UCD Medicine Alumnus Participates in Underwater NASA Mission
UCD alumnus, Dr Marc Ó Gríofa (UCD Medicine 2006) recently participated in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 21 (NEEMO 21 Mission) living with the other five researchers for eight days in simulated space-craft conditions under the Atlantic Oceans to test out new techniques, technologies and procedures in preparation for future missions either to an asteroid or going to the surface of Mars. Dr Ó Griofa used the opportunity to highlight the ongoing contribution of Irish science to space exploration and participated via video link from the bottom of the ocean to Irish research collaborators and students.
On NEEMO 21, Dr Ó Gríofa and the rest of the team lived in a small space station (about 200 square feet) on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The NEEMO missions are used to test tools and techniques that could be used in future space exploration missions. On board the Aquarious Reef Base craft was a small science laboratory with a facilities for DNA sequencing as well as communication tools to assist underwater 'spacewalks' as the aquanauts collected samples for marine biology and geology studies during their mission.
In so called as 'Wet Porch', divers could get ready and suit up to go out to the moon pool and do ‘spacewalk’ on the sea floor underneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr O Gríofa mentioned,
When we leave the Aquarius Habitat and we are on the sea floor, NASA have perfected mechanism where we can actually weigh the astronaut out. You can actually create neutral buoyancy on the sea floor where effectively the astronaut will be weightless, very similar to what we do with the Johnson Space Centre, the Neural Buoyancy Lab, where we actually have astronauts in a massive swimming pool, where we have effectively a full scale mark-up of a space station under the water and the astronaut literally go step by step by step practising hand hold using a tool and so on.
We will do exactly the same thing on the sea floor. We can simulate zero gravity, we can simulate one third gravity similar to what is on the Martian surface or one sixth gravity - what you would see on the lunar surface on that the surface of the moon.
Dr Marc Ó Gríofa studied Medicine at University College Dublin graduating in 2006. His research mainly focuses on a combination of telemedicine technology and telomere genetics research. For the past several years, he has been involved in the NASA NEEMO project as a rescue top site support diver and a Medical Officer. He spent three years at Kennedy Space Centre as part of the triage team for the Space Shuttle Programme. He was also the principle investigator for Project CASPER, which was the first Irish experiment to fly onboard the International Space Station.
Although he has taken what he describes as a 'slightly unconventional career path in medicine', Dr Ó Griofa is keen to demonstrate the multitude of options available to medicine graduates and has generously attributed his success to date to his time in UCD. He took the opportunity to highlight his ongoing connections with Irish research and kindly participated in a video link to his research collaborators in Ireland including Dr Derek O'Keffee who now leads the CASPER project in NUI Galway.