An irish doctor has been selected to go on a NASA mission – to the bottom of the sea.
Dr Marc Ó Gríofa will spend eight days nearly 20 metres below the surface in the Aquarius Undersea Reef Base off Florida later this month.
He is one of six people selected to take part in the mission, which is part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation, or NEEMO.
Dr Ó Gríofa received his medical degree from UCD and his PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Limerick and is also a fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He was also a physician at the Mater Hospital.
He says he has been involved in the mission for around “five or six years”.
He spent 3 years at Kennedy Space Center as part of the Aerospace Medicine and Biomedical Research departments and is a NOAA trained diving medical officer.
Living on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the 21st NEEMO crew will focus on evaluating tools and techniques being tested for future space exploration by living in simulated spacecraft conditions and conducting simulated spacewalks outside of their undersea habitat.
Inside the habitat, the international crew will conduct a variety of research and operational studies, such testing a mini DNA sequencer and a medical telemetry device that will be used for future space applications. During their simulated spacewalks, the crew will collect samples for marine biology and geology studies, team with underwater remote operating vehicles, test operational software, and participate in a coral restoration project.
Ó Gríofa will oversee the collection of multiple samples from each crew member to evaluate the impact of the NEEMO mission on telomere length. This research will be used to study Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and genetic disorders like Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, he said that the mission would be similar to a mission on the International Space Station in that it will be cramped.
“If you imagine a small space station stuck on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, about 200 square feet. You have six people effectively crammed down into this tiny little space.
You have sleeping conditions where you have three bunks, one on top of the other. You have a small galley where food can be prepared.
He says that the sleeping part is “interesting”.
“I got an email from the crew commander recently that said bring two things: ear plugs and an iPad because there is always a snorer in the crew.
“In regards to eating, we can get some fresh food shipped up and down, but mostly they’re almost camping meals that can be reheated.”
He said the operational tempo is “very, very high” and the crew will be “very busy”.
The mission will be commanded by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, who spent six months on the International Space Station in 2014.