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ISS - A Home in Microgravity

Aquarius, an Analog to Space Travel

May 15, 2002


Screen shows Sherri and Chris

Sherri: Hello and welcome to living and working in extreme environment. I’m Sherri Jurls.

Chris: And I’m Chris Born.

Sherri: And we’re going to be your hosts for today’s program. You guys have heard of outer space, right? Well today, we’re going to take you to inner space. The special place we’re going to visit today is called the Aquarius Habitat.

Chris: And this morning we’re going to look at how NASA astronauts are training under water for preparing to live and work in space.

Sherri: So to get this program started, Chris, let’s take a look at how NASA and Aquarius are teaming up to create this unique learning experience.

Screen shows NASA logo titled Sea to

Space Connection

Narrator: Undersea Habitat was completed in October of 2001. The primary objectives of this mission were to explore opportunities for using the Aquarius Habitat as an analog for space flight and long-duration space habitation and to identify areas for transfer of ideas and technologies between NASA.

Screen shows NOAA, National Oceanicgraphic and Atmospheric Administration logo

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Screen shows underwater shot of scuba divers

Multiple directorates at the Johnson Space Center worked together with the National Undersea Research Center to accomplish this mission during the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO project.

Screen shows underwater shots of sea life

Many tasks and science objectives were evaluated and accomplished such as techniques for operating in extreme environments, crew and mission controller interaction, and leadership and interpersonal skills training for the astronauts and aquanauts.

Screen shows layout of AQUARIUS undersea research laboratory

The Aquarius itself is the only undersea research laboratory in the world.

Screen shows logo of UNCW, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

It is owned by NOAH and managed by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Screen shows location of the AQUARIUS off Florida Keys

It is located five miles off of Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Screen shows deep coral reefs

It is deployed next to deep coral reefs, 60 feet below the surface. It is similar in size to the International Space Station service module, measuring approximately 45 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. Like its outer-space counterpart, Aquarius aquanauts live, perform research and explore in an extreme and sometimes hostile environment.

Screen shows aquanauts exploring undersea environment

Aquarius aquanauts and scientists live in a saturated environment. Equivalent to a depth of 50 feet. This gives them the ability to work on the reefs outside the habitat for extended periods of time. However, they must go through a 16-hour decompression profile in the habitat before returning to the surface.

Screen shows crew member holding white board indicating mission date

The first mission by an all-NASA team in Aquarius was completed in October 2001. It lasted seven days and six nights with the crew returning to the surface on October 27th, 2001.

Screen shows crew members

The crew for the mission included Mission Lead Bill Todd from the Mission Operations Directorate at the Johnson Space Center. Astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria from the Flight Crew Operations Directorate. Astronaut Mike Gernhardt also from the Flight Crew Operations Directorate, and astronaut Dave Williams from the Life Sciences Directorate.

Screen show picture of entire crew

The top-side support team was Mark Reagan from the Mission Operations Directorate and Monica Schulz from the Flight Crew Operations Directorate.

Screen shows NURC, National Undersea Research Center site

All of the training for the mission was conducted at the National Undersea Research Center over a period of six days. The entire team stayed directly adjacent to the NURC operations building at their crew quarters.

Screen shows training components of team

The training consisted of a fairly rigorous schedule of equipment briefings, swim tests, in-water diver training, including site and equipment familiarization, science briefings, and habitat visits.

Screen shows series of crew in saturated environment

During the actual mission, four NASA aquanauts spent seven days living and working in a saturated environment and accomplished all of the mission objectives.

Some of the accomplishments were running from a mission timeline similar to that used on the International Space Station with all activities scheduled and completed per the timeline, linking audio and video communications with the Mission Control Center in Houston, performing credible space-analog science tests for NOAH Research, performing a detailed test objective on an underwater communications system for aquanauts, performing environmental science inside the habitat on acoustics, lighting and human factors, using a variety of scientific research instruments, hosting five educational outreach events, reaching millions of school kids on real-time video and audio, which highlighted the similarities between living in the extreme environments of inner and outer space.

Screen shows crew establishing communication with international space station

Conducting a communication link up with the International Space Station crew on orbit, and finally, documenting representative training and mission activities by video and still camera.

At mission completion, the overwhelming opinion by all participants was that this was an excellent analog and is very applicable to the training and research that the Johnson Space Center performs.

Screen shows crew members working to complete underwater mission

The management and staff of the National Undersea Research Center were extremely professional and did everything possible to make the NASA mission a success. Their obvious commitment to safety was impressive. They understand that our objectives are different than those of previous missions, and went to tremendous lengths to facilitate our communication, science and technical needs.

The National Undersea Research Center and the Aquarius Habitat have proven to be an ideal match for the objectives NASA brings to the project.

Back to Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well now it’s time to meet the Aquarius crew. Aquarius, this is Houston, are you ready for the event?

M: Yes we are, we’re ready.

Sherri: Great. Well it’s great to see all of you guys.

M: We’re ready.

Sherri: How’s everyone down there today?

M: Doing very well.

F: Great.

Sherri: Wow, got a couple of you inside, a couple of you outside. Well why don’t you guys take a few minutes and give us an introduction of yourselves and the mission that you’re working on.

Screen shows Sunny Williams inside NEEMO

Sunny: Sounds great. Hi, my name is Sunny Williams, I’m in the 1998 class of astronauts called the penguin, and I’m one of the lucky members to be here on the NEEMO II crew. Just, Dan and I just came in from swimming outside and we’ll let everybody else introduce themselves before we tell you what we’re doing.

Dan: I’m Dan [Tonny] and I’ve been an astronaut for six years now. And I got to go on my first mission to the International Space Station last December on SCS 108. And so I’m the lucky one to have been 200 miles above the Earth and now 60 feet below sea level.

And the students that are out here will try to introduce themselves, but you probably won’t be able to hear them very well from outside. We’ve got Mark Reagan. He’s one of our instructors for the International Space Station. And it’s a great opportunity for him to come down and find out what it’s like to live in an expedition.

And then next to him is Mike Fink, also a member of my class, the class of 1996 and he’s scheduled to go up to live on the Space Station later next year. So, this will give him a little bit of an introduction of what it’s like to live in a expedition type of atmosphere.

Sherri: Okay, well thanks so much for telling us about yourselves.

Back to Sherri and Chris on screen

And it’s so funny to see those two faces floating outside the window there of your habitat. This is truly a unique experience for all of us out here in World Wide Web land, to be visiting with you. We do thank you for spending some time with us.

Do you want to spend a few moments, Sunny and Dan, and the rest of the team talking specifically about what this mission is that you’re working on, on Aquarius?

Screen shows Sunny inside NEEMO with two divers outside port hole

Sunny: Sure. Shortly you’ll be able to see these two guys in action down working on the site. But let us just tell you a little bit about what we’ve been doing since we’ve been down here.

We got down here two days ago, came after a week of training up at Key Largo. We started living in this habitat, working in the area just around here, and getting to know the area. Working on the boundary-, going out on the boundary lines and just checking out there, making sure we weren’t going to get lost when we were out on our excursions.

And that all culminated here today with the start of our construction task. We’re working on building a few pieces, a few construction pieces. Dan and I are one team, and Mark and Mike on another team and eventually we’re going to build these two pieces of equipment together. But you’ll see some video of that coming up pretty shortly, pretty soon. Mike and Mark are going to head that way and we’ll show you exactly what they’re doing down there.

And of course along with that, we’ve been living down here all night and all day. No breaks to the surface or anything like that for the last three days, and we’re going to be down here for another week or so.

Back to Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Thank you so much. And we have started having so many questions start rolling in, let’s go ahead and get started. We will be taking your questions out there in worldwide Web land that are submitted into the chat room and asking the astronaut and aquanauts your questions.

The first question we have is, Sunny, we’ve got students from your home town of Needams saying "hi." They logged in. And want to make sure that you know that they are watching you today and will be submitting questions. So, nice to make that connection with you.

We do have a question.

Sunny: Oh wait, hi. Hi, how you doing?

Screen shows Sunny in underwater facility

Sherri: What’s it like underwater when you’re- is it like what you look like when you’re underwater in a submarine?

Sunny: Well I’m from a Navy background, but I’ve only been on a submarine once, so I’m not quite sure how that correlates and goes. So I’m not sure what it looks like while you’re underwater looking out a porthole from a submarine. But I tell you, from our view in here, looking out the windows right here and looking with your mask on, things look pretty much the same from that perspective.

I think some of the colors get a little bit muted though. You don’t see all of the colors underwater.

Back to Sherri and Chris on screen

Are we back with you, Sherri?

Sherri: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for that question. And well answering that question so thoroughly.

Chris: Well Dan, I have a question for you. Since your flight a few months ago, how does it compare living in the habitat to going into outer space?

Screen shows exterior shot of facility then interior shot with Sunny and Dan

Dan: So far the biggest similarity I think has been in our training, preparing for this mission. We do call this a mission, and preparing for this mission has been just like preparing for a space flight. There are so many things we have to learn about not only the science and what we’re going to be doing down here, but how to live down here, having to deal with all sorts of emergencies that this extreme environment can present to us.

So we’ve had a week to learn everything down here in Florida. For a space flight it took us a whole year. But the intensity and the importance of that training was all very similar. And then once we’re down here, it feels pretty much like being in space in that we’re a small team of people.

We’ve become really good friends during our training, we’re having a lot of fun, but we’re also hard at work all day. We wake up and from the word go, we’re working pretty hard and when it’s time to go to bed, we’re really tired. But we’re having a really fun time. It’s really an unusual place to be living and in those respects, it’s just like being in space.

Back to Sherri and Chris on Screen

Chris: Would you say your training from the NBL has helped you that’s similar to some of the training you’ve received there?

Back to Sunny and Dan at NEEMO

Dan: Well, the training that we get in the NBL, which is the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the giant swimming pool that we have at the Johnson Space Center that we use for space-walk training, I would say the best training I got at the NBL to prepare me for this NEEMO mission is all the scuba dives we get to do, because with only a week to train us to be very competent scuba divers, because we scuba dive about five hours a day when we’re down here, we had to get very comfortable in the water and so I would attribute the, a lot of help and a lot of preparation both in the NBL doing scuba dives for coming down here.

Back to Sunny and Dan at NEEMO

Sherri: All right, well we’ve got another question rolling in. Wants to know, the students would like to know how do you see mechanical engineering playing an important role in deep-sea research?

Sherri and Chris on screen.

Dan: Well I’ll talk about that since I’m a mechanical engineer by training. I have two degrees in mechanical engineering.

Sunny and Dan on screen

Just today we were putting together, Sunny and I were putting together our part of the little task construction task we had. And it involves putting tubes together, putting bolts through and sort of understanding mentally how things get, fitted together. And I would say that training was real valuable in my portion of this particular task. But not very similar to doing a space walk, an EDA where we go outside in the International Space Station, and we put things together.

We have to visualize how the mechanism works for fitting thing together, how the fastener gets attached and then how loads get transmitted to this structure. So I feel lucky as a mechanical engineer being involved in this, because I feel like I have just a little bit of a head start over the people who don’t have that training.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Dan, as a follow up to that, in what ways, the students want to know, could instruments be improved, for instance?

Screen shows underwater shot of scuba diver

Dan: If the question is about tools, if we could improve on tools, then those kind of instruments. I would say that certainly for space flight and for this type of work, there are specialists that make tools specifically for the job. And we refine them so that they not only do the job that the tool is supposed to do, but also to be safe and effective using like in the space flight, the big gloves that we have to use or down here in the water, stuff that is resilient to the water and the salt that it’s exposed to.

So we do, and we do improve on tools that we use specifically for these purposes.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: I kind of have a question for the whole team.

Screen shows underwater shot of Mike and Mark working on the project

Dan: I was just going to say that right now if you can see, I think the view outside of the hab where Mike and Mark are actually working on their part of the construction task. And I’m looking at it now. It looks like you have a pretty good view, if you’re looking at the same thing I am.

So while they’re out there, they’re in the area where they can receive communications from us and you might be able to hear them if you have a question for them.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: This would be a good question for them. How does the communications between your divers out there and the Habitat, is that more of a challenge for them to do their work than say when you’re on a space walk and you’re trying to talk back to the shuttle or the Orbiter or the Space Station?

Screen shows Mike and Mark working outside the NEEMO facility underwater

Dan: Well, we have a way of asking that question out to them, and then you should be able to hear the response. So we’re going to ask that question over a loudspeaker that we have here out into the water. Standby one.

Sherri and Chris on screen


Mike and Mark working underwater

Dan: He’s saying [inaudible]. Here’s the question. The question is, how does the communication between Aquarius and the divers compare with the communication that space walkers have during a space walk, over?

Mike: We [inaudible].

Dan: Were you able to hear that answer, Houston?

Sherri: I’m afraid we weren’t able to make that out too clearly.

Dan: The, let me first explain that when we do these dives, we’re wearing special masks where we can actually talk during those dives. It’s a very special piece of equipment that allows you to take the air mouthpiece out of your mouth and speak into a microphone. And it’s very complex equipment and sometimes the signals don’t, aren’t really easy to understand once you come back to the habitat and that [endo] communication system as we’re finding.

But the basic answer is that yes, it’s very similar. We have radio communication between the people outside and the people inside and in fact, we use special words so that we understand what each people are saying. And that we have call signs for each individual so that we know exactly who we’re talking to.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: All right, well Miss Wilson’s sixth grade class writes in and wants to know what does NASA hope to learn or gain from training in the Aquarius habitat?

Screen shows Mike and Mark working underwater

Sunny: Well sort of like we were alluding to earlier, the habitat is a great analog for living in a space station. Though it’s a little bit shorter, we’re only going to be here for about a little bit over a week. It gives us a good chance to live in isolation, sort of like it is living in a space station.

We don’t have the option of going up to the surface and seeing anybody, because we’re living in a thing called saturation, which does not allow you to be able to go to the surface and leave. We need to go through at least about 17 hours of decompression time to get back up to the surface because of what’s going on with your body and breathing pressurized air in this environment.

Sunny and Dan inside the NEEMO facility

So it’s quite a bit like living in space, and some of the communication issues, which you just heard like two people outside trying to talk to the hab, and trying to talk to Houston, it’s very similar to the difficulties we have when we’re living in space and trying to talk to the Space Station or the space shuttle, and also trying to talk to Houston. So those things are very, very similar.

And also of course the close quarters and living with six people down in this small confined space. We don’t quite get a chance to get away from them that much and you sort of have to get used to that. And that’s just what it’s going to be like living in space.

Sherri and Dan on screen

Sherri: Okay Sunny, thank you. Well along the lines of communication that you’re talking about and the tight living quarters, Dan, I’m going to direct this question to you. We have a question that has rolled in and a student wants to know do you feel that having a female onboard changes the way that everyone communicates, as opposed to an all-male crew?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Dan: Gosh that’s a difficult question. Mainly because there’s not much thought - when you train as a crew very closely and you’re with them all day and you’re working with them, I think we start to forget the differences that we have as men and women, or people of different nations, or different backgrounds or different accents. And you think of them as your crew mates, part of your family that you live with and you work with and who have strengths in certain areas and weaknesses in other areas.

And so certainly there are differences, but in the work atmosphere or the atmosphere environment of an expedition where we’re living in close quarters and sharing food and sharing air and all sorts of things, you actually I think I’d have to say you have to learn to forget those differences and work together as a crew.

The biggest difference working with Sunny is that she makes her bed every day and so there’s a lot of pressure on us to make our bed every day, because we don’t want to look bad around her. So I would say that’s probably the only difference, or the biggest thing that has affected us having her around. But that can be anybody. And I don’t want to downplay the differences that we all have, because that’s a strength to us as a team, but those differences are something we actually enjoy, and we don’t see it as any kind of problem as a crew.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: I can sympathize with Sunny. I can remember some of my saturations where I’d wished the other aquanauts made their bunks too, so. A question that we have coming in is how do you keep the water out of the Habitat?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: Well actually, a little bit later on, I think I’m going to tour, so you get to see the wet spots, so you see where the water actually is almost coming into the Habitat, but I guess a quick answer to that is that we’re at a pressure, which is equal to the area around us, which is keeping the water out, from flooding this living quarters.

Dan: It’s as if you took a drinking glass and you put it upside down, you’d turn it upside down, and then put it into the bathtub and then the air that’s trapped in there can’t get out because of the, because the glass doesn’t allow it to. And that’s sort of the big idea down here. We’re sort of a big container that’s put neck down into the water, so that all the air is trapped in here. And we do get refreshed air. And as we refresh the air, air actually kind of escapes out the bottom of the habitat and you hear that going on all the time. So that’s sort of the pressure of the water that keeps the water out.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: When you go into saturation, you have to list all the items that you’re brining in because of the materials, to ensure that they’re safe to go in the Habitat. Do you go through something similar when you’re going on a flight?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Dan: Yeah, absolutely. They want to know every single screw and washer and item of clothing and everything that we bring onboard. In fact, almost everything that we bring onboard a space flight is provided by NASA or its contractors. We’re only allowed to bring a very few personal items with us. For instance if we wanted to bring a-, for instance all the pencils and pens that we bring up are provided for us, so that they’re verified to be safe.

I was able to bring some photographs of my family and my wife with me. I was able to bring a couple trinkets, pieces of jewelry from my mom and my family. So everything that goes on board the space shuttle and the Space Station, is very well documented and we’re only allowed to bring on a few personal items with us.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well Jonathan is a 10th grade student and he wants to know have all of you flown in space and if so, which do you prefer? Living in space or living underwater?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: I haven’t flown in space yet. Like I said I’m the 1998 class of astronauts. So we’ll probably be assigned in the next couple of years. And so probably fly in the next couple of years. In our introduction, Mark Reagan is one of our trainers and so he’s in line eventually.

And then there’s Spanky, Mike Fink who is out working on the construction task with Mark and he’s assigned to Expedition 9 to be going in space in about a year and a half from now.

Dan: So I’m the only lucky one that’s been able to both be in space and be in this Habitat on this trip. There’s a group that came here from NASA last fall and a couple of the astronauts there had flown.

In terms of which I prefer, they’re both incredible places to live. I said it’s like playing fort in one of the really coolest forts that you’ve ever seen in the coolest backyard. Because you’ve got a really neat little, almost I was going to say rocket ship, but an undersea ship here with all the valves and cool stuff. And you’ve got an incredible view out the window with stuff swimming by, looking in at us.

But space is really cool too. It’s, the view out the window of the Earth going by is spectacular, plus you get the benefit of being in a zero-gravity environment. So you float around and flip around, kind of like swimming here, but you get to do it inside and so, it’s hard to pick a favorite but if you really force me to, I’d say that I’m looking forward to going back into space. But I think it’s really cool down here too.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well Sunny and Dan, you’ve talked about this neat underwater ship that you’ve got there and Sunny was telling us about the wet porch. Would you mind taking a few moments and showing all of us around this habitat that you’re actually living in? It’s great to see the window and be able to see outside. But will you take us around?

Screen shows Sunny in the galley with table and window

Sunny: Certainly. Stand by. We’re in the galley right now, where Dan and I are sitting, and talking to you. We’re just going to give you a quick look around the galley. Of course here is the table and the window which we get to look out while we’re eating. It’s a pretty awesome view, like Dan was explaining earlier.

I’m going to go to the front of the Habitat and then take you around to the back.

Screen shows Sunny by the refrigerator

It’s a little bit forward in front of me is the refrigerator where we keep a couple things cold to drink. It’s pretty cold down here in general, so a lot of things we don’t have to refrigerate, but we have a couple things in the refrigerator.

And forward of that, moving forward is our bunk room.

Screen shows Sunny in the bunk room

And you can see this is where all six of us stay and again just like the dining area, we’ve got a nice big window, so all the lights go out you can sit here and look at fish go by.

Screen shows view from the bunk room port hole

We’ve got a couple of lights outside and this really makes for some really good fish viewing at night, because some of them are attracted to the light and like to come and swim by.

So it’s a little bit small in here, but it’s roomy enough and surprisingly enough, you get a really great night’s sleep underwater here.

Screen shows interior shot of storage areas

We all have our little personal areas inside the bunk room, a couple of areas where we can keep our stuff. A picture of my dog, that I keep right here. I made Dan put that on the video.

And then moving forward a little bit in the same room as the galley, this is called the main walk. On the starboard side, this is fore, fore looking toward the bunk room. On the starboard side is all of the controls and electrical equipment to actually run the habitat.

Like I said earlier, we’re going to go through a thing called decompression when we’re coming back out of here, and we need to come back up to the surface, and we’re going to have to decompress the whole chamber and our film techs who are down here with us [inaudible] over here are the ones who are going to be working the whole control panel.

Battery low warning. Switch cameras

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Okay, well while you’re switching we do have a quick question for you. Andrew and Tyler are from Needam, Sunny, and they want to know do your ears pop while you’re underwater there in the Habitat?

Screen shows Sunny sitting at the table

Sunny: Actually quite a bit. While we’re here, when we get pressure surges going by and waves going by, you can actually feel your ears moving back and forth, just like as though you’re going up and down in the water column. Of course when we first came down here, we had to do a lot of equalization and then you get used to it a little bit. But then you’re pretty good, at this step. But like I said, whenever a big wave comes by or anything like that, you can feel it in your ears.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: Sunny you were in the Navy. Did you do any diving while you were in the Navy?

Screen shows Sunny sitting at the table

Sunny: Actually I was lucky enough to go through a thing called Basic Diving Officer’s School, which is in Panama City, Florida. So right around the coast from here. And did a little bit of scuba diving and surface supply diving, which is diving where air is coming actually from the surface. And you also have communications. And part of that is a diving type of, a diving and salvage school. But I never did any saturated diving. This is brand-new for me.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: We have a follow up. Someone wants to know how hard was your training and were your instructors nice?

Sunny: Oh, they’re all nice in a certain way. I’ve been in the Navy for quite some time, since 1987. And so I think it’s just the normal military stuff. I think some of the movies have, some are truths, some of them have some fallacies in their work. Not everybody’s real nice, but they’re getting you to a common goal so everybody appreciates the same thing and understands the same thing. So I think everybody was nice in general.

Dan: I think they’re talking about the training.

Sunny: Are you talking about training here?

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well, that’ll be fun if you could let us know about your training there, too, in comparison.

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: Right here has been great, actually. Like the camera techs that I was just previously talking about, [inaudible], there’s a whole group of people up on the surface who trained us for the first week that we were here. Taught us how to use the gear we have, which is a little bit different than normal scuba diving gear. It’s actually optimized for cave diving and has a couple special concerns that are associated with it. And they were wonderful.

They pretty much made us 100% confident in the job that we have to do down here. So they were great.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: Well Hanna from Needam would like to ask what kind of food are you eating down there? Can you show us some of the food you’re eating?

Sunny showing food stores in the galley

Sunny: Sure. Let’s see if we can get this video tape rolling once again. And right above the galley here, where I’m sitting, is where we store all of our food. And right here we’ve got a bunch of stuff called Mountain House, which is freeze-dried type of food that’s usually used on a camping trip and stuff like that. And that’s pretty good. All you have to do is add hot water to that.

Above that is all the space food, typical space food. And then it’s all freeze-dried, so it looks a little bit not so nice in these packages here, like sausage patty and [inaudible]. All we have to do is cut them up and then put some hot water on there. That’s the main type of food we’re eating. In the refrigerator we have stuff like [inaudible].

Sunny shows different shots of good in the galley.

And then of course you can’t go anywhere without having your whole stack of sort of junk food. We eat pretzels, candy, pop-tarts and all that kind of stuff. So that’s the easy morning food. So, it’s a little smattering of everything and we just wanted to get used to some of the space food and try it out while we’re down here. And see how our taste buds have changed, but of course you’ve got to have the little staples.

Sherri and Chris on screen

How about if we finish our tour, Sherri?

Sherri: That sounds great, Sunny.

Shows shot moving through the interior of the Habitat

Sunny: Okay, we’re going to move aft in the Habitat [inaudible] the entry lock into the wet porch. Excuse me.

Okay [inaudible] in the entry lock, this is sort of a working area on, what you’re looking at right now is where all our computer setup is and all our communications back up to surface. Just getting a quick look.

Camera shot showing array of equipment

On his right-hand side where you’re turning to now, you’re probably seeing four and then there’s the second area and we can equalize the pressure in the entry lock. And then it’s sort of like a scientist’s work table. We also use it as our place where we brush our teeth and do all of our bathroom type things.

Camera moves to the wet porch chamber

Behind here is the door to the wet porch, and we’ll show you how to operate and release the door. It’s interesting. We’ve got doors on either side of the doorway there to allow to add pressure and decrease pressure on either side. And now again is walking into the wet porch and we can see that’s where we have all of our equipment, our wet suits, our fins, our tanks and that’s how we get in and out of the habitat.

Well, Mike and Mark actually should be coming up pretty soon. And we might even get a chance to see them coming up into the wet porch.

Sherri and Chris back on screen

Chris: Well Sunny, now do you all-, we always have to ask this question. How do you go to the bathroom in the Aquarius?

Sunny: Oh okay, Dan is point at me, which means that I have to talk about this.

Sunny sitting at the galley table

One interesting thing, we did sort of bypass there, there is a small bathroom, toilet facility here in the entry lock. However we don’t in general use that. We use that when we’re in decompression for 17 hours because we won’t be able to leave the Habitat.

But in general, we have a gazebo outside, right outside of the wet porch and you’re required to swim, it’s about maybe a meter away from the wet porch, swim underneath the wet porch and into the gazebo. And then do your stuff out there in the gazebo.

Dan: Just like the fish.

Sunny: And just like the fish do, we’ve come to find out. So that’s something you do outside and then you come back in.

Dan: Probably not the answer you wanted to hear.

Sherri: Oh I’m sorry Dan, go ahead.

Dan: No, that’s okay. Sorry, go ahead.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Okay, [inaudible] from Miss Prichard’s class and wants to know what would happen to you guys in the underwater habitat there if there was a big storm?

Sunny and Dan sitting at the galley table

Dan: Since we’re so far underwater, about 45-50 feet underwater, if there’s a storm that’s not bad, we would, there would be some waves and we would be able to feel it probably, the pressure in our ears. But it we wouldn’t, it wouldn’t rock us over, it wouldn’t disturb the habitat. The, if there was a very large storm, like a hurricane, probably the biggest concern, not only to our safety down here because of the moving of the water, would be the ability for boats to come out and get us if we had any other type of emergency out here.

We have boats that can be out here in about a half an hour, in an emergency. So in the case of a very bad storm, like a hurricane, they would come and get us and we would go through our decompression so that we could go to the surface and then head for safety. I would say mainly because the surface people can’t get to us in case of another emergency, not that anything, a storm 50 feet above us would affect our living down here.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: What’s the environment like in the habitat? Is it cool, hot, is it fairly dry? How does it feel inside?

Sunny and Dan sitting at the galley table

Sunny: Actually it’s quite a change from one area to the next as you can probably imagine. Wet porch is pretty humid. I think it’s about 98% humidity and it’s pretty warm, it’s body temperature so it’s in the 90s. So once you get into the entry lock, and then into the main lock, it starts to cool down quite a bit. And actually we keep it pretty cold. I’d say it’s probably around 70 degrees. And I’m usually wearing socks walking around here because it’s pretty chilly.

And I think it’s about 80% humidity in here, and that varies if the doors are open. But in general, it’s very comfortable in the main lock and the entry lock.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: How’s the outside water temperature been for your dives?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: The water temperature outside is actually, is pretty nice. I think it’s about around 70-75 degrees. We are out there for 2.5 hours, 2-2.5 hours at a time during our "EBAs" and so is does get pretty cold. We’re pretty outfitted though. We have a dive skin on just for under-layer [protecting] and then what they call a Farmer John, which is a log wet suit for your legs and it comes up to your arms right here. And then what we call a shorty wet suit which is like a short but it has full arms. And so we’re pretty piled up with Neoprene and still get the, or me at least, a little chilly at about the two-hour mark.

I came back in and had a couple of bowls of soup before I was [inaudible] discussing [inaudible] little chilly.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: A student writes in and wants to know what kind of tasks are the divers outside working on right now?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: We showed you a little video clip earlier of Mike and Mark and actually it wasn’t a video clip, it was live action of them working on their construction task. What we are tasked to do is similar to space, is with a set of directions, put together two structures made of PVC pipe and screws. This is, and then the two structures eventually will come together and match together.

We’re doing them separately and we’re going to see if our two teams can build these things separately and have them match up together. We’re also doing this in conjunction with Houston. Houston’s our control center, just like in space. And one of the teams is talking to Houston getting directions from them, and one of them is doing it, the construction task on their own with the schematics.

So it’s sort of-, we’re trying to come up with future ways of talking to Houston and trying to get some communications work out to see how this all can work out pretty, better in the future.

This is exactly the same type of thing that we’re doing in space, as a matter of fact. We’ve got EBAs, space walkers out there putting together pieces of International Space Station that have not seen each other. One was made in Huntsville, another will be made in Italy, another will be made in Japan and we’re launching them and they’re going to-, without being put together on the ground, they’re going to be put together up in space. And so this is a very similar analog to what we’re doing up in Space. On a little bit smaller scale of course.

Dan: [Introduce them] come up.

Sunny: Speaking of Mike and Mark, I just wanted to know if you wanted to meet them. They just came up the wet porch and we can take a little video walk out there and you could say hi to them.

Sherri: We would enjoy that.

Screen shows underwater scene

Sunny: Okay, here we go. And if you have any other questions on the way, I’d be happy to answer.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: I have a question for you, in addition to some of the research you’re doing for NASA and EBA, are you able to accomplish any biological research? Are you looking at any fish or coral reefs, are you doing anything along that nature?

Sunny: As a matter of fact, we are. We are doing some water samples.

Crew member looking into wet porch door.

This is for NURC, Dr. Steven Miller is the head of NURC, and we have a couple of experiments going on. We’re taking water samples of cold water fillings coming from the Keys. That’s a pretty easy task once we get out to the deep sites, we just take vials of water and bring them back here for analysis.

Divers appear at the wet porch hatch

And secondly, we’re looking at some coral. Apparently there’s a reef that’s been dying in some ways out here, and we’re categorizing and analyzing some of the coral that’s here in different areas for Dr. Miller’s lab. And that will be the first test.

Divers coming closer to the hatch and camer

And there in the middle, just to let you know, that’s Mike Fink on your right and Mark Reagan on your left. They just came in from working out on the construction site. And someone’s in front of the camera, but you can see the tanks that they are wearing. All the equipment that they are wearing and the wet porch, exactly how we get in and get out.

Sorry the lighting’s a little bit tricky going down, coming in from the bottom there. Hope you can see a little bit.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well this is truly fascinating. I can see that the 98% humidity that you were talking about is affecting the lens of your camera. So it’s definitely having an impact in that room that you’re in.

Camera moving rapidly in the interior of the Habitat

Sunny: Yeah, sorry about that. It seems like every time you walk from this lock to the next lock, it fogs up a little bit. But that’s sort of the nature of the game down here. You walk from one room to the next and it’s like walking into a sauna and out of a sauna.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well we certainly understand. We can still see fine. So what are all of things we’re seeing on the ceiling?

Sunny: Dan was just showing you the shower and now he’s walking back this way.

Shows interior of Habitat

What was hanging in there are a bunch of chamois just like when the divers and swimmers have when they’re coming out of the pool, and they just want to dry off real quick. Well with the 98% humidity in there, nothing’s going to dry in there. And so we each have our own chamois to just do a quick dry off before coming into the entry lock. And then you, and we also take a shower and then you take a quick fresh-water shower and you use a chamois to dry off. And then put your clothes on and come in, back into the entry lock and the main lock and dry off completely in here.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well for those of you just logging in and watching our webcast, we are broadcasting live from Johnson Space Center and the Aquarius Habitat where there are NASA astronauts living on board the habitat, and we’re talking about living and working in an extreme environment.

Sunny at the galley table

We have about 15 minutes left in our program today. I want to seize the opportunity now to enter your questions in the chat room so we can ask those of the astronauts and they can be able to answer those for you live. And without further ado, I have another question from Mrs. DiNapoli’s class in Needam. They’re wanting to know is this the first mission for NASA on Aquarius?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: Actually it’s not. Mr. Bill [Clauden], who’s one of the, the liaison between NASA and NURC, the National Undersea Research Center, has worked down here with these people for quite some time. And so he’s had a little experience. I think he’s been down in Aquarius twice.

The second time he was in Aquarius was with a group of NASA astronauts last October, just as sort of a fact-finding mission about six days long to see how this environment is and how it relates to space.

There were pretty experienced people on that crew. All three of them and Bill of course, all three of them have flown in space before. One of them was a Canadian doctor, Dave Williams, Dr. Dave Williams, another one’s a Navy pilot mission specialist space walker, Michael Lopez-Alegria. And then another one is a deep-sea diver, commercial diver, another very experienced space walker, Mike Gernhardt. And both Mike Gernhardt and Mike Lopez-Alegria were part of the construction team for part of the International Space Station.

So no, we’ve been down here before, once before, like I said for a fact-finding mission. But this is the first time that we’ve interacted with Houston, and are making this a little bit more true of mission, vs. just fact finding to see how this would relate to space.

Dan: And as you can see, we’re still figuring out how to get all the communication and all the video and Internet and all that stuff straight, and so we apologize for some of the roughness on our technology down here, but we’re trying to get it all figured out.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Okay, well I think Chris is going to talk to us about a competition that the students watching today can participate in.

Chris on screen

Chris: We have a, there’s a writing contest for Aquarius, the America’s inner space station. And you can find the rules by going to the following Web site and that’s the www.uncworld.edu, just follow the links to NURC and that’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to enter this contest. It looks like it’s pretty exciting. You end up with a trip to Aquarius and an actual dive to the habitat.

So something I’ve done several times myself and I think it’s well worth it. So go to that Web site and take a look at it.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well Wes, from Pasadena, Texas writes in and wants to know, you were talking about relating living underwater to living in space. But why are your missions underwater only eight days, when the average mission in space onboard the ISS is anywhere from three to six months?

Dan and Sunny in the Habitat

Dan: Probably the biggest reason is that our boss would only let us leave the office for about two weeks to go play at Key Largo. But, the intent for this, for us to use Aquarius isn’t to exactly replicate a mission in space, but to give us ideas of what it will be like and then how not only we the astronauts, but the ground controllers can help improve the system of how we as a whole team effectively work in space.

And so even though a full Space Station mission is three, four, five, six months, we think we can get a lot of good ideas and a lot of, learn a lot in just eight or nine days that we can take with us, again, both as the astronauts and as the ground crew, to help improve and make more efficient our use of the very valuable time that we have in space.

Plus our fingers would get wrinkly, so wrinkly that they would never get back if we were down here for four months.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Chris: Kind of a follow on to Dan’s comment too is that there are limits as to the length of time that you can actually stay in the Habitat, because of the partial pressure of the oxygen that we’re breathing in that atmosphere. So, it’s a good question.

Sherri: Okay. Well we’ve got more questions, Ann from [Findley], Ohio wants to know how do you get the equipment down into the Aquarius Habitat?

Sunny and Dan in the Habitat

Sunny: That’s a very good question. We were all wondering that ourselves before we came here. Actually they have all the paint cans that they have lids on them which use like c-clamps to crank down to make sure that the pressure in there and water in there it doesn’t leak in there. But all of our stuff needs to be fit into a paint can about this big and a number of them come down from the surface. So we’ve got like I mentioned earlier, a huge support team who helps us get all this together and who is what they call "potting" all of our stuff down, because everything’s inside of these pots.

And so as you look around, you probably saw that things can only be probably as big as laptop or a computer, a little bit bigger, and that’s about the extent of the size of things down here. Because that’s about the size of the pot.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Dan, you mentioned earlier about the depth that you’re under, but we’d like to revisit. Another student’s wanting to know how far deep, how far down there are you and how much pressure are you guys under or experiencing?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Dan: The Habitat sits on the floor of the ocean and the floor of the ocean at that point is 60 feet. We’re going to lose our battery. And Ryan, could we go back to the polycom?

So the ocean floor at this point is 60 feet deep and what we, but there are feet on the Aquarius that actually are about 12 feet tall, so the depth of the Aquarius is about 47 or 48 feet. And the 47 or 48 feet, there is about 2.5 times the pressure on our bodies that people that are walking around at sea level have.

But to tell you the truth, I don’t, we don’t feel much different being at 2.5 atmospheres than we do being on the surface. There’s only a few things that you notice. One is it’s harder to whistle. We’ve kept playing with that because the density of the air down here is greater. So it’s harder to whistle. But other than that really, I don’t think we feel much different than we do on the Earth.

Sherri and Chris on screen.

Chris: What would you guys do if there was a medical emergency on the Habitat while you’re there?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: That’s a good question too, and that was part of our first week, a little bit of training about what to do and how we’d handle that. Luckily again, I’ll mention the two guys down here who are working with us, Ryan and [Selora], they’re our two Hab technicians and they’re experts on anything that has to do with this Habitat.

They’re also diving medical technicians, and so they’re ready to take care of any type of diving emergency as well as any type of first aid and general medical emergency that we have. And so first off, these guys would help us out and secondly we’d go through some type of decompression and get back to the surface. And again that whole army of people who are working up in Key Largo at the National Undersea Research Center, they’ve got a couple of boats, fast boats that could come out and get us and bring us back to the hospital.

But that way we’d have to go through a whole type of decompression profile to get out of here. So it would probably take us a good 16 hours, 16-17 hours before we would be able to get back up to the surface. So we entrusted our lives with these two guys down here and we feed them pretty well.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well we have a question coming in that one of you is definitely going to relate to. It’s from Deena in Wood Hole, and wants to know are there any messages for Gorby?

Sunny and Dan on screen

Sunny: Yeah, Gorby’s my little dog and you just give him a big old hug and a kiss for me and tell him I miss him.

Sherri: So who is Deena, Sunny?

Sunny: Deena’s my sister. I forgot to mention that. She’s got my dog.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: All right. Well Pat is an adult space enthusiast writing in from Woodside, California, and wants to know have you found that series of long-duration dives or ISS missions changed the way that you related to your physical environment? For instance, Pat was wondering if floating changes the way that people think about the layout of the interior, or the way that they orient themselves?

Sunny and Dan on screen at the Habitat

Dan: I did not have a long-duration flight, but I did have a 13-day flight to space. And I got to tell you how much fun floating is. It is just a ball. And I quickly, I would say, in the first day or two, really got used to -- as the question alludes to -- looking at space differently, in that I can now go into the corner where there’s just a little bit of room, and stand there and get out of the way of people and moving things. Or if I’m trying to get by and there are three people working on something, you can sneak over them or around them. And it really does change the way you see things.

For instance, you never bend down to get to the bottom locker for instance, near the floor, you just flip upside down so that now the bottom locker is the top locker and it’s much easier to get to.

However, when you come back down to Earth, that old gravity takes over and now you don’t have the advantage of doing that. So even though I can look at a room and I’d say, "Gee, I’d love to be in that corner because there’s a lot of room in that corner," it’s just not possible. So you stop seeing those options because you don’t have the option of going to the-, of using all the space the way you do in zero G.

I’ll tell you, I really miss that floating around. It was really fun and I can’t wait to get back.

Sherri and Chris on screen

Sherri: Well we have just about a moment or two left. Does the Aquarius team have any final closing comments for all of us watching you today?

Sunny and Dan on screen in the Habitat

Sunny: In just a couple words, I think we’ve alluded to we’re having a really good time down here. This is quite an opportunity and we’re all very, very lucky to be here participating in this event as an event in itself. And then as also like a stepping stone, as we’ve alluded to, to a space expedition.

Part of that is being able to stay healthy and be in pretty good physical condition. And so one thing I pass on to everybody out there, if any of their kids are listening right now, it’s important to do well in school. It’s important to study hard. It’s also important to take care of yourself because you need to be in pretty good shape to be doing a lot of this type of stuff. And there’s not time to start than as a kid, so take advantage of that type of stuff.

Dan: Harmony and understanding.

Sherri and Chris on screem

Chris: Well I’d like to say hello to my NURC friends at Aquarius. I’ve been lucky enough to work with both programs and I’m glad to see them getting together. And like Sunny said, study hard. There’s a lot of fun to be had out there in this type of work. So, do your best.

Sherri: Okay, well we want to thank all of you out there in worldwide Web land who have participated with us today. We got to as many questions as we could in the hour that we had. We do appreciate you submitting those.

On behalf of Aquarius, the Distance Learning Outpost, and the Quest Program, we are signing off from Johnson Space Station Center. Bye-bye.

Sunny/Dan: Bye-bye from Aquarius.


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