Dr. Love's Underwater Blog: Mobility and Stability with DeepWorkers

By Dr. Stan Love (NASA astronaut)

Photo of Stan Love preparing for a DeepWorker comm checkImage at right: Astronaut/DeepWorker pilot Dr. Stan Love prepares for a communications check in the DeepWorker submersible.

For the previous fewdays at NEEMO, the aquanaut crew has been moving around, taking geologic samples,and deploying science instruments as if they were astronauts in space suitsexploring a near-Earth asteroid. The buoyancy of the sea water counteractstheir body weight and makes them effectively weightless, as they would be neara small asteroid with very little gravitational pull. But it’s hard to workthat way. With no place to stand, it can take a lot of effort just to keep yourbody stable, and any work you do with your hands is clumsy and inefficient.

But now that NEEMO’smarine science dives are completed, the DeepWorker submersibles are availableto work jointly with the aquanauts. The subs provide two tremendous advantagesto our “spacewalkers”: mobility and stability. Instead of theaquanauts having to move from one place to another by going hand-over-handalong a rope, they can just ride along with the submarine. Instead of the aquanautshaving to fight to keep their body stable with one hand while trying to douseful work with the other, they can clip their feet into a “footrestraint” attached to the front of the sub and have a solid place tostand, plus the freedom to work with both hands. Part of our work at NEEMO thisyear is to quantitatively measure the time and effort it takes to do a widevariety of spacewalking tasks both with and without help from the subs.

So Saturday morning,our first pair of sub pilots, Serena and Bill, got in the water and drove theirvehicles down to a sand patch near Aquarius. Divers hooked communication linesto their sub so they could talk and listen on the same channels as theaquanauts. We had done some preliminary testing on the communication and ithadn’t gone well. But that day, to everyone’s immense delight, thecommunication worked perfectly! Serena and Bill did some test work with theaquanauts, and then returned to the surface.

Photo of aquanaut and DeepWorker sub piloted by astronaut Mike GernhardtImage at right: An aquanaut adjusts umbilicals as astronaut/DeepWorker pilot Mike Gernhardt waits in the background.

Mike Gernhardt and Iwere the sub pilots for the afternoon shift. The plan was for Mike to do thefirst set of timed and scored tasks with the aquanauts while I observed andlistened. But things did not turn out that way, as often happens in operationslike NEEMO. Exploration is interesting in part because you do not know what youwill find. And work in places like space, or the sea, is interesting becauseenvironmental conditions like space radiation, weather, or sea state cansuddenly change the operation in ways that are hard to foresee.

Out on Liberty Star, thelarge and beautiful ship that has come to support sub operations for the restof the mission, my sub was the first to go in the water. The crane hoisted meoff the deck and into the water and the lift hook disengaged. Immediately Iheard the voice of Jeff Heaton, the dive supervisor, on the radio: “Engagethrusters and move away from the ship!” The next second, the sub cabinjolted hard and tilted sharply, and I found myself wedged beneath the ship’sfantail between the rudders and the propellers (which had been turned offduring sub launching). I enabled the thrusters and gave full throttle in alldirections but the sub did not budge. Under the water my VHF radio could nottransmit or receive, and my location under the back of the ship was not accessibleto the through-water communication system we use while the subs are workingnear the sea floor. So I was on my own.

What had happened wasthat my sub had been immediately caught by a strong current and pinned againstthe ship. With no way to escape on thrusters, and the swell continuing to bangthe sub against the hull, the only option was to do down. I flooded the sub’ssoft ballast tank, which seemed to take rather a long time, and finally droppeddown away from the very bad spot I’d been in. Once below the ship I got apartial transmission on the through-water comm telling me to descend to thebottom and hold there. This I did, putting in some forward thrust as well sothat the current would not take me far from the ship.

I reached bottom onmixed sand and coral in about 90 feet of water and stayed there. The comm wasvery bad. Occasionally a call would make it through, but I wasn’t hearing muchand most of my transmissions went unanswered. I was able to tell Topside that Icould see no damage to the sub and that my cabin atmosphere was safe. Theyresponded with a recommendation to stay on bottom while they prepared torecover me. So I sat there and waited. I made test calls now and then,sometimes receiving an answer.

The current strengthenedeven more and began to drag the sub along the bottom. I still didn’t want todrift away from the ship, so I maneuvered over to a rock and let the currenthold me in place against it.

Nuytco Research, thecompany that owns the subs, has worked out emergency procedures for sub pilotsto carry out in case anything goes wrong on their flights. One of those casesis a loss of communication. For most dives, the instruction for the pilot is tostart a clock the first time an expected call is missed, and if an hour passeswith no communication they should bring the sub back to the surface. For ouroperation, since we were always going to be near the ship and in shallow waterand since communication was central to our job, we had agreed on a limit of 15minutes.

I nearly got through acouple of 15-minute intervals, but then a partial call would make it throughand I reset the clock. While waiting I watched the fish moving around the sub.A spotted eagle ray, black with vivid white spots, swam by. I got out my cameraand took a few pictures.

Finally thecommunication with the ship stopped entirely. I waited another 15 minutes, thengot on the thrusters. The current was still strong enough to make it hard todisengage from the rock I was next to. But the sub did come free, and I droveit away from the bottom. I kept an upward eye to make darn sure I didn’t comeup under the ship!

I needn’t have worried.The sub surfaced about fifty yards from the Liberty Star. Immediately Jeff cameover the VHF radio and guided me back to the crane hook. Recovery was swift andefficient, and soon I was back on deck enjoying the breeze and asking whetherI’d made the right decisions. Everyone assured me that I had, and Jeffcommended me on having actually read and followed the lost-comm procedure.Evidently not everyone does that. He also said that from their perspective,they had put me in the water and I had disappeared instantly. I’m glad I wasn’tthe only one who felt that way!

While Jeff and I werechatting, Mike from Nuytco came up and handed me a stubby, heavy, black plasticcylinder with a big blue-smeared bite taken off the edge of it. “Here’syour through-water comm transducer. Do you want to keep it?” Yes, I did. Iwill take it home and put it in my curio cabinet as a memento of an excitingday in the submarine. That ‘ducer sits high on the back of the sub, behind thepilot’s head, and it acts as the “antenna” for the system. If it’sbroken, no communication occurs. The blue color was bottom paint from theLiberty Star. Evidently the ‘ducer had taken the brunt of my impact with theship. That explained the bad communication.

After that, the rest ofthe day was kind of anticlimactic. The Nuytco crew quickly installed a newthrough-water comm ‘ducer on my sub and made sure it was fit for duty. I dranka bottle of Gatorade to replace the fluid I’d lost from sweat (both fromtemperature and stress, no doubt), then hopped back in the cockpit to do our now-badly-delayedmission to the habitat, this time with both subs and no mishaps. We returned toshore at dusk, with take-out dinner plates kindly provided by the LibertyStar’s excellent cook. Another day thoroughly seized.

Learn more about NEEMO at www.nasa.gov/neemo

NEEMO 16: EVA Divers and Subs

By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Photo of Aquanuat Steve Squyres mounted to a DeepWorker Sub.Image at right: Squyres performs an EVA while mounted to a DeepWorker sub piloted by NEEMO Mission Manager Bill Todd.

We’re finally doing it.

I was on the crew for NEEMO 15, back in October. It was a great mission, but it got cut short after just six days by a hurricane. (We were bummed, of course, but you don’t argue with a hurricane.) We got a lot of our tasks done, and we learned a lot. But the thing we all wanted to do most — dual operations between divers and submarines — we never got to.

So why do we have submarines down here? The reason is that they simulate small spacecraft that could be used in conjunction with astronauts doing spacewalks at an asteroid. Spacewalks at an asteroid won’t be like spacewalks at the International Space Station… asteroids don’t come with handrails. So one idea is to take a small spacecraft to the asteroid, and let the astronauts fasten their feet to that spacecraft. The pilot in the spacecraft would position the astronaut, who would have both hands free to work on the asteroid.

We tried that today, with Kimiya Yui and me as the astronauts and two small submarines, (with Serena Aunon and Bill Todd at the controls) as the spacecraft. And it worked. I mean, it really worked. The subs fly beautifully. Being mounted out on the front of one and working with the sub driver to fine-tune our path to our next location was drop-dead easy. And then, once we got where we were going, having our feet locked solidly to the sub was a great way to work.

And… I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the cool factor in all of this. At the start of today’s EVA I was floating above the bottom, listening to the voice communications in my headset and watching for the sub. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, I saw the lights coming toward me through the blue mist. It was like being inside a science fiction movie. And then, once we were flying about the surface… man, I’ve never experienced anything like it. You can hang on with just your knees, both hands free like Leonardo DiCaprio in that scene from Titanic. King of world indeed…

Learn more about NEEMO at www.nasa.gov/neemo.

NEEMO 16: Night Diving

By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)

Photo of Aquanauts Tim Peake and Steve SquyresImage at right: Tim Peake and Steve Squyres translate across the ocean floor.

The past 24 hours has simply been an incredible experience. And considering that this entire NEEMO 16 mission has so far been an incredible experience that is saying something. About this time last night I was heading out the wet porch with fellow crewmember Steve Squyres for a night dive, with only one objective…to have fun 🙂

Night time underwater is something very special. Having lived with the marine life for several days now we have begun to recognize their routine. As the sun goes down, the fish start to get excited. Small larvae gather in the external lights of Aquarius and climb all over our port hole windows. The food chain kicks in and before we know it the huge, beautiful silver Tarpons are darting around at the top of the chain, with Barracuda taking their fill too and ‘Gordon’ the Goliath Grouper lazily keeping score like some oversized referee.

Steve and I were sitting on the ocean floor being awed by this amazing scene when in the corner of my eye I noticed an unmistakable tail swishing movement of a fish larger than even the Tarpon…Nurse Shark! It glided elegantly past us, looking a bit put out since we were sitting right where it had been sleeping the previous night…time to move over a little bit and free up some bed space. We were so thankful just to have the time, peace and quiet to enjoy this wonderful scene, being able to lie back look up at the surface, watching our bubbles causing a bioluminescent firework display.

Only one person can enter and exit the habitat at a time, and it takes several minutes to hat and unhat a diver. So when it was finally time to come back inside I remained outside whilst Steve ‘staged in’, and during those few minutes I was able to enjoy the feeling of complete isolation, with all my lights turned out and just enjoying the environment and the eerie glow coming from the Aquarius wet porch. Steve’s comment earlier had been spot on…just like a scene from the movie ‘Aliens’!

With the previous night’s dive fresh our minds, the morning brought the prospect of something completely different but equally exciting…submersibles. Today was the day that the crew began to work with our ‘Space Exploration Vehicles’ in order to assess how they contribute to the efficiency of the tasks that we have been performing throughout the mission. By the time we were back in the water the light was fading slightly and the visibility dropping, so by the time the subs arrived we were once again treated to a completely surreal image of these two awesome floodlit machines slowly appearing out of the gloom. It really wasn’t that hard to remind ourselves that we were simulating an asteroid mission…the special effects have so far been worthy of an award!

Learn more about NEEMO at: www.nasa.gov/neemo

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 www.nasa.gov/neemo

The Planning Science behind The Autonomous Mission Operations Research Project

 By Lauren Rush, mission planner for AMO, space station and space shuttle

 A couple weeks ago, the AMO (Autonomous Mission Operations) team completed our first set of experiment runs. In order to decrease external variability and to get the best data from the runs, the crew executed the same mission timeline for each run. Doing this allows the researchers and data collectors to form relationships between the data collected and the different time delay scenarios which were tested. When the timeline is the same for each run, that takes one variable out of the equation and helps the researchers know that a varying timeline of activities is not impacting any of the data collected in the experiment. Dang, I feel like a scientist writing all of that!


This timeline was a 2 hour mix of activities meant to represent a quiescent period in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH). In space language, quiescent basically means there’s no dynamic (another space term) operations happening like robotics, dockings, or space walks. Quiescent operations for the AMO project is when the space habitat is happily floating along, returning to Earth from some cool asteroid. The astronauts are performing general maintenance and housekeeping tasks and are doing normal things that we here on planet Earth do, like exercising and looking for misplaced objects in their habitat. I hope that gives you a good picture of what the crew is doing.


On the ground, in the control center, the planner (a flight control position which we have lovingly named Kali – in Hindu, known as the goddess of time and change) keeps track of the crew’s progress through the timeline. Kali also works to deconflict any issues with the orchestration of the crew completing all their scheduled tasks and also replans future days based on the current day’s activities. We use a new scheduling tool called Score. And surprisingly enough, Score is not an acronym for anything… Some of you know we use lots of acronyms around here at NASA.


Score was developed by Ames Research Center (ARC) for planning use on International Space Station and future exploration programs. Score leverages the scheduling capabilities created by ARC and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for missions such as the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), Phoenix Lander and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. The JPL and ARC development teams have created an “Ensemble Suite” of software (plug-in tools), based off of the open source Ensemble Integrated Development Environment (IDE), that can be added to/removed from the core planning software. This allows new functions and capabilities to be added to Score so that it can be used to support other missions, such as NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), Desert Research And Technology Studies (RATS) and Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) analog missions. The AMO team uses Score to support our research missions by providing a visual representation of the mission in order to keep the flight control team focused on the current day’s tasks. Since the communication with the crew can be delayed up to 5 minutes each way, it is important for the team to have awareness of what the crew is completing on board, especially if some of those tasks require coordination with the flight control team. The capabilities of Score will allow the team to easily identify relationships between the ground flight controllers and the onboard crew and the impact of unexpected schedule delays, and communication delays while maintaining mission cognizance.


This week we’re having our mitigation runs, where we participate in more experiment runs and use some the new techology to mitigate the communications delays we experienced in our first set of experiment runs. Follow the AMO mission on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo for more information.

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 www.nasa.gov/neemo

Home Sweet Deep Space Habitat

By Autonomous Mission Control Crew B Commander Rex Walheim
June 13, 2012 – Run #1
Time Delay: 5 Seconds

Things are going smoothly onboard.  We are operating with a 5 sec time delay, which doesn’t impact ops much.  We are coming up to speed on our new tools.  Web PD is helpful in running the procedures.  No failures yet today, so we haven’t had a chance to use the Automated Caution and Warning System.  I am sure that will come. 

June 13, 2012 – Run #2

Time Delay: 300 seconds (5 minutes)

We have a 5-minute time delay.  Pidgin chat helps a lot to deal with the delay, but the time delay gets tricky when there are malfunctions.  Crew continues to get along well.  However, without much voice comm, it is harder to keep tabs on what the rest of the crew is doing.
Flat Skynyrd* spotted by Jason outside habitat during survey.  I last spotted him on flight deck of Atlantis on STS-122.  I guess he wanted to go EVA this time.  Sing with me….”Sweet home Ala’cabot”**
Rex Out!


June 13, 2012 – Run #3

Time Delay 50 seconds

One of our flight engineers has a simulated medical  issue.   Hope it is not the food.  We could all be going down then.  We are a long way from home.  Too late to turn around.  Try not to think bad thoughts.  Get a hold of yourself man!  HAL says everything is under control.  Not sure if we can believe a computer.  What could possibly go wrong?  What was that noise?  WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?


Follow the Autonomous Mission Operations tests via Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.  


* Walheim references “Flat Skynyrd,” which is the Guidance and Navigation Control console’s mascot. A little fact: Rex Walheim flew Flat on his shuttle mission to the space station (STS-122).

** For the AMO mission, the Deep Space Habitat has been re-dubbed Cabot.

Keeping Crew Healthy

* Editor’s Note: Normally we have the Autonomous Mission Operation commander for the day post a blog, but two simulated medical emergencies kept the crew busy today. So, instead, we have an entry from Victor Hurst. Victor is a research scientist in space medicine at Johnson Space Center, as well as the AMO ultrasound guinea pig — whenever there’s a simulated medical emergency, he plays the indisposed patient, on whom the Crew Medical Officer performs an ultrasound.


By Victor Hurst, space medicine research scientist

When you are not feeling well, you usually hop into a car or some other earth-based vehicle and take yourself to the doctor, right?  Astronauts taking part in an exploration class space mission far away from this planet cannot do that.


The exploration of space has been limited to low earth orbit since man last walked on the moon in December 1972.  As this country plans to re-start its exploration of space, perhaps past the moon, the space program must prepare its astronaut crews to manage medical events, both planned and unplanned, during their missions.  Why? Maintenance of crew health is paramount towards maximizing human performance and, subsequently, mission success.  To do so, the program needs to develop a specific level of medical capability that will fulfill this need.


In order to understand the capability that is needed to maintain and treat crew members during exploration class space missions, the Autonomous Mission Operation (AMO) within the Deep Space Habitat (DSH) here at the NASA-Johnson Space Center (JSC) allows us to take an initial look on treating medical conditions relevant to exploration space flight.  In doing these tests, we can identify what equipment and procedures are needed for such missions.  More importantly, we can determine what level of training is needed in order for crew to autonomously manage their medical issues without seriously impacting the tasks needed to complete their mission.


Crew Medical Officers (CMO) are astronauts that are trained to be the medical caregivers for crew during each mission.  Since only about 10% of the astronaut corps are formally trained physicians, we need to develop specialized training and clinical tools that will enable non-physician CMOs (i.e. laymen) to properly manage medical events during these types of missions.  Some folks let us know, “Hey, why don’t you just fly a doctor like Bones McCoy on the 1960s TV show Star Trek?”  That’s a great idea but what happens if it is the doctor who becomes ill?  Because of this possibility, the emphasis is to provide training, procedures, equipment and other resources to CMOs who are not formally-trained clinicians in order for them to properly manage medical events in the absence of doctor.


The AMO Tests within the DSH are enabling NASA Space Medicine to identify techniques and technology that will help CMOs maintain crew health and optimize crew performance for exploration class space missions.  These tests also enable NASA to use innovation to expand the standard of medical care for not only these types of missions but also for all us down here on this planet.



Follow the Autonomous Mission Operations tests via Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.

The End Of An Analog (For Now)

By Autonomous Mission Control Crew D Commander Anna Fisher
May 18, 2012 – Run #3

Busy day onboard Cabot. Can’t wait to get home and take a hot shower!
GMT 17:10 Our day is off to a good start. 5 min time delay is a bummer.
GMT 21:14 Minor problem with the atrium flow but worked the mal and able to proceed.
GMT 20:06 Life onboard is good. Will have to do a 28v R&R in the future.

Mission Managers Test Wrap Up
By Megan Rosenbaum, Analog Technical Lead

Overall the test has been going really well. Many of the crew and flight controllers have expressed the same sentiments in terms of their feelings on communicating over a comm. delay. Communication does become more difficult with failures and when you need more interaction between the ground and crew, but it does not hinder their ability to work through the issues. Both sides have adapted quickly to what each more significant delay brings to the table, but overall the crew and ground are handling the delay very well.

The current baseline runs mostly incorporated current ISS operational concepts and the overall approach to this first test could be best summarized with the following statement.-MCC has the “expertise” and leads operations as it does today. Although we know we would do things differently for long time delay, the point of this is to figure out at what time delay which things break and why.

During the runs in June, the following things will be added to the overall test:

– We will use an Automated Caution and Warning System (ACAWS) to help troubleshoot system failures. The Crew will also have ACAWS during the runs which will better equip them and give them the ‘expertise’ to deal with failures.- The runs will add chat (instant messaging) capability to compliment traditional Air-to-Ground voice calls.- We will also have a new procedure viewer which will allow the ground to see where the crew is in each step of the procedure that they are executing. The new web-based Procedure Display is called WebPD.-The crew will also have planning tools (Desktop SCORE) in the mitigation runs for self scheduling as desired.

Hope to see you back here in June!

Testing Out The Time Delay

Today marked the first day of the first run of a new analog mission at NASA:  Autonomous Mission Operations. The Autonomous Mission Operations – or AMO – tests look at the capability of a crewed spacecraft to plan and fly a mission with minimum support from ground.  As human exploration moves farther and farther away from Earth, the constant communication we currently enjoy with the crew of the International Space Station will become impossible. Communication from Earth to the crew will take longer and longer to reach its destination – and the same will be true of the answers the crew sends back.

The communications delays that astronauts would experience on the way to a Lagrange Point, asteroid, Mars or other distant destinations will make it necessary to change the capabilities of spacecraft, change the roles and responsibilities of ground and crew and the ways that ground and crew interact during the mission.  The purpose of the AMO project is to define what some of those changes might be.

To do so, AMO will run two series of tests this summer. The first is taking place May 15-18, and the second June 12-17. During those time frames, four different crews made up of one astronaut commander and several space shuttle or International Space Station flight controllers acting as flight engineers will run three, two-hour mission scenarios a day. Working inside the Habitat Demonstration Unit (which has been dubbed Cabot for the AMO tests) at Johnson Space Center, the crews will take turns working through the same timelines under three different simulated time delays: 1.2 seconds (what we’d experience at the second Lagrange Point), 50 seconds (the communication delay for an asteroid), and five minutes (how long it takes to say hello to Mars).

As part of the simulation, the commanders of the four crews will send blog updates throughout the course of the mission. Today’s blogger and commander (of crew A) is astronaut Rex Walheim.


15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 1:
Crew is in good health and good spirits.  Today we are working IRED Cleaning, water transfer, filter changeout and camera surveys.  We are working a little slowly as we get acclimated to the habitat.  MCC is treating us well.  Food is good. 


15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 2:
I was tasked with finding the ovoid.  There was a slight mutiny onboard as the other crewmembers found out what this task was and decided they wanted to be involved in this Easter egg hunt as described in the Limerick below:

There once was a crew on the Cabot
That searched for the egg of a rabbit
Inside was a sweet
Just one tiny treat 
So whoever first found it would grab it

(Mission Manager’s Note:  Stowage and Inventory on the space station is something that the crew and ground consistently monitor and manage.  In spaceflight, staying organized and keeping the proper items in stock is critical. Occasionally, we find that items have gone missing or have been tucked in a location that wasn’t accurately recorded.  To simulate this for AMO, we have a “MISSING-ITEM-SEARCH” scheduled. The crew is looking for a piece of Environmental and Life Support “equipment” that had been noted as MIA.  In reality, the missing “equipment” was a plastic egg filled with candy that we hid somewhere inside the Deep Space Habitat. We called it an ovoid canister.  The crew reports when/if they find the missing item and the stowage location to the Mission Control Center.  It’s a fun task, but mimics a real-life scenario.)


15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 3:
Crew feeling well.  Procedures going well.  Almost feels like we have been here before.  50 second time delay in both directions.   It is about on the borderline where you can either press on autonomously, or wait for the ground to tell you what to do during an off nominal situation.

Ovoid found and consumed!


Follow along with the AMO tests via Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.