Longueuil, Quebec, March 29, 2006 – Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dr. Dave Williams will be commander of the 18-day underwater NEEMO 9 mission, April 3 to 20, 2006, off Key Largo, Florida. Williams and his crew will conduct experiments using the latest remote surgical technologies and techniques, guided by Dr. Mehran Anvari, director of the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) in Hamilton, Ontario.

The NEEMO 9 mission will demonstrate and evaluate innovative remote medical care technologies and procedures. Canada can play a leading role in telerobotic surgery because its advanced space robotics technology, telecommunications capability, and visionary medical expertise have come together in a unique way. In the surgical simulations involving telementoring, Dr. Anvari, based in Hamilton, will use two-way high-speed telecommunication links to direct crewmembers in the underwater Aquarius habitat to perform complex medical procedures.

“The extreme conditions of a long underwater mission are similar to those of space,” said Dr. Williams, who participated in the first NEEMO mission and a 16-day space flight on the Space Shuttle Columbia. “The NEEMO 9 mission presents aquanauts and physicians with an unprecedented opportunity to test new medical technologies and state-of-the-art remote medical techniques in real-time and real-life situations. Someday, these capabilities could have important applications in supporting human exploration of the Moon and Mars.”

Another simulation involves telerobotics and virtual-reality technology, where Dr. Anvari will perform surgical procedures from Hamilton on a mock patient inside Aquarius over 2,000 kilometres away. Telerobotic surgery may change the future of medical care by providing advanced surgical procedures to rural communities, extending the reach that city-based teaching hospitals have to more remote areas of the country.

“Since its inception in 1999, the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery has developed techniques to overcome some of the challenges faced by physicians in isolated communities,” said Dr. Anvari. “We will test the latest techniques in an extreme environment on the NEEMO 9 mission. This work will have a major impact on current research and the development of new technologies, including new robotic and surgical platforms which can be used on Earth and beyond.”

The experiments will take place 19 metres below the surface of the sea in an underwater habitat called Aquarius. Located 5.6 km off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, this marine habitat is about the same size as the service module of the International Space Station. The underwater crew will also include Dr. Tim Broderick of the University of Cincinnati and NASA Astronauts Ronald Garan and Nicole Stott. Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield will act as back-up crew.

There have been eight NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) missions to date. NEEMO 9 is a joint project involving the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, the Canadian Space Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA).

About the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery

The Centre for Minimal Access Surgery is a McMaster University Centre located at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario. As a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary technological education and research centre, it is designed to increase the awareness and understanding, as well as support the research and development, of the specialized techniques of minimal access surgery. One of the primary goals of CMAS is to facilitate the training of physicians in remote parts of Canada, in order to increase the competence and scope of minimal access surgery in these areas.

About the Canadian Space Agency

Established in 1989, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) coordinates all civil, space-related policies and programs on behalf of the Government of Canada. CSA directs its resources and activities through four key thrusts: Earth Observation, Space Science and Exploration, Satellite Communications, and Space Awareness and Learning. By leveraging international cooperation, the CSA generates world-class scientific research and industrial development for the benefit of humanity.

  For more information:

Centre for Minimal Access Surgery
Kyla Szymczyk
Media and Public Relations
Tel.: (905) 522-1155, ext. 3549

Canadian Space Agency
Julie Simard
Media Relations
Tel.: (450) 926-4370