Published: Tue, June 20, 2017 @ 12:05 a.m.
By Jordyn Grzelewski
Trevor Graff’s journey below the sea, where he is part of an underwater NASA mission doing research that will be used in future space explorations, began here in the Mahoning Valley.
Graff, originally from Cortland, is a 1999 graduate of Youngstown State University, where he studied geology and earth science. In a phone call from the Aquarius laboratory that is stationed 62 feet below the ocean surface near Key Largo, Fla., Graff credited his experience at YSU with sparking his interest in planetary science.
“I would say that Youngstown, and Youngstown State in particular, put me on this path,” he said.
He noted that Ray Beiersdorfer, a YSU professor of geological and environmental sciences, helped him get a position at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Graff is now a planetary scientist at JSC’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division. He is the first ARES staff member to work as an aquanaut.
Participating in a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) expedition is something Graff has long wanted to do, he said.
“Both me and my wife are scuba instructors,” he said. “The combination of that, the diving that occurs here at NEEMO and the space connection – those two things coming together is a dream come true.”
During the 10-day operation, which began Sunday, the team will conduct research related to exploration spacewalks, the International Space Station and deep-space missions. The underwater station is an “analog” for space, meaning it produces similar effects on the body as space would. According to NASA, analog missions help prepare the agency for “near-future exploration to asteroids, Mars and the moon.”
Graff said the mission so far has kept him busy. He’s gone on multiple EVAs – extravehicular activities – and also has been busy inside the Aquarius.
“It covers the whole gamut,” he said of the team’s research. “When we leave the habitat, we become hard-hat divers. We go out and do marine-science tasks. We use those for a proxy of doing planetary science.”
Inside the station, he said, the team experiments with devices that will go to the International Space Station. For example, they have been working on a DNA-sequencing device.
According to NASA, this NEEMO team will test space-flight equipment, “validate technology for precisely tracking equipment in a habitat,” participate in studies of body composition and sleep and assess hardware that will help evacuate someone who has been injured in a lunar spacewalk.
Given his passion for planetary science, Graff is excited his work will contribute to the field in this way.
“It’s really hard to believe,” he said. “I really love space. I’ve gotten the chance to control the rovers on Mars – or at least an instrument on those rovers. Now, to do something like this that’s part of human space flight is really fun and exciting.”
“Sometimes you have to stop and remember the important work that we’re doing because it is really fun and rewarding,” he added. “I love every minute of it.”