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.
Under the water, the scenery is so beautiful, but we don’t have much time to enjoy this view when we are conducting EVAs.
Learn more about NEEMO at www.nasa.gov/neemo
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
Mission Day 2
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
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.
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: www.nasa.gov/neemo.
By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)
Image 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: www.nasa.gov/neemo.
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: www.nasa.gov/neemo.
|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.
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.
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 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.
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.