NEEMO 16: Simulating Communications Delays

By Aquanaut Kimiya Yui (JAXA)
The topside crew discusses scenarios in mission controlImage at right: The topside crew discuss communications delay scenarios in the mobile mission control center.
Today, we didn’t have any EVAs. However, we had several interesting events today! Our commander Dottie had live, underwater interviews while in her diving gear. Tim Peake and Steve Squyres had some interviews with a 50-second communication delay. Imagine if you asked a question, but you couldn’t get an answer for 100 seconds? It must make a really strange interview!

These kinds of events were completely new to us, so we really enjoyed the challenge and also learned a lot from them. We know that during deep-space missions, communication with mission control on Earth will be delayed, and it will be very challenging for us to communicate during our missions. 

Of course, we had some hard training today. We had different types of emergency trainings, also with a communication delay! We got really good data, which will be valuable when we are going to explore an asteroid or Mars. We need to know what will be the most effective ways – and what kind of tools will be used – to comunicate effectively with a communication delay.
By the way, do you think communication delay will affect our team work? Of course, it is hard to react to an unexpected situation without timely support from the ground team, which is an expert team. However, I felt the bond of the crew became much stronger. And more interestingly, I feel that not only crew but entire team’s bond became stronger!
When teams overcome tough situations, the individual grows and team members will be bonded stronger! That is why we always need to keep a challenging and difficult mission! Sending humans to an asteroid is a tough mission, but I believe it is worth it!
Learn more about NEEMO at

EVAs with Jetpacks

By Kimiya Yui (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
Aquanaut Kimiya Yui (JAXA) uses a jetpack while performing tasks underwater.

Image at right: Aquanaut Kimiya Yui performs tasks underwater while using a jetpack.

Under the water, the scenery is so beautiful, but we don’t have much time to enjoy this view when we are conducting EVAs.

On Mission Day 4, we did various tasks which were almost the same as Mission Day 3. However, we started using a jet pack for our tasks. Have you ever dreamed about becoming a “Superman?” Yes! Our jet packs (simulated “Super SAFER,” packs that ISS astronauts use) allow us make this dream to come true. It’s cool, easy and smooth! Everyone liked this method of moving around. I felt as if I was flying around an asteroid! However, we can’t just enjoy flying… We are going to go to an asteroid to do science, research, work etc., not just for fun.  So, we started doing our tasks by using this jet pack. Once we started to do our tasks, we didn’t like this method as much because it was hard to stay in the same place. Yes, it was fun but it was hard to do our tasks! We are testing various kinds of methods, and each one has its pros and cons. 
We are working really hard and take this really seriously because we all know that this kind of test can save billions of dollars in the future, if we conduct the test correctly and get accurate data.
To get good data, the entire NEEMO team is cooperating with each other and doing their tasks. We are lucky, because we have a lot of skillful and professional people in this place that allow us to conduct this amazing mission.
I hope our efforts will contribute to the future of human exploration, and I really hope future human exploration will be conducted under the international framework!

Learn more about NEEMO at

NEEMO 16: An Amazing Internship Research Opportunity

By Kaila Cappello
Kaila Cappello at Mission ControlImage at right: NASA intern Kaila Cappello poses from the NEEMO Science Facility.

I arrived in Key Largo on Sunday June 10th for the start of the NEEMO 16 mission taking place at the NOAA Aquarius lab located in Conch Reef. After settling in, I got to meet many of the people part of the NASA group and other members of the operations and science teams before we began the first all-hands meeting. After everyone introduced themselves, a quick briefing was given of what is to come during the mission. Not knowing much of what to expect, I begin to realize the amount of work and knowledge that is behind this mission and the amount of intelligence and experience that is packed into one trailer. To say that I was extremely intimidated is a bit of an understatement. An explanation is given to the group about how so many people would give an arm and a leg to be here for this mission, and my excitement grows as I realize how very fortunate I am to be here. After the meeting, I get a tour of the trailer in which the science team is located and some of the other facilities and features of the mission before adjourning for the day.

Mission Day 1

Day 2 started with the aquanaut splash down, the departure of those who are descending to live in Aquarius for the next two weeks to perform operations that will contribute to the understanding  and training of the eventual landing on a Near Earth Asteroid.  After the boat carrying the aquanauts departs, everyone meets for an all-hands meeting in the MMCC where introductions again are given for the new arrivals.  Afterwards, the entire science team meets in our trailer to set up and begin planning for all the dives that will take place over the coming week. Instruction and information is given to the DeepWorker pilots to get an understanding of what the science team wants to get out of the missions.
After lunch the team assembles again and we go over the Castaway and EXO2 Sonde software so that we know how to operate them for use in the dives. The Castaway is a handheld instrument that is deployed attached to the DeepWorkers and provides profiles of the conductivity, temperature, salinity, depth, and sound speed over an extended period of time, and the data from the mission can be viewed and collected afterwards. The EXO2 Sonde is a larger instrument in the shape of a cylinder a few feet long that measures even more parameters every second, including dissolved oxygen, pH, ORP, blue-green algae and chlorophyll, turbidity, and fDOM. It uses Bluetooth wireless communication and the data can be retrieved and downloaded after the mission. The Sonde is also attached to the DeepWorkers during each mission. Both instruments were borrowed from YSI Incorporated for NEEMO 16.
After we go over the technologies we’ll be in charge of during the DeepWorker missions, we then try to plan out the scuba dives of Mark Patterson and Art Trembanis where they will collect sediment and microbe samples and study closer some areas of spur and grooves as well as the great barrel sponges. A dive is scheduled for the following day to test the sampling device for the microbial samples, the camera equipment, and the flow visualization method of the barrel sponges. The equipment that is needed for the dive then gathered and organized and tasks are assigned to be done before the dive as day 2 comes to an end.

Mission Day 2

On Tuesday, we arrived at the dock bright and early for our originally planned deployment for the Lana Rose at 6:30. Due to some setbacks, our departure was delayed by about an hour.  We were given a quick safety briefing once we got onto the boat before leaving for the Lana Rose. Once we arrived to the ship, we transferred all of our belongings and equipment and climbed aboard the 100-foot long salvage vessel. We then began to setting up and testing our equipment to make sure we would be able to easily deploy them for the DeepWorker missions later in the day. We then waited around for awhile as the crew made some preparations for the arrival of the DeepWorker pilots and rest of the science team.
When the others arrived, we set up the Castaways and Sonde and got them ready for deployment. When our job was done, we got back onto the R/V Latency to transfer us back to the dock. We then took a break until the estimated deployment time of the DeepWorkers of about 3 pm. When we met back up, we attempted to begin sorting out communications issues between us and the science team on the Lana Rose to get everything up and running properly, and we set up a large television screen with the live feed of a camera mounted on one of the DeepWorkers. We then went over protocol on taking notes of the mission of what we see via the live feed and what we hear from the pilots’ descriptions of what they are seeing. We unfortunately hear of many complications with deploying the subs due mainly to the rough sea state and the inability to safely get the subs in and out of the water using the crane on board, and as more time passes we decide to alter and shorten the planned missions. The deployment time of the subs is delayed still by more and more time until it is eventually called off for the day as it gets too late.
Kaila Cappello poses with the DeepWorker sub.

Image at right: Cappello greets the DeepWorker sub on the Lana Rose.

After a break for dinner, the entire science team meets up to discuss plans for altering the mission schedule since a full day of missions had been lost. We review what went wrong and how we can schedule the rest of the missions to get as much done as possible. Shifting the schedule to night dives is discussed since it is believed that the sea state will be better, and how these changes would affect the pilots, the teams, and the boat crew is also brought into consideration because a change in sleeping patterns could pose a higher risk for the dives. Eventually a decision is arrived at to run a mission starting in the early evening and ending late at night, but to let everyone sleep in the morning before the mission.

Mission Day 3

The next day started late with a science team meeting at 2 pm. We reviewed the plans for the dive to occur later in the day and come up with a tentative schedule for the day, keeping in mind the delays that will inevitably occur and factoring in time to process data and sleep so that everyone gets enough rest. The dive is set for 8 pm and a test dive is also scheduled to occur around 4 to make sure the DeepWorkers can be deployed safely.
Sponges on the reefImage at right: A monitor displays images of sponges on the reef.

We left for the Lana Rose with the rest of the science team around 6:30, bringing with us the Castaway and EXO2 Sonde equipment. Once we arrived, we quickly set up our equipment and got them ready for deployment and then returned to the dock again soon after. Back in the science trailer, we waited for the subs to be deployed and watched the live feed of the camera mounted on DeepWorker 6 manned by Dr. Stan Love. We took notes as we saw objects and areas of interest on the screen, and we also rated the data quality and the observation quality every 20 minutes.  After a few hours, the communications and live feed was delayed by 50 seconds to simulate the delay if the sub was actually as far away as on a Near Earth Asteroid. The mission lasted about three and a half hours before the DeepWorker resurfaced. We then waited around until the team returned from the Lana Rose so that we could turn off the Castaways and Sonde and download the data before finally calling it a night.

I am lucky enough to be using this mission for my research internship for the summer on the great barrel sponges in the reef. Throughout the week, I will be helping out with some closer study and tests done on the sponges to use for my research on the distribution of the sponges throughout the reef and the types of environments they prefer to live in. I am extremely excited for the rest of the week and to be on the boat actually viewing some of the dives take place. As an engineer, I am fascinated by the DeepWorkers and the other slew of technologies at work during the running of these tests, and I am incredibly thankful to be given the opportunity to witness some of this amazing mission.
Learn more about NEEMO at


By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)
Aquanaut Tim Peake prepares to anchor so he has a stable platform from which to gather samplesImage at Right: Tim Peake prepares to anchor so he has a stable platform from which to gather samples. 
“Good Teamwork” — it’s something that makes the difference between winning or losing, success or failure and in extreme cases living or dying. As jargon, "teamwork" is easy enough to say — much harder to define and it can be a tricky little recipe to create.
When everyone is working selflessly towards a common goal…that’s a good start…and as a crew member of NEEMO 16, I am witnessing daily so many fantastic examples of great teamwork. Often it’s the little things that make all the difference, like the thankless task our support divers had removing the trash bags from Aquarius this morning, or coming in from nearly five hours in the water and being met by Steve offering hot chocolate and wasabi peas. I had told Steve that I didn’t need anything, but he knew I did…and he was right!
Then there is the bigger picture, the huge support infrastructure from Mission Control and the immense logistical effort to ensure that we have the right tools, equipment, communications, medical support and IT to do the job, without which we could not accomplish the mission. There are people enduring many hours a day in a five-foot Atlantic swell above us, or monitoring computer screens 24/7 in windowless rooms, not to mention those topside divers and supervisors who are looking after us in the water and ensuring that we have a seamless transition from one task to the next.
And then there are our two habitat technicians James and Justin, who quietly go about their business (OK, maybe James is not that quiet!) of knowing exactly what we need and when we need it…keeping us on track and safe in our temporary underwater home. And I have only mentioned a fraction of the team so far.
The fact that so many people have come together from such diverse backgrounds and cultures, and in a short space of time gelled together into a tight knit and highly efficient team speaks volumes about the common goal that has united this team…pushing the boundaries of humanity’s exploration into the solar system. And that is something most definitely worthy of all of our effort.
So NEEMO 16 has successfully achieved that tricky little recipe of great teamwork and as with all good recipes this also has a lot to do with the chef…but that is a subject for another blog…LEADERSHIP!
Learn more about NEEMO at

Underwater Spacewalks

Steve Squyres conducts an underwater
By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Image at right: Steve Squyres conducts an underwater spacewalk.

Extra-vehicular activity. Spacewalk. Whether you say it in NASA-ese or plain English, a walk in space conjures up images of floating serenely above the Earth’s surface (or maybe above an asteroid), enjoying the freedom that only zero-gravity can afford.

The reality, however, can be a little different.

Nobody does a spacewalk just for fun. Yep, they’re fun, no doubt about it… ask anybody who’s done one. But they’re always done with a purpose. If you couple that sense of purpose with a solid emphasis on safety, the reality of a spacewalk is that it becomes an intricate matter of managing tools, equipment and tethers. Lots and lots and lots of tethers.

I’m the one non-astronaut on the NEEMO 16 crew, so I don’t have the months of training in EVA tricks and procedures that my fellow crewmembers have. Luckily, though, I come from a mountaineering background, where we use the same kind of equipment — nylon slings and carabiners — that the astronauts use on orbit. It’s really the same kind of problem… you need to move around, and you need to clip yourself reliably to something so that you don’t drift (space) or fall (mountains) off into nowhere.

So the good news is that I sorta know what I’m doing. The bad news is that we all have to do a lot of it! We don’t go anywhere without two safety tethers holding us down to something. Any piece of equipment we have with us has to have a tether. The box that holds all the tethers has a tether. And on and on and on. You can see from the picture how it looks. Do it right, and everything works reasonably well. Do it wrong, and you’ve got spaghetti.

We did it pretty well today, most of the time. But you’ve really got to keep your focus. Drifting serenely above the Earth, or an asteroid, or the sea floor definitely has a certain appeal. But if you want to do it right, you also have to be pretty good at not getting tangled.

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit:


By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)

The NEEMO 16 Crew prepares for splashdownImage at right (left to right): JAXA Astronaut Kimiya Yui, NASAAstronaut (and N16 Commander) Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, ESA AstronautTim Peake, and Veteran Aquanaut Dr. SteveSquyres.

After months of training and preparation the day finally arrived…Splashdown for NASA’s NEEMO 16 mission. The crew woke early, eager to pack the few last remaining items into the ‘pots’ that our superb support crew, amongst their many other tasks, would be taking down to the Aquarius habitat ahead of our arrival.

The atmosphere on the Key Largo dockside this morning was buzzing with activity, conversation and good humour. The NEEMO mission team had gathered to say farewell to the saturation crew – and despite our intense excitement at what lay ahead we were genuinely sorry to say goodbye to all our friends and colleagues who have dedicate so much time and effort into making this a successful mission so far.

The weather today was kind, as it had been all week, and with only a 2-3 foot swell to deal with, our dive boat made quick work of the 8km out to Life Support Buoy, which feeds Aquarius with electricity and clean air. It felt quite weird — donning SCUBA gear for what could have been a routine dive but knowing that we would not be surfacing for 12 more days! With our team photo complete and the hot Florida sun beating down on us — finally jumping into the ocean was just the best feeling ever.

Since we had full cylinders of air on our backs the team enjoyed a great dive around Aquarius, which included of course posing for the customary pre-mission photos! As we positioned ourselves around one of Aquarius’ port holes we were joined by an inquisitive little turtle, who we later learned was called Little Joe and was a huge fan with previous NEEMO crews. With the air getting low it was finally time to say goodbye to our topside dive buddies and head into the wet-porch of Aquarius, where our lab technicians James and Justin were waiting to greet us. Some of the first things we noticed were the higher pitch of our voices and the fact that it was very hard to whistle in the thick air under a pressure of 2.5 atmospheres.

Aquarius is such an amazing place — unique as it is currently the only underwater habitat in the world and as James took us through the initial briefing it was hard not to be distracted by the Wrasse, Grouper, Barracuda and myriad of other marine animals who were queuing up outside the portholes to look at these strange humans who had come to share their environment for a short period of time.

Unfortunately, our free time to enjoy the new environment was limited as we had to get to work setting up our ‘IV Station’ with communications, IT, cameras, etc., and getting back into the water in pairs with our mini-workstations and jet-packs attached for more familiarization and practice of our asteroid extravehicular activity techniques.

So a successful and busy start to this amazing mission, and as we acclimatise to our new surroundings, it is very clear to see that the real fun is only just beginning!

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit:

Inside the Asteroid Beltway

NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie (Dorothy) Metcalf-Lindenburger uses the ARGOS.By NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger

NASA’s Johnson SpaceCenter is located southeast of two highway loops that encircle the city ofHouston. The outermost highway is known as Beltway 8.  While the NEEMO 16 crew conducted training April 17-20 outside this beltway, our upcoming Junemission is focused on simulating a mission insideanother beltway – the asteroid beltway!

During training week, thecrew assembled face-to-face for the first time and learned details about NearEarth Asteroids (NEAs). Future missions to these asteroids could help us learnmore about deep-space exploration and the beginnings of our solar system.Depending on the target NEA composition, future missions could also prospectand mine resources; and develop mitigation options for NEAs threatening planetEarth.

We also learned about thespacewalk tools we will be using during the mission and then practiced usingthese tools on the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS).  After taking a tour of the SpaceExploration Vehicle (SEV), we flew the asteroid simulator.  While there are similarities betweenflying a plane, a helicopter, a shuttle, and a Space Station RoboticManipulator System (SSRMS), flying around an asteroid is a unique experience.Asteroids may have non-uniform gravity fields and erratic spin rates – not to mention the deep-spacedebris and sub-optimal lighting – all conditions that will challenge even thebest pilots!

During the rest of trainingweek, we learned about the Aquarius Laboratory and what daily life will be likeliving in the underwater habitat for (almost) two weeks. Communication delays will beincorporated to simulate living near or on an asteroid. Each day, there will be two spacewalks,and the beginning of the mission will focus on working on a NEA that astronautscould tether to, while the second half of the mission will involve submersiblesthat will simulate the SEVs and working on an asteroid that is less cohesive.

Often times we thinkabout the solar system existing beyond us or outside of our “beltway,” but inreality, we live in a dynamic solar system, where the traffic, including NEAs,continues to be better understood. NEEMO16 will provide more data on how to work and live near NEAs.

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit:

Test-Driving a Spaceship

Crewmates José Hurtado and Alvin Drew participate in an MMSEV             flying simulation.
Crewmates José Hurtado and Alvin Drew conduct an MMSEV flying simulation.

Test-driving a spaceship.  That is essentially the mission this week for me and my crewmate, astronaut Alvin Drew.  As crew of the new prototype Mult-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV), we are test subjects in an important study of how well the MMSEV serves as a home and as a vehicle for exporing a near-Earth asteroid (NEA).  To do that we are living and working in the MMSEV for three days during a simulated mission to a NEA.

During the day, we are kept busy with various tasks such as flying the vehicle, making simulated “spacewalks” or EVAs (extravehicluar activities), and other mission-oriented tasks.  These are meant to test the various methods humans might use to explore a NEA.  For example, today I did an EVA in the virtual reality lab.  With a head-mounted display and special gloves, the lab allows me to experience the first-person view one would have in a spacesuit during a spacewalk.  On this EVA, Alvin piloted the MMSEV in the simulation with me on the outside attached to a robotic arm.  Our task was to visit a set of six points on the surface of the spinning asteroid using one of several possible stategies.  These points could be sites for making scientific observations or for collecting samples.  We chose to approach the targets at close range (a few meters) with me on the arm, at which point I would detach, acquire the target, and return to the MMSEV for a ride to the next point.  Another EVA I did today was in the ARGOS facility where I practiced some of the types of tasks an astronaut might be doing at a study point on an asteroid.  The ARGOS is a crane and winch system designed to suspend a human subject wearing a harness in such a precise manner as to offset their weight, simulating microgravity. In this simulation, I tried various concepts for collecting samples while floating about, including scooping loose material into a bag with a claw, picking up rock fragments with a gloved hand, and hammering pieces of rock off an outcrop.  I also tested the use of tethers and lines vs. a rigid arm for anchoring and stability. These are just two of the various scenarios our three days of simulations is testing. The engineers, scientists, and mission planners at NASA are interested in which methods are the most efficient in terms of fuel and time (and hence consumables such as air) and which ones may be best for achieving science and mission objectives.

While we are conducting the mission and evaluating the performance of the vehicle for the exploration tasks, we are also paying close attention to the comfort and usability of the spacecraft as a mobile home.  This includes the sleeping quarters, facilities for preparation of food, storage space, hygenie, and even the Waste Collection System (WCS) — our MMSEV toilet.  Sleeping in the MMSEV is comfortable, and, with the whirring sounds of electronics and the air handling system, it sounds like the inside of an airliner.  You have a little more room to spread out in here than you do on a plane, though!  At night we can divide MMSSEV into two private sleep stations separated by the central aisle (and the WCS) and isloated from the cockpit and the suitports. The MMSEV can carry all the food we need on board, and it has a water dispenser/heater for drinking and rehydrating meals. Our mission this week is to live in here for three days (and so far I have few complaints!), but the vehicle is designed to support a two-person crew on missions of two weeks or longer. NASA will use the lessons we are learning this week to make those missions a reality.

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.

Second Life Desert RATS: A Mixed Reality Meeting in the Desert

Caledonia Heron

Caledonia Heron is participating in a Desert RATS 3-D mission in Second Life.
+ Download a guide to getting started and locating Desert RATS in Second Life (PDF)

By Caledonia Heron
September 1, 2010

(NASA Virtual News) – We’re in the Second Life rover yard this morning, preparing for a D-RATS mixed reality event from the Arizona Black Rock volcanic field. We’ll stream the live, real-world webcast into Second Life’s social media 3-D world to create an immersive, participatory experience for the Second Life community.

The rover yard in Second Life replicates NASA rover activities so users can share in NASA’s compelling story of science and exploration. Mission concepts and technology models are available to everyone in this hands-on, distance-learning environment. Second Life residents are telepresent as they work together and communicate about the design, analysis and performance of space technology and events. This feeling of telepresence creates a collaborative bond that fosters engagement, conversation, feedback and learning.

The rover yard in Second Life

The rover yard for Desert RATS in Second Life.

The NASA eEd island is a venue to investigate education outreach and ultimately the usefulness of conducting science in virtual world platforms. As virtual worlds evolve it’s possible that shared virtual spaces such as Second Life will include the planning, development and training for future D-RATS missions. Scientists and engineers will routinely use desktop 3-D technology to spatially investigate large data sets, explore human factors issues and perform simulated tasks.

Back from the future of virtual worlds to here and now, where Second Life residents are dropping in to participate in the Arizona D-RATS webcast with NASA scientists. During and after the webcast, the conversation spins from what the rovers will be used for, their destinations, the size of the rovers and vehicles to get them to their destinations. The group is a mix of scientists and educators interested in NASA’s work.

NASA eEd Island in Second Life

The NASA eEd Island in Second Life.

You can join the citizen scientist and educator network in Second Life and be a part of virtual NASA at work. Contact the LT Technical Office to have your NASA education project represented. The NASA eEducation island is located in Second Life and sponsored by NASA Learning Technologies, an education technology incubator.