From the Sea to the Stars – Irish Researcher helps NASA with Life Aquanautic

The United States is going to Mars – but before they lift off for the mysterious fourth rock from the Sun – they’re doing a lot of training here on Earth.

The first humans on Mars will need to be experienced and comfortable living in a completely alien environment and to prepare for this unique challenge NASA is training in the depths of the ocean. Scientists are trying to study as much as they can about the unique challenges that lie ahead for Mars-going astronauts.

And among their complement of researchers is Irish scientist Dr Marc O Griofa.

Dr Marc O Griofa in zero gravity with his Nasa colleagues.

Dr Marc O Griofa Zero gravity training with his new Nasa colleagues.

This Summer Meath man Dr O Griofa was chosen to live at the bottom of the sea with six others for eight days in by NASA’s underwater facility. His path to selection for this incredible opportunity came by way of medical studies and a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Limerick.

Selected as Flight Surgeon for Telemedicine for the mission, Dr O Griofa collected samples from each crew member to evaluate the impact of the underwater environment on the body.

Telemedicine is ‘the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology.’ A useful skillset for a doctor who could someday have to advise astroauts that will be 100’s of millions kilometres away on a distant planet.

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) involved a group of six astronauts, engineers and scientists living aboard the Aquarius habitat, 20 metres under the sea off the Florida coast for three weeks.

In the underwater facility, Dr O’Keeffe remotely monitored the ‘Aquanauts’ on their undersea experience as an official part of the NEEMO mission.


An Irishman Abroad

He oversaw the ‘Aquanauts’ physiological parameters and used this information to monitor crew health and to facilitate mission critical decisions.

“The Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analog for space exploration. NASA are also carrying out similar missions in other extreme environments, such as deserts, icefields and volcanoes around the world. Telemedicine provides us with the ability to monitor in real-time the ‘Aquanauts’ vitals. We can alert them if for some reason their heart rate goes too high or their blood pressure goes too low.”

Be sure to follow Dr O Griofa on Twitter as he regularly shares insights about what he described as the “the adventure of a lifetime”.

About the Author

Daniel Farrell
Interested in all things on the Irish coast and sharing the best of it. // Email: // Follow on Twitter: @DanielsSeaViews