CANCELLED Mission 2 — NASA Space Simulation and Training Project: NEEMO IX.

CANCELLED Mission 2 — NASA Space Simulation and Training Project: NEEMO IX.

Principal Investigator: Bill Todd, NASA/United Space Alliance
Training: June 6 — 10
Mission: June 13 — 19

The NEEMO 9 mission (NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations 9) is a joint project involving the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) at McMaster University, the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), and NASA. The mission builds on the success of the NEEMO 7 mission in October 2004 and will continue to evaluate new medical diagnostic and therapeutic technologies to enhance the delivery of state–of–the–art medical care in remote and harsh environments, as well as develop procedures and techniques for lunar exploration using remotely operated vehicles, tracking systems and navigation devices. A prototype next generation surgical robot will be evaluated with surgeons in Hamilton, Canada attempting remote surgical procedures using the robot and a patient simulator in the Aquarius Undersea Habitat.

Recent breakthroughs in Canadian telecommunication and biomedical technologies have significantly improved the capability to provide remote medical care. These technologies enable physicians to remotely diagnose and treat a wide range of health problems. They may also be used to enhance local medical care in isolated regions by providing access to clinical consultants that can tele–mentor local health care practitioners through complex medical procedures. This capability has the potential to change the future of health care through increased accessibility in isolated regions. Also, it could someday contribute to the human exploration of space, particularly for long–term expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

The Centre for Minimal Access Surgery
CMAS, a McMaster University Centre located at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario, develops telemedicine technologies to help Canadian physicians in isolated communities gain better access to the latest medical knowledge, techniques and specialists. Dr. Mehran Anvari spearheaded CMAS in 1999. On February 28, 2003, Dr. Anvari, at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, in Hamilton, Ontario successfully performed the world’s first hospital–to–hospital telerobotics–assisted surgery on a patient in North Bay, Ontario, nearly 400 kilometres away.

The primary CMAS science objectives of the NEEMO 9 mission will be:

Tele–mentoring — in which an experienced surgeon (in an advanced treatment facility) will use pre–established two–way telecommunications links to guide the remote surgeon through an operation in the remote Aquarius habitat. Tele–mentoring procedures will include the assessment and diagnosis of extremity injuries and surgical management of fractures.

Tele–robotics — using a prototype next generation surgical robot, surgeons in Hamilton will perform real–time abdominal surgery on a patient simulator on the Aquarius undersea habitat. The effect of varying the latency of signal transmission between less than a second to up to 3 seconds, will be evaluated to determine the capability to perform tele–robotic surgery in a wide range of remote settings on earth and for future missions to the Moon. Miniature robotic surgical cameras within the abdomen will be used to enhance the surgeon’s view of the operative site.

Human Performance — the effects of fatigue and a number of stressors on the capabilities of the crew to perform complex experiments both inside and outside the undersea habitat will be evaluated. This information is of significant interest to health care professionals on earth and in preparation for exploration missions to the Moon.

NASA objectives

In addition to the tele–mentoring and tele–robotic surgery objectives, this space–analog mission will be open to other science and operational objectives from the CMAS, NSBRI, and NASA. Additional science and operational objectives may include other telehealth, physiological monitoring, human behaviour and performance and exploration objectives including the use of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), which will be driven from inside the habitat and from the Exploration Operations Center (ExPOC) in the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Houston. The aquanauts will also participate in a number of scuba and hardhat diving exercises and tasks to evaluate operations concepts for lunar exploration including building underwater structures, working with MCC hindered by communication delay scenarios and demonstrating concepts for man–machine interaction with the use of robotic devices. Undersea navigation will be tested using sophisticated space–analog devices.

The Aquarius Habitat Deployed 19 metres underwater, 5.6 km off Key Largo, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarius is an undersea laboratory designed to support research in coastal and ocean resource science and management. The habitat itself, a steel cylinder 3 metres in diameter by 14 metres long, provides 11 cubic metres of living and laboratory space for a six–person crew. The lab is equipped with computers networked to shore, Internet, telephones, radios, and video conferencing equipment.

Aquarius is an “ambient pressure habitat” — its interior atmospheric pressure is equal to the surrounding water pressure. At this depth and pressure, visitors diving down to Aquarius have only about 80 minutes to complete their stay and return to the surface before they risk experiencing decompression related illness. However, the mission crew, known as “aquanauts,” can stay indefinitely. They also have nearly unlimited bottom time during their scuba dives out of the habitat, as long as they stay at the same depth. However, the cost of long stays at this pressure is that at the end of a mission, aquanauts must undergo a 17–hour decompression in a chamber within Aquarius itself in order to minimize the risk of decompression sickness. At the end of decompression, Aquanauts exit Aquarius and scuba dive back to the surface.

Aquarius missions typically last ten days and are usually conducted from April through November. This extreme hostile environment is analogous to human space flight and has been used by NASA in the training of space station astronauts and as a platform for research and technology development since 2001.