Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, May 22, 2007




Astro-Aquanauts

credit NASA

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

Australia

NASA has been involved with undersea habitats for decades, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter took part in the Sealab II missions in 1965, and modern day astronauts are conducting experiments in the Aquarius habitat. A team of astro-aquanauts have just completed a 12 day expedition:

Six aquanauts returned to the surface of the Earth Friday after 12 days of mock moonwalks and robotic surgery experiments on the Atlantic Ocean floor.

The joint team of NASA astronauts, surgeons and professional divers completed a successful expedition to the Aquarius undersea laboratory, which rests more than 62 feet (18 meters) below the ocean's surface off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

"I think we've had a very full mission...we worked really hard, but we really enjoyed it," U.S. astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, commander of the NASA Extreme Environmental Mission Operations (NEEMO) 12 team, told SPACE.com before leaving the undersea laboratory. "I know I will be looking forward to some sunshine, and also it'll be nice to have some fresh food."

Joining Stefanyshyn-Piper on the Aquarius mission were fellow NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, flight surgeon Josef Schmid and University of Cincinnati researcher Tim Broderick, who watched over telerobotic surgery experiments with a two-armed automaton dubbed Raven and another robot named M7. Rounding out the NEEMO 12 crew were professional divers James Talacek and Dominic Landucci of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, which operates Aquarius for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We actually had the robots doing telerobotic surgery tasks, which was a great step forward," Broderick said in a shore-to-sea floor phone call before coming home.

Researchers at the University of Washington's BioRobotics Lab in Seattle operated the 50-pound (22-kilogram) Raven remotely vie an Internet connection. The handy robotic surgeon and the M7 surgical automaton built by Menlo Park, California's SRI International are being studied for future applications in remote areas of the world and on long-duration spaceflights.

Schmid, NASA's first flight surgeon ever to visit the undersea Aquarius laboratory, used theexperience to identify with astronauts who launch spaceward to the International Space Station (ISS).

"To better understand how to take care of our crews, we have to actually live, fly and dive with [them]," he told SPACE.com. ...

The NASA NEEMO expedition website is here.