Dr. Love's Underwater Blog: NEEMO 15

Image: One of the DeepWorkers that Dr. Love would have piloted during NEEMO 15.

Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog 2011 #1
October 25
Key Largo, FL

Welcome back to Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog!

For readers new to the blog, I posted the first installments in March 2010, while I was in Vancouver, Canada learning how to pilot the DeepWorker submarine from the experts at Nuytco. I wrote more entries in July 2010 from Pavilion Lake, where I spent a week driving submarines and serving as support crew on the chase boats while we made surveys, took photographs, and collected samples to try to understand the strange coral-like “microbialite” growths on the bottom of the lake. Pavilion Lake was a bizarre and beautiful environment to explore by submarine, with near-freezing crystal-clear water, steep underwater slopes forested with sculptured calcium carbonate knobs and towers, and mathematically flat basin floors carpeted with snowy white calcite fluff.

This year I was planning to return to the cozy cockpit of the DeepWorker to support the 15th NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations (NEEMO 15) at the Aquarius underwater habitat near Key Largo, Florida. Fellow submersible pilot Ricky Arnold and I made it as far as the operations base in Key Largo, but then the plan changed. This happens commonly in field operations, but it’s always exciting when in happens.

In our case, the culprit is Hurricane Rina, which is rapidly strengthening in the Caribbean Sea east of Belize. It’s not a threat to us right now, but the forecast shows it heading this way. Because it takes several days to safely get the aquanauts to the surface (without subjecting them to the risk of decompression sickness) and secure all the boats and other assets that support NEEMO, the folks in charge had to make a decision this morning. They decided to take the safest course of action.

So no DeepWorker driving for Dr. Love this trip…but the Underwater Blog can go on, because two days ago I had a chance to scuba dive at the habitat. Boy, was that ever different from Pavilion Lake! Warm water, substantial current to swim against, swarms of colorful tropical fish, and every solid surface encrusted with corals and sponges. We also had a chance to poke our heads into the habitat and chat with the aquanauts. It’s a very strange experience to swim 50 feet down under the sea, then poke your head up into air and talk to folks wearing street clothes. Since Halloween is coming soon, we said “Trick or treat!” and explained that we were dressed as scuba divers. The aquanauts thought that was silly, but gave us candy anyway.

The following day (yesterday), the NEEMO team was still operating according to the planned schedule, and I had the opportunity to work as a CAPCOM on board the support ship for that day’s DeepWorker operations. At Pavilion Lake, we launched and recovered the subs from a barge made from two big rectangular steel floats, with a gap between them and an overhead chain hoist for raising and lowering the subs. This ingenious setup worked great, and had the advantage that it could be easily broken down into components small enough to transport by truck to a remote mountain lake and to place in the water using a mobile crane. At NEEMO we operate on the world ocean, which means we can use oceangoing ships. In our case, we have the great fortune to be able to use the Liberty Star, one of the two small ships that NASA used for thirty years to go out to sea after each Space Shuttle launch, find the two solid rocket motors that separate from the stack two minutes into flight and parachute into the ocean below, and tow them back to port so they could be inspected, taken apart, refurbished, re-filled with solid propellant, and used again to boost another Shuttle toward orbit. What a treat to work aboard such a historic vessel!

Liberty Star has a large crane on the aft deck that makes light work of hoisting a DeepWorker in and out of the water, even in 3-5 foot seas. It has an air-conditioned bridge from which we tracked the subs and operated the equipment that let us communicate with them. And it has a full galley serving three square meals a day. It made a spectacular platform for supporting the submarine operations. It also made a great observation platform. At one point a school of flying fish came by, gliding from wavetop to wavetop. Another sight unknown at Pavilion Lake.

So that’s all for the Underwater Blog this trip. But the next time NASA sees fit to put me underwater again, I’ll be ready to share the experience.


Dr. Love

Behavioral Health Simulation Scenarios

The NEEMO 15 crew simulates a behavioral health assessment scenario

Image at right: The NEEMO 15 Crew performs a simulated behavioral health assessment scenario.

This is Mission Day 5. Time flies fast. We have performed six “spacewalks” so far, and today we had no scheduled Extravehicular Activity (EVA), but that didn’t mean we had free time…

The first event began when one of our habitat technicians rushed into the cabin with a red swollen arm. He told us that he had been stung by a jellyfish. After a while, he fainted. It took me some time to realize that this was a simulation scenario which was a part of the behavioral health and performance study. Fortunately we have a crewmember, David Saint-Jacques, who has medical background, so he took the lead to give the patient some treatment with medical kits. The NEEMO15 commander, Shannon Walker, kept contact with the Mission Control Center by phone, getting some advice from a dive medical officer on the ground. Steven Squyres recorded each step we performed. And I assisted David, following his instruction. We worked fine as a team.

We went through the second scenario in the afternoon. This time, the smoke alarm suddenly rang out in the habitat. We were told that the smoke came from the microwave, so we pulled out its power cable. According to the emergency procedure we tried to use oxygen masks in the cabin, but somehow they didn’t work. We were forced to evacuate the cabin and fled to the wet porch. Oxygen masks worked there. It seemed that there was a problem somewhere between the wet porch and the cabin. We looked at a schematic of the air supply/vent system of the habitat. We successfully found the cause, and in the end, the case was closed.

Since we might have to deal with some troubles by ourselves during long-distance exploration, coordinating with the ground staff along the way a great exercise. And we demonstrated good teamwork in both cases.

Booms and Jetpacks

Steve Squyres uses a small boom for translation activities.
Image at right: Steve Squyres of Cornell uses a small boom for translation activities.

Today was Day 4 of our mission and it was a challenging one. As usual,the action was centered around the “EVAs”, or extra-vehicular activities inNASA parlance – our simulated space walks.

We had two different kinds of activities in today’s EVAs. One of themwas very slow, very methodical, and very effective. Imagine a long telescopingpole – we called it a boom – with big heavy magnets on each end. We used thisboom to get around on the simulated asteroid surface (i.e., the sea floor),moving like an inchworm.

It goes like this: Fasten both magnets to anchor points on the surface.Unfasten one and move to it to a new anchor point. Fasten it. Unfasten theother one and move it to a new anchor point… and repeat as necessary. It wasslow, but it got us to where we wanted to go pretty reliably.

Once we arrived at our destination, the boom was great. It’s hard to dothings like hit a rock with a hammer in zero-g without going flying. But withthe boom solidly in place, we could wrap our legs around it and whack away atthe rock pretty easily. So a boom could be a good technique for geologists touse to get work done on an asteroid, I think.

The other part of the EVA was totally different… jet packs! We hadbattery-powered thruster packs on our backs that we could use to move veryquickly and easily from one place to another. And yeah, I have to confess, itwas every bit as much fun as it sounds like it was. Quick, easy, and very cool.Problem was, once we arrived at our destination with ajob to do, staying in place was a lot harder.

Sometimes the best answer to a complicated problem is to use somecombination of techniques. So one way I could see this going might be thatastronauts would use jet packs to move long distances over an asteroid surface,and then a boom for smaller motions and getting work done.

Or maybe they’ll use something completely different! It’s only Day 4 ofthe mission, and we’ve got a lot more techniques to try… so we’ll see.

NEEMO 15 and Teamwork!

Image on the right: Aquanauts David Saint-Jacques and Takuya Onishi working together during a simulated Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA)

Alreadyday 3 in our new home! I’m impressed how quickly the team adapted to this alienenvironment, with the beautiful coral reef and marine life outside the window,the omnipresent and complex life support systems of Aquarius, the odd feelingof distance from people living on the surface… all of these make it feel likewe’re in another world!

 I think that sharedexperience has made us quickly comfortable living here with each other. Wereally function like a team, meaning we don’t think about our life and worktogether as “teamwork”, but rather as spontaneous, easygoing and friendlyinteraction. When people are genuinely happy to work together, teamwork justhappens, it’s the natural way people like to help others and work towards acommon goal.

 Everything here isteamwork. During our mock spacewalks it’s most obvious: the outside crew,inside crew, habitat technicians, safety divers, mission controllers andCapComs, scientists, engineers, public affairs personnel, all fluidly workingtogether. But teamwork is also omnipresent in daily life in Aquarius, in themeal preparation, in the care for common areas, in the way we generally lookout for each other.

Our families arealso part of the team! Today instead of the usual dehydrated hiking food, weate a meal prepared by my wife and sent down to Aquarius with the dailysupplies delivery. A nice morale boost!

Teamwork isessential if we want to achieve something bigger than ourselves – and it’s fun,too!



NEEMO 15 – Mission Day 2 Blog



Image on the left: Aquanaut Takuya Onishi performing translation task on a simulated asteroid



Today was our second mission day in the water. Yesterday was a busy day.


I woke up around 5:30 am and enjoyed a wonderful view from the window in our sleeping area for a while. A lot of fish were swimming across the window reflecting an external light of Aquarius. Then another busy day began.


We performed two “spacewalks” in two teams today. David and Steve went out first and I supported them from Aquarius. I gave them instructions step by step, and they did a great job performing some tasks like sample collections and deployment of sensors. Each spacewalk has its own objectives, and today’s main objective was to test one of the translation methods which were supposed to be effective on an asteroid surface. We deployed some lines in our working area near Aquarius and used them for translation.


After a short lunch break, Shannon and I went out. That was my fourth dive in the SuperLite-17 helmet. I felt I was getting used to it. I could breathe more comfortably than the last time. The translation line seems like a great method. We could easily translate between our sampling locations by pulling ourselves up a line and also create enough ground reaction force to perform tasks.


Being in the water for about three hours made me feel cold at the end of the “spacewalk”. One good thing is we have hot shower in Aquarius. I enjoyed it. 


Though I was too busy to enjoy the window view in the daytime, we have two more hours until we go to bed. I’ll sit at the table and spend some time watching colorful fish from the window.

NEEMO 15 – Splashdown Day!


Image shows NEEMO 15  crew members from right to left (Commander: Shannon Walker (NASA), Steve Squyres (Cornell), David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Takuya Onishi (JAXA))


Today was splashdown day.  As stormy as the weather had been for the last five days, today was sunny and beautiful.  And, thankfully, the seas were calm.


Because we had to delay our start of the mission, there were more habitat checkouts than usual to be completed before we could get to work.  Last weekend before the storms hit, the umbilical to Aquarius was removed to ensure that it was not damaged.  The umbilical provides the air and communications to the habitat and runs from the habitat up to a giant buoy on the surface.  First thing this morning support divers went out to reconnect the umbilical and our hab techs, James and Nate, went inside Aquarius to start getting it configured.  Early afternoon, the rest of the crew scuba’d down and entered their new home.  After an orientation and safety briefing, the crew was put to work stowing gear and setting up the communication system.


Once everything was ready to go, the sun was setting and it was getting dark outside the habitat.  But, our day was not done.  The crew had to do some familiarization dives to get acquainted with diving on a helmet connected to the habitat.  David and Steve went out first.  They spent about forty-five minutes walking around the area where we will be working our first excursion in the morning.  After that Tak and I went out. 


It was nearly 9:00 p.m. by the time we were finished.  So, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then wrapped things up for the night.


All and all, a very interesting day.  It is quite strange to think that we are in a can that is at the bottom of the sea.  And, even stranger to look out your windows and see fish!



Crew poses for a group photo right after splash down. Crew members from the left to right (Commander: Shannon Walker, Takuya Onishi,Steve Squyres, David Saint-Jacques). Inside Habitat (Hab Techs: Nate Bender, James Talek)

NEEMO 15: Scenes From Training Week

Pre-mission Set-up
Karl Shreeves and Jeremy Hansen (CSA) set up equipment for Andrew Abercromby (NASA) to test. Photo credit: NASA

Pre-mission EVA and Tools Briefing
Crew members David Saint-Jaques (CSA) and Steve Squyres (Cornell) receive tool training on the small extension boom and other tools to be used during the mission. Photo credit: NASA

Getting Used to the Asteroid Simulation Wall
Steve Squyres (Cornell) (left) and Takuya Onishi (JAXA) make it to the top of the wall. Photo credit: NASA

Navigating To Aquarius
Left to right (front) David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Shannon Walker (NASA), Jason Nunn (NURC), and Takuya Onishi (JAXA). In the background is Margarita Marinova (NASA) and Jeremy Hanson (CSA). Photo credit: NASA

Configuring the Translation Tool Simulator
Andrew Abercromby (NASA) and Steve Chappell (NASA) place simulated anchoring and translation equipment across the simulated asteroid surface.

A Moment to Enjoy Some Visitors
Margarita Marinova (NASA), David Saint-Jacques (CSA), Shannon Walker (NASA) (back), and Takuya Onishi (JAXA) enjoy a swim with the neighborhood wildlife. Photo credit: NASA

The NEEMO 15 mission is projected to start Oct. 20. Learn more about the mission objectives and follow through live webcasts on the NEEMO website.

NEEMO 15 Training Successfully Complete

Clockwise from upper left: NEEMO 15 crew and CAPCOM; Steve Squyres in SL-17 training; Shannon Walker preparing for dive training; crew dive skills checkouts; astronaut Takuya Onishi donning the SL-17 helmet; David Saint-Jacques waiting to start his SL-17 dive; crew during SL-17 training (2). Photos credit: NASA

Clockwise from upper left: NEEMO 15 crew and CAPCOM; Steve Squyres in SL-17 training; Shannon Walker preparing for dive training; crew dive skills checkouts; astronaut Takuya Onishi donning the SL-17 helmet; David Saint-Jacques waiting to start his SL-17 dive; crew during SL-17 training (2). Photos credit: NASA

The training week for NEEMO 15 – the 15th mission of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program – has successfully completed. The mission is scheduled for Oct. 17-29, however current severe weather has delayed the start of the mission until Thursday, Oct. 20 at the earliest. The mission is still expected to be a full 13-day mission.

Mission Preparation

A core set of team members has been in place throughout the training week making final preparations for the mission, including deployment of equipment to the sea floor around Aquarius for the saturation crew to perform testing. A circuit has been set up to evaluate different techniques for translation, sampling, and instrument deployment, including the use of Deep Worker submersibles as Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) analogs. Additionally, on shore, the Mobile Mission Control Center (MMCC) has been set up and is ready to support offshore activities. Finally, a science team has been hard at work in preparation for the science traverse portion of the mission, which will run in parallel with the saturation crew performing NEA exploration activities.

Dive Training

Portions of the week have been dedicated to dive training for the saturation crew as well as the topside support crew. The saturation crew has received training on scuba and the SL-17 dive system that they will use on EVA from Aquarius. The topside support divers have received all necessary training to assist the saturation crew in the execution of their mission activities.

The Deep Worker submersibles on the Liberty Star in preparation for departure from Kennedy Space Center to Aquarius.