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Living Undersea Parallels Living in Space

by Bill Todd
September 23, 2000
Interviewer: Lori Keith



**The following pictures and captions are courtesy NOAA and UNC Wilmington. Aquarius images are © 1999, University of North Carolina at Wilmington. All rights reserved.

Map of Aquarius' location

The second week of October, from Monday the 9th through Friday the 15th, I will be living underwater off the coast of the Florida Keys, in a submersible deep-sea habitat called the Aquarius. The Aquarius is the only facility of its kind in the world, and up to this point has been primarily used to study and gather information about marine biology. It is owned by NOAA and is operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. NASA is interested in finding out if this deep-sea facility could also help us understand and prepare for long-term space travel. (The word facility, in this case, can also be interchanged with habitat and laboratory.)

Living underwater parallels living in space in many ways. The time frame for missions involves long periods of time away from normal environments and families. Communication with others is not always immediate. Because of the fact that in both environments one can not readily come home, nor ask for help whenever necessary, repairs and/or replacements must be able to be made if necessary.

While living under the sea, I will be down there long enough that my nitrogen levels will elevate to the point that I will not be able to come back up to the surface without going through 17 hours of decompression. While under water, I will be in a state of saturation (or what we call "in saturation"), which means that my body will be saturated with nitrogen.

During my stay under water, I will be going out every day on long deep dives and performing data collection, along with communicating to the Mission Control Center and the habitat (during the dives). I have also planned to chat with you Wednesday, October 11, at noon Eastern / 11 a.m. Central time / 10 a.m. Mountain / 9 a.m. Pacific. (The preceding are all United States time zones.) If you can't make the chat, you can post questions to the chat room ahead of time. Also, during the chat, you can open a second browser window and go to the Aquarius web site and while chatting you can view real time video and telemetry from the facility. Keep an eye on the Space Team Online homepage for a link to the event.

The habitat itself is 63 feet deep. It weighs 81 tons, and measures 43 feet x 20 feet x 16.5 feet. It has all the comforts of home including six bunks, a shower and toilet, instant hot water, a microwave, trash compactor, a refrigerator, and air conditioning. The computers onboard are linked back to the shore base, located in Key Largo, by wireless telemetry. You can view an online video about the Aquarius and take a virtual tour, if you like.

This undersea project is a joint effort between NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The mission is named SEATEST, which stands for Space Environment Analog, Testing and Evaluation of Systems and Training. The objectives are to evaluate the Aquarius facility as a tool to help develop concepts for habitation of space. It's also a project for NASA and NOAA to work jointly together to develop and exchange ideas on techniques and concepts for living and working in extreme environments.

Due to its location, it could possibly allow NASA to conduct a variety of research projects from an environment that is a very close analog to space. During this mission, NASA personnel will evaluate the facility for its future use in such areas as Mars exploration, physiological and psychological studies, astronaut training, scientific data collection training in extreme environments, and as a platform to communicate with the space shuttle and space station in sea-to-space link-ups.

I am excited about this project and the opportunity of exploring undersea and space worlds -- two of my favorite things. :-)

**The following pictures and captions are courtesy NOAA and UNC Wilmington. Aquarius images are © 1999, University of North Carolina at Wilmington. All rights reserved.

Further reproduction prohibited.

Photo of Aquarius
Aquarius at Conch Reef, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Aquarius is deployed in a sand patch at a depth of 63 feet.
Photo of gazebo deck attached to Aquarius Photo of diver approaching Aquarius
The gazebo deck outside the Aquarius wet porch serves as staging area for aquanauts, before they move to their work sites on the reef. The gazebo also serves as a refuge if the aquanauts are required to abandon Aquarius due to a fire, flooding, or atmospheric contamination - this has never happened! Scuba diver at the bow end, or bunk room end, of Aquarius. The bunkroom view port is visible. Between missions the protective cover is lifted in place to reduce algal growth on the acrylic window.


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