Evening Lectures - Ocala

Dawn Kernagis

THE TALK: NEEMO 21 Mission: Going Undersea to Get to Outerspace

January 19, 2017


NEEMO is a NASA mission that sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in Aquarius, the world’s only undersea research station. The Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analog for space exploration and for testing emerging technology and protocol for long duration space operations. This summer, Dawn Kernagis had the opportunity to join NEEMO as both a crew member and a researcher, living underwater for 8 days with 5 other crew members. Dawn will provide an overview of the NEEMO 21 mission, including the crew’s training, experience of living and working underwater, and over a dozen mission objectives ranging from telemedicine to robotics to genetics.


Dr. Dawn Kernagis is a Research Scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, where she studies human performance optimization and risk mitigation for operators in extreme environments, such as those working in undersea diving, high altitude aviation, and space. Dr. Kernagis came to IHMC from Duke University Medical Center, where her postdoctoral research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the American Heart Association to identify pathophysiological mechanisms and potential therapeutic targets in multiple forms of acute brain injury. Dr. Kernagis completed her PhD at Duke University as ONR Undersea Medicine’s first Predoctoral Award recipient. Her thesis research focused on how genetics play a role in decompression sickness in Navy divers. Before pursuing her PhD, Dawn completed her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at North Carolina State University, and she held an internship at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where she coordinated a study investigating differential carbon dioxide retention in scuba, rebreather, and breath–hold divers. She also worked on research projects through Duke’s Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology, including Immersion Pulmonary Edema (Navy), Flying After Diving (DAN) and EVA Oxygen Prebreathe (NASA). Prior to her research career, Dawn was a diver and leader of numerous underwater exploration, research, and conservation projects around the world since 1993, including the deep underwater exploration of Wakulla Springs Cave and surrounding caves for over a decade. Based on her extensive underwater exploration, mentorship, and research experience in the diving community, she was selected as an inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Class of 2016. In 2016, Dawn was also selected as one of six crew members to join NASA’s 21st undersea mission, NEEMO.

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