|Volume: 04, Issue: 17||04/19/2006|
NASA's Space Exploration in Undersea LabNASA sent three astronauts and a Cincinnati doctor under the ocean April 3, 2006, to test space medicine concepts and moon-walking techniques.
During the mission, called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project, new long-distance medical techniques that could help keep spacefarers healthy are being practiced. Doctors thousands of miles away are guiding aquanauts as they perform surgeries on a patient simulator. Doctors are also remotely controlling robotic instruments to do the work. The procedures simulated in Aquarius may one day be used to respond to emergencies on the International Space Station, the Moon, or Mars.
Canadian astronaut Dave Williams is leading the undersea mission April 3-20 on board the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) Aquarius Underwater Laboratory. NASA astronauts Nicole Stott and Ron Garan, and Dr. Tim Broderick of the University of Cincinnati round out the crew. Jim Buckley and Ross Hein of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington are providing engineering support.
The crew members are conducting simulated undersea “moon walks” to test concepts for future lunar exploration. During those simulated moon walks, they are constructing an underwater structure with the help of a remotely operated vehicle, similar to what may be done by the next travelers to the moon. This is the ninth undersea mission conducted by NASA in cooperation with NOAA.
A “mission control” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, is monitoring the underwater expedition. Johnson’s Exploration Planning Operations Center is simulating future space challenges, among them the two-second communications delay between the Earth and the Moon.
“This mission will be the longest NEEMO and Aquarius mission,” said NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd. “Our partnerships with other agencies and countries should provide a treasure chest of useful medical and exploration operations knowledge.”
NEEMO 9 is expected to demonstrate and evaluate technologies and procedures for remote surgery. Dr. Mehran Anvari is remotely guiding astronauts through diagnosis and surgery and using virtual-reality technology to remotely guide simulated surgery by robots. Anvari is director of the McMaster University Center for Minimal Access Surgery at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Similar in size to the space station’s living quarters, Aquarius is the world’s only permanent underwater habitat and laboratory. The 45-foot long, 13-foot diameter complex is three miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It rests about 62 feet beneath the surface. A surface buoy provides an outlet for power, life support, and communications. A shore-based control center monitors the habitat and crew. Aquarius is owned and funded by NOAA and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The NEEMO missions are a cooperative project among NASA, NOAA, and the university.
The mission originally was scheduled for October 2005, but it was postponed due to hurricanes. Because of the NEEMO and space shuttle mission schedules, Williams is replacing NASA astronaut Lee Morin as commander.
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