Status Report

NASA NEEMO Mission Day 3 Topside Report Wednesday, April 5, 2006

By SpaceRef Editor
April 10, 2006
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NASA NEEMO Mission Day 3 Topside Report Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Today was an extremely busy day aboard America’s Inner Space Station. We had a few glitches along the way, but it was a very successful day overall, including a crew piloting exercise of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), orientation dives for Tim and Nicole in special dive gear, remote control of the ROV from our team in the Mission Control Center in Houston, evaluation of tele-surgery using small robots that go inside the patient, and a linkup with our friends on the International Space Station.

We have a small team supporting this mission from Houston called the “Advanced Operations Cadre,” and they work in a versatile little control center called the Exploration Planning Operations Center, or ExPOC. They have been participating in NEEMO missions since the beginning, helping develop procedures and ops concepts, and staffing the ExPOC during the mission.

The ROV has two cameras and the ability to “fly” underwater. It can send the camera views back to the crew and/or the Houston team, and can be controlled remotely by a pilot in Houston. It can pick things up and move them with the use of a manipulator, and can roll across the ocean bottom on wheels like a rover on a distant planet. For NEEMO, it acts as an analog to a robotic arm (like we have on the space shuttle and space station), or like a surface rover. We have many interesting exercises planned for it during this mission to show as an analog for both modes.

We are testing a special hard hat diving system that, for “surface” exploration tasks, allows our aquanauts to be weighted to give a buoyancy effect like the gravity on the moon and Mars, and gives them a limited visibility helmet much like they might find in a space suit. For simplicity and safety reasons, it uses an umbilical instead of a closed-loop life support system. It has a helmet camera, which sends pictures back to the Mission Control team.

The new science today involved miniature surgical robots developed at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. These “in vivo” robots are designed to assist laparoscopic surgeons by functioning from completely within the abdominal environment. They have the capability of vision feedback and task assistance from on-board cameras and manipulators. The robots include versions that are both mobile and fixed base, and have been tested in animal surgeries with much success.

One potential use of these robots, in addition to surgical procedures at medical centers, is to use them in remote or extreme environments. Potential uses may include battlefields and long-duration space missions. With this mission we are evaluating the time necessary and ease of use to perform simple laparoscopic procedures utilizing different vision systems in a remote environment. We are also looking at the ability to be telementored to perform a simple procedure (appendectomy) after learning these tasks.

The visual feedback from the robots will be used and compared to visual feedback from a laparoscope. Results will help to validate in vivo camera robotics as an effective alternative to laparoscope use. The telementoring results will demonstrate that non-surgeons – having been trained with a specified skill set – can be telementored to build on that skill set and perform a laparoscopic appendectomy using in vivo robotics.

The space station linkup was interesting and the whole crew enjoyed it very much. It’s not often that the crews of the World’s only Inner and Outer Space Stations get to link up and talk with each other. It surely brought back nostalgic memories to astronaut Jeff Williams, the American astronaut who just recently arrived at the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition 13 crew. He is also an aquastronaut, having been the commander of the NEEMO 3 crew!

Thanks for following along!

– NEEMO 9 Topside Team

SpaceRef staff editor.