, our blood is saturated with nitrogen from the pressurized air and we are officially saturation divers– aquanauts.

Ross Hein and Jim Buckley then gave a nice tour of the habitat. We stowed our gear that arrived in “pots” from the surface. Pots are sealed steel cylinders that allow us to transport items dry from the surface to the habitat. The change in pressure is pretty dramatic when you look at such things as a piece of bread that has been squished flat.

We started our NSBRI science with salivary cortisol sample acquisition– spitting in a tube. We also performed baseline cognitive tests on one of our NASA laptop computers.

Our second dive was equally nice as the first. We began with evaluation of the communication provided by our full face Kirby-Morgan masks. The comm. system provided reasonable communication between crew members and the Exploration Planning and Operations (ExPOC) in Houston. We then continued the dive with orientation about the North East (NE) way station.

Best view I have ever had at dinner. The galley is located in the middle of the habitat and has a nice big view port. Warm soup tasted good after the hour dive in cool water. Good food with great people — and some undersea friends who seemed interested in eating with us. Beautiful colored fish swimming in the light of the dusk. The port light makes the fish shiny or as Ross said– iridescent with a prismatic shimmer. Beautiful!

I finish off mission day one even more thankful of the opportunity to participate in this research and training mission.

What a day!

SpaceRef staff editor.