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Irish doctor becomes NASA's 'guinea pig' in eight-day research mission


Dr Marc Ó Gríofa (36) from Clonee, Co Meath works at NASA.

Dr Marc Ó Gríofa (36) from Clonee, Co Meath works at NASA.

Dr Marc Ó Gríofa (36) from Clonee, Co Meath works at NASA.

An Irish doctor is one of six people who has been selected to take part in a NASA undersea research mission next week.

Dr Marc Ó Gríofa (36) from Clonee, Co Meath will live some 19 metres under the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida for eight days in an undersea research station.

Though he will be living in sea conditions, he will live in simulated spacecraft conditions and be able to conduct simulated spacewalks outside of their undersea habitat.

The team will work on building a coral farm, and carry out tests in telemedicine, epigenetics, remotely operated underwater vehicles and telomere regeneration, which will be beneficial to astronauts and future space expeditions.

On Sunday, Dr Ó Gríofa will begin training with the crew, and on Monday they will descend down into the sea as part of the NASA NEEMO mission (or the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations programme).

Dr O’Griofa, who has worked in space research since 2006, told the Irish Independent that while conditions in the research station will be cramped, this is an experience that even astronauts themselves rate highly.

"It’s mimicking procedures that they would use on the surface of an astronoid. Underwater, the astronauts are linked by an umbilical for safety reasons. I used to be one of those divers that would be with the aquanauts or astronauts linked by the umbilical."

“I actually get to become an aquanaut this time. It’s one of the most exciting things I’ll ever do, even the astronauts would say this.”

“I’m the guinea pig," he joked. "For a guy who grew up in Clonee in the middle of nowhere, it’s not bad.”

"We'll be testing new excercise equipment and new nutritional benchmarks for astronauts. And outside of the habitat, we'll be rebuilding the coral farm which will be used on the Great Barrier Reef and places around the world."

Dr O’Griofa, who worked in emergency medicine in Ireland and studied a Phd in biomedical engineering, describes working for NASA as a personal dream.

He was part of the first Irish experiment on board the space shuttle and International Space Station in 2006, which dealt with a method of monitoring sleep disturbance and sleep stability in weightlessness.

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"This [mission] gives the opportunity to promote Ireland and Irish reseach. We really are at the cutting edge of the world. We have something to be proud of. I’m an alma mater of UCD, and projects by other alma mater at UCD around the world are changing the world."

“Coming over from Ireland it’s a very unique experience. When I was at Kennedy Space Centre, I got to sit in a space shuttle three days before it launched. For some people in Florida, this is what they grew up with, seeing rockets launch in the back garden, and they don’t even go out to see it. And I just think, are you mad?”

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