NASA is sending three astronauts and a Cincinnati doctor to test newspace medicine concepts and extravehicular techniques in a uniqueunderwater laboratory off the Florida coast. NASA astronaut Lee Morinleads the crew on an 18-day undersea mission Oct. 3 to 20 aboard theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) AquariusUnderwater Laboratory. Astronauts Nicole Stott and Ron Garan, and Dr.Tim Broderick of the University of Cincinnati, round out the crew.Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is a backup crew member and Canadianphysician-astronaut Dave Williams is a science investigator. JimBuckley and Joe Marsh of the University of North Carolina at Wilmingtonwill provide engineering support.
Long-distance health care, like tele-monitoring and tele-roboticsurgery, could be keys to maintaining the wellness of spacefarers andresponding to medical emergencies on the International Space Station,the moon or Mars. Techniques will be tested on a patient simulatorduring the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project.
Undersea extravehicular activities, imitating moon walks, will testconcepts for lunar mobility. Construction of an underwater structure,with the help of a remotely operated vehicle, will also simulate lunarconditions.
The work will be coordinated and monitored at NASA's Johnson SpaceCenter (JSC), Houston. JSC's Exploration Planning Operations Center istesting and evaluating the new techniques for meeting operationalchallenges such as the two-second communications delay between Earthand the moon.
"This mission will be the longest NEEMO and Aquarius mission. Ourpartnerships with other agencies and countries should provide atreasure chest of useful medical and exploration operations knowledge,"said NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd.
NEEMO 9 will demonstrate and evaluate innovative technologies andprocedures for remote surgery. Dr. Mehran Anvari will use two-waytelecommunication to guide astronauts through diagnosis and surgery anduse virtual reality control technology to guide tele-robotic surgery.Anvari is director of the McMaster University Centre for Minimal AccessSurgery at St. Joseph's Healthcare, Hamilton, Ontario. Similar in sizeto the Space Station's living quarters, Aquarius is the world's onlypermanent underwater habitat and research laboratory. The 45-foot long,13-foot diameter complex is three miles off Key Largo in the FloridaKeys National Marine Sanctuary. It rests about 62 feet beneath thesurface. A buoy on the surface provides and outlet for power, lifesupport and communications capabilities for Aquarius. A shore-basedmission control center in Florida monitors the habitat and crew.
Aquarius is owned and funded by NOAA, and it is operated by theUniversity of North Carolina at Wilmington. The NEEMO missions are acooperative project among NASA, NOAA and the university.
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