Living UnderwaterLatest update March 16, 2019 Started on February 12, 2019
During this expedition I study the changes in human physiology and psychology in response to living in an underwater habitat, at 60 feet deep, and explore the ocean, as part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).
I am happy to share the great news with you that the S.E.E. (Science Exploration Education) Initiative contacted me that they are donating an ROV for the project! So looking forward to working with the Trident ROV which will be an extremely valuable tool during the NEEMO mission, but first I will have to set it up for the specific experiments that I would like to use it for. I am going to keep you updated about the progress once I receive it and get the first underwater images!
In the meantime you can watch master filmmaker and explorer James Cameron and OpenROV co-founder David Lang discuss the S.E.E. Initiative at the National Geographic Explorers Festival: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/see
Before I would get into describing the experiments in more detail, I wanted to give an overview about the habitat itself, where the experiments take place. Aquarius is a fully equipped underwater laboratory and living space that has several components. It is a 82-ton double-lock pressure vessel that is about 14-meters long by 3-meters in diameter. The scientists enter and exit the habitat through the 20-m3 wet porch, which contains an open moon pool, dive equipment storage areas, and hot water heater and shower. The basic layout can be seen on the drawings.
After the wet porch the next compartment is the 14-m3 "entry lock," which contains bench space for computers and experiments, power equipment, life support controls, small viewports and bathroom facilities. The largest living space is the 40-m3 "main lock." It includes benches for the six-person crew, computer work stations, two large viewports, kitchen facilities that include a microwave, instant hot water dispenser, refrigerator, sink, and dining and work areas. The main lock also contains life support controls, so both the entry and main locks can be independently pressurized.
The Aquarius is standing on a 116-ton structure that provides a stable and level support base for the habitat. Each of the four legs contains 25 tons of lead ballast.
There is a constant 3 atmosphere absolute pressure inside the habitat, so a human body is going to start getting dangerously saturated with nitrogen if someone spends more time in there than the diving limits (22 min). After 24 hours the participants` body becomes completely saturated, that is when they are announced to become Aquanauts. Quickly returning to the surface from that point would be lethal.
The Aquarius Reef Base is an underwater habitat, located around 5 miles off Islamorada in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This undersea laboratory is sitting on the ocean floor at ~62 feet (19 meters) below the surface and is one of the three undersea laboratories in the world dedicated to science and education, to the study and preservation of marine ecosystems. Scientists here use cutting edge research to understand coral reefs, ocean acidification, climate change, fisheries and the overall ocean health.
The habitat also serves to test emerging technologies that can potentially be used in space missions in the future and can be used to study human physiology in response to living in saturation for extended periods of time. Of course, it presents a unique opportunity to study marine life from the habitat: it is possible to go out and walk on the seafloor as a simulated spacewalk (called extravehicular activity: EVA), but these visits are restricted in time and distance. Aquarius was built in Victoria, Texas, in 1986 and operations first began in the United States Virgin Islands, in St. Croix’s Salt River Canyon in 1988. After 13 missions and Hurricane Hugo, Aquarius was relocated to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1990 where it was refurbished and it was deployed at its present location in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The habitat is connected to a 10meter diameter life support buoy that floats over the habitat, which serves as a communication tower, it has over 70-square meters of inside workspace, two diesel-powered generators, two air compressors, VHF radios, a cell phone, and a microwave broadcasting system. It is linked to Aquarius by a three-inch diameter umbilical which is comprised of hoses that supply air from the compressors and oxygen from storage flasks, power lines from the generators, and data and communications cables. The microwave telemetry system provides reliable audio, video, and data transmission between Aquarius and shore. Usually 6 people stays in the habitat, which is a about the size of an RV.
Click on the link for an interactive virtual tour of the habitat! https://aquarius.fiu.edu/educators/aquarius-interactive/index.html
I have been so fortunate that in 2017 I was involved in the NEEMO 22 mission. If you are not familiar with this abbreviation: it stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. These couple-day long missions take place at an underwater habitat, called Aquarius Reef Base, off Key West once a year. It is a space analog, where they simulate space missions and often previous or future astronauts are the crew members together with scientists. One purpose of these missions is to prepare future astronauts for high stress situations, while continuously facing high task load in a confined space, from where there is no easy way to return. The other main objectives are to study changes in human physiology and psychology in response to living in saturation, as well as to test new technologies that potentially will be used during space missions in the future. Of course, living underwater for 10 days provides an excellent opportunity to study the ocean and its inhabitants in a way that otherwise would not be possible. We are starting to prepare for the next mission and I am excited to share this adventure with you as a National Geographic Open Explorer!
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