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ISS — A Home in Microgravity

Aquarius, An Analog to Space Travel

July 17, 2002

Sherri Jurls speaking on screen.

Sherri: Hello everyone out there in worldwide Web land. My name is Sherri Jurls and I’m going to be your host today for a very special program we’re doing. And we’re here at Johnson’s Space Center and we’re going to be visiting a very special site off the Florida Keys, the Aquarius Habitat.

But we’re going to learn about living and working in extreme environments today. The Aquarius project is an analog to space travel. So we’ve got aquanauts down there and we’re going to be talking with them today.

You guys have heard of outer space, right? Well today, instead of taking you to outer space, we’re going to go to inner space, again, to this habitat that’s called Aquarius.

And you’ll get to see how NASA astronauts are training under water to get ready for living and working in space. And to get this program started, let’s take a look a little bit at how NASA and Aquarius are teaming up to create this unique learning experience.

Sea To Space Connection video playing on screen showing scenes of Aquarius crew training and working underwater.

Sherri Jurls speaking on screen.

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

Greg: We’re ready, we sure are.

Sherri: Great. Well welcome and it’s so great to see all of you this morning. How’s everyone down there today?

Greg: Good Sherri, good to see you. I’m Greg Chamitoff. I’m one of the astronauts and we have the whole crew here together. A couple of guys are outside, and we’ll each talk a little bit about our backgrounds and we’ll give you a little overview.

Greg Chamitoff shown on screen.

I’m one if the 1998 selected astronauts. And my background is in aerospace and in space science. And outside we have two of our guys that just finished a construction task. They’re going to be over here at the window.

Danny Olivas and Jeff Williams shown outside Aquarius peering in window.

On my left here is Danny Olivas and he’s a materials scientist. He’s also in my astronaut class, and over here is our fearless commander Jeff Williams. He’s a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. He’s from helicopter background, and he’s flown helicopters, and he’s flown in space. He’s also got an EVA, extra vehicular activity in space. And so it’s very interesting for him to hear-, us to hear the analogs between EVA in space under water.

Now I’m going to let the guys introduce themselves.

Jonathan Dory shown on screen inside the Aquarius.

Jonathan: Hi, I’m Jonathan Dory. I’m from the Space Flight Sciences Directorate that Johnson Space Center. With us here we have two very, very important people, meet the habitat technicians that work with NOAA.

[Byron Croaker] shown on screen.

Byron: Hi, I’m [Byron Croaker], I’m one of the habitat technicians and I’m here to make sure everything is safe and make sure all the hot shots get their tasks done on a timely manner.

Mike Smith speaking on screen.

Mike: And hi, I’m Mike Smith. I’m not sure how the video’s going to come out. Good to have you all with us. I’m a [inaudible] for the National Undersea Research Center and [USCW] and I’d like to welcome you all to Aquarius.

Byron, Jonathan, and Mike shown on screen.

M: How’s our audio? Can you hear us?

Sherri: We sure can. We can hear you loud and [clear]. Well thanks so much for taking a few minutes to introduce all of yourselves. We are just receiving so many questions from all of the students out in Worldwide Web land and I don’t know if we’re going to have time to get to all of them today. So let’s get started.

The first question we have is from Steven, and he’s in Riverside, California, and he wants to know how are you guys going to breathe down there under the water? Do your air tanks empty ever?

Sherri shown on screen.

M: Well they sure do. The first thing is right now when we’re inside of Aquarius. In a sense it’s kind of like we’re inside of one big air tank, and it’s pressurized to the same pressure that the water is outside.

Back to Byron, Jonathan, and Mike.

And as long as we’re in here it’s just fine, but when we’re outside and we’re doing a scuba dive, we do carry with us two big scuba tanks and sure enough they do run out periodically. And so we’ve got a number of locations throughout the area when we’re out on our excursions, called "way points", that do have air in them. So we have to watch our gauges very carefully and make sure that we don’t run out of air while we’re down here, and periodically fill up and check in.

M: In fact if we do run out, the guys right now are demonstrating what we have to do, or they were demonstrating some buddy-breathing, and this is something that all scuba divers have to know how to do.

Danny and Jeff demonstrating buddy-breathing outside the window of the Aquarius.

But it’s particularly important for us down here because we can’t go to the surface if we have a problem. So we have lots of [inaudible] emergency.

Sherri shown on screen.

Sherri: Okay, great. Well our next question comes from Lizzie, who is a 7th grader here in the state of Texas, and she wants to know if Aquarius Habitat is anchored down to the ocean floor, or can you move it around like a submarine?

Mike speaking on screen with Jonathan and Byron.

Mike: Aquarius is attached to the ocean floor. There’s a platform that’s a [very heavy] platform that’s been mounted on the floor here. Aquarius itself can be taken apart separate from that platform and surface at different times at several intervals. But the whole habitat itself is actually built [inaudible] of course because there’s a lot of air in here. And so you need a heavy platform in order to hold it on the sea floor.

Sherri: I have another question for John Dory, and he wants to know how the Aquarius simulation compares to the MDRS. Now that’s a new acronym for me. I hope you guys know what it’s all about.

Jonathan speaking on screen.

M: Yeah, that’s a personal question probably coming from some people back home. MCR estimates [their Mars Center Research Mission]. It was a simulation activity that I took part in this last March which was out in the Utah desert with a habitat set up outside [inaudible]to see what it might be like for scientists to live and work on the Mars expedition.

In many respects, this is very similar, we’ve got [inaudible] that we all share, we’ve got mission objectives we need to complete. We have special gear we have to wear when we go outside and so in many respects it’s similar. It’s also very different in certain respects.

In that case, we were in Utah and if went outside and something failed, there were really no problems. And it’s just a simulation. Here, we really are in an extreme environment and it is very hostile outside, and we really do need to make sure that all of our gear is working very well and that there’s lots of redundancy and that we’re working very safely to make sure that everything is [inaudible] when we’re out on our excursions. So in that respect, it’s very different.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Great, well we’ve got a multi-part question from Todd here in Houston. And it’s addressed to all of you, so you guys can just decide who takes it. But he wants to know what types of things you do during your excursions outside of the habitat and do you refer to those excursions as EVAs also?

Mike speaking on screen.

Mike: Well actually the Aquarius Habitat is designed to be here for marine research and to study the coral reefs. So most of the time, researchers are down here and they are studying the coral reef and trying to understand what it is that affects the health of the reef, what things change the health of the coral and the fish that live in the area.

So both [inaudible] affects that reef. We’re actually doing some of that. Part of our mission here is to learn [inaudible] science. And so that’s actually a lot of the work that we’re going to do and look forward to doing down here. Though NASA is very interested in this facility to look at the analogs between space flight and living under the ocean, and in a facility like this.

So we are looking at this as a space mission, we’re conducting it like a space mission. All of our planning is like a space mission, our timeline, our communications and the tasks that we’ve been given are very much lined up in order to do what we actually do in space.

Some of those are for example testing out equipment that we have that will actually fly on International Space Station, and we’re checking that down here to see if the equipment works well in a timelined and contained environment like this.

Also we have a structure that we’ll show you in a minute that was built outside, and that is to simulate an EVA, and we are calling it an EVA because we are doing this like a space mission. And so we’re looking at the problems in planning coordinating tasks outside of the facility. And so we have several things like that that are all related to space activity, and science that relates to the coral reef.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Thanks, Greg. Well the second part of Todd’s question is during these open water dives, are you neutrally buoyant to simulate weightlessness or is that-, is it just a normal dive like you would do when you go scuba diving?

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: Yes, we are neutrally buoyant. And really there’s two benefits to that. One is like you said, it’s very similar to being on an extra vehicular activity from the space station, so in that sense it’s an analog, it’s a simulation to doing an extra vehicular activity.

But really, part of the neutral buoyancy is just what you would do naturally scuba diving. So in this sense, the activity was picked because of the similarities. We’re not actually going and doing the neutral buoyancy to make it like a space mission. It already is, and that’s why we’ve decided that this is a worthwhile activity for astronauts to do.

Sherri: Okay, Jonathan. Thanks for answering that second part. Now our next question wants to know from you guys how long are you able to stay down there in the Aquarius Habitat, and are you down there so long that you have to get re-supplied? And if so, how does that happen?

Mike speaking on screen.

Mike: Actually that’s a good question and that’s the real advantage of this habitat for research under the sea because on a normal scuba dive you can’t get very much time under water before what happens is the nitrogen dissolves in your tissues and is dissolved by your tissues and that’s why there are dive tables and you have to come up after a certain time, and if you stay longer, you have to go through decompression stops on the way up.

Well at some depth, and this depth or any depth, you get to a certain level of saturation where at that point, it doesn’t get any worse. So we are at a certain area of depth of about 46-47 feet inside this habitat, and we effectively could stay here as long as we want, and we won’t take on any more nitrogen. What it does mean though is that we need to go through a 17-hour decompression cycle in order to get back to the surface. And we should not go to the surface in any other way. That’s the way you want to go back [onto the] surface.

If we were deeper, it would be probably a different decompression schedule. But it allows the scientists and us to come down here and spend pretty much as much time as we want or need to do the work out here. And it’s one of the big advantages that Aquarius can provide the scientists, is they can do 10 times the amount of work in a week here, that they could normally do on normally diving from boats.

Jonathan is speaking on screen.

So the second part of that question, in terms of the re-supply, in a lot of ways this is very much like a space mission too. Because once we’re down here, we only have the gear that we’ve thought ahead on it, and brought with us. There’s a certain amount of hardware that stays here in Aquarius, but for the most part, everything has to be packaged and [plotted down].

It comes down in sealed, pressure-resistant containers and we’ll bring it from the surface dry and then equalize the pressure once that gets to Aquarius and take things out. But if we run out of food or water, we definitely need to get that stuff re-supplied, and it takes coordination with a big team of people up at the surface who come out on boats and deliver that stuff to us.

So in that respect it’s very similar to space flight.

Mike speaking on screen.

Mike: And different from space flight is that we’re able to get something if we as for it, whereas for a Space Station flight, flying has to be that much more accurate because you don’t have a-, it’s going to be months before you get the thing that you forgot.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Okay, thank you. Well Stephanie is a 7th grade student from Texas and she wants to know, do aquanauts volunteer to go down there or are you guys assigned and sent down there? And if so, who sends you?

Mike: Good question.

Mike speaking on screen.

Mike: Well that’s probably different for everybody. The guys who are here who are our experts, our hab techs and the professional aquanauts and of course they’ve chosen this as their career and they love it. And they’re doing it because they choose to do it.

Actually, all of us have chosen to do this. I volunteered for this as soon as I heard about it, and a couple of other guys were-, I think we’ve lost some com. You can’t hear us? Can you hear us? Sherri, can you hear us? I think we might have lost…

Sherri: I sure can. We can hear you.

Mike: Okay.

Mike: Okay.

Mike: And the other guys outside and I essentially were assigned, but it’s something that we have known about as an opportunity for training, for astronaut training. And there’s been several different types of activities that we do for training for long-duration space flight. So we all look at it as a great opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something like this.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Okay, great. Well thanks for taking a moment to answer that for Stephanie. And, Stephanie, thanks for that great question.

Martin is a student from Riverside, California, and he wants to know what happens if the habitat fills up with water? So I guess we can talk about some emergency situations here.

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: We sure can and that’s one thing that of course everything down here is planned and there are a lot of contingency scenarios in case we have those types of problems. The first thing is it doesn’t leak down here. We’re just fine, we haven’t seen any water come in so far and they haven’t since people have been here. So it’s a very safe environment.

But in the event that we did start to take on water, we’d have quite a while before it got to a situation where everything shut down because of the flooding. But we always have the opportunity to take our air, if we really need to, we’ve got canisters of air that we can take and we can go out [like the NEEMO] that’s just outside and there’s a pocket of air there as well.

And we’d be able to radio to the surface and have them come pick us up, if a situation like that were to occur.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Okay, well you guys have been talking about all these different parts of the habitat. Would it be possible for you to take us on a tour and show us around a little bit about what your living environment is actually like there and tell us about it?

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: Give us just a moment and we’ll get the camera all set up.

Sherri: Wonderful.

Mike: If you’ll stand by, I’m going to transfer the camera to the outside construction project that they have going on just on the sea floor, just off our wet porch. So stand by just one second. How’s that video?

Video of construction task in water.

Sherri: That looks great. What are we looking at?

Jonathan: What we’re looking at here is a construction task that we just performed just about an hour ago, and it’s to simulate doing construction on the International Space Station. And we had a schematic and we had to put together a set of procedures for assembling this. It’s made out of PVC, but there are a number of parts and bolts that we have to put them together in just the right procedure and make sure everything fits just right in the environment of the neutral buoyancy, like weightlessness in the Space Station.

And so it’s the same like doing construction on the Space Station.

And we have similar problems in constructing this that we do during any other task that we would do in space. We’re going to do the tour now [inaudible].

Jonathan shown on screen.

Jonathan: And just like on a lot of other sea vessels or even on the Space

Sherri: You know, we are seeing you but not hearing you. We don’t know if there was a glitch in your system there, but I do know that we’re looking at your sleeping quarters.

Jonathan showing sleeping quarters.

Jonathan: Are you able to hear me better now?

Sherri shown on screen.

Sherri: We sure are. Thank you.

Back to Jonathan in the sleeping quarters.

Jonathan: Okay, that’s great. What we have here is yeah, you’re right, our sleeping quarters. And here’s the comfortable spot for six aquanauts, sleeping. Still on their personal gear. It’s just enough to accommodate us all quite comfortably. And this is [inaudible]

Sherri: It looks like you have a room with a view.

Jonathan: We have a great view here. Provides plenty of light and very relaxing at night to sit here and look outside and see the fish swimming by and watch them looking in on us as though we were inside of the aquarium. We’ll go ahead [inaudible]

Sherri: And you feel like you’re in a fishbowl all the time, huh?

Jonathan: That’s right. We all feel like we’re in a fishbowl.

Shot of NEEMO patch on wall.

Mike: We have our NEEMO patch on the wall right over here, and this was custom designed by Jonathan himself. We’re really proud of this patch. It is probably the best patch we’ll ever have.

Jonathan: Hopefully there’ll be a lot more patches for these guys.

Jonathan showing the main lock.

Jonathan: Okay, we’re going to go now and to move forward to stern and this is inside the main lock here. See where Byron is sitting is, where you’re sitting is our main corner table here, a great spot do work, great spot to sit and look outside at the fish. [inaudible].

[inaudible] we’re eating and or something it’s a great spot where we can just grab some food and we’ll eat as we go and even if we’re working on something else, we’re always multitasking so we’re working on more things than one at a time.


Byron shown on screen.

Byron: Next what you’re looking at is our [control panels] and this is how we make up the atmosphere for the habitat. Air from our buoy on top of the water, and we have a [inaudible] meter [inaudible] buoy, that’s a five [inaudible] where air reaches the habitat. It comes in through these valves. Then we slowly [lead off] in here, [inaudible]

[speaker inaudible]

So you can breathe it and everything flows right.

Some of the other things we have a huge depth gauge over here that everybody’s interested in. Just to make sure that we’re [inaudible].

[speaker inaudible]

...as well as anchoring system for our lights, microwave, hot water heater and all the amenities that we’re used to.

And we’ll go ahead and

Sherri: Chris, we just want to let you know we’re getting a little extra feedback. It sounds like you’ve got one of your external mikes there being hauled around with you here on our tour.

Back to Sherri speaking on screen.

That’s providing us a little extra noise. So just wanted to make you aware of that.

Back to showing aquanauts touring Aquarius.

Aquarius, now we’re not hearing you at all. I know you’re in the [inaudible] area. There you are.

Byron: Okay, now can you hear us better?

Sherri: We sure can.

Byron: Okay that’s great.

Screen is black.

Is the power on the camera all right?

Byron: It’s looking good.

Sherri: Looks like the old camera went on standby mode, guys. Where did you go? We can hear you.

Byron: Well we got all the work on it, okay it looks like we’re back up and running.

Back to aquanauts touring the Aquarius.

Jonathan: Okay, here we go.

Sherri: There, now we see you.

Jonathan: All right, we’ll move quickly towards the

Mike: You want this camera?

Jonathan: Sorry about the shuffle there. Here I’m sitting in the main lock [down], this is just sort of our kitchen area.

Showing shots of kitchen on screen.

It’s a very regular [kitchen sink]. The only thing that’s really different about it is the way the drain works. Instead of just using gravity to pull the water down, we use some positive pressure we have inside of here and it makes the sucking sound to suck out all the water that we put to a tank outside. A sanitation tank out there.

And now we’ll go ahead and move towards the big [lock over] here. Into our entry lock area. We’re going to lose our audio. Can you still hear us, Sherri?

Mike: Sherri can you still hear us? Are you still with us?

Sherri? Yes I am.

Showing science area on screen.

M: Okay, that’s great. Right inside of here is our entry lock and this is just the separate lock that has completely redundant system to the main lock. In here also is kind of our science area. This is where we set up our computer stations and that sort of thing that we use to do our science and some of our communications back with the top [sider] team.

We’ve got quite a connection down here. We’re all set up on Ethernet. We can access the Web, we can send emails, we can do other things [inaudible].

Often this is kind of a spot where we brush our teeth and wash our hands. We also stow our bolts and drivers. Before we put our hammers in there, we’ll take a [inaudible].

[speaker inaudible]

...we have Gina out here so we don’t want to lose our camera. [inaudible]

[speaker(s) inaudible]

Mike: Can you still hear us, Sherri?

Sherri: I sure can.

M: Okay great. [inaudible]

Aquanauts still touring Aquarius and showing the entry lock for aquanauts to enter the Aquarius.

Sherri: Jonathan, we’re having trouble hearing you now, but I can see that we’re looking at the aquanauts coming in from outside, looks like.

M: Yeah, [inaudible]. Our microphone’s not reaching all the way out, so maybe I can look at the video and tell you what we’re listening to and what we’re looking at. Looks like they’re stepping back in through the entrance lock. We have air conditioning in the entry lock. It remains very cool in here to keep the humidity down. And that’s for our electronic equipment.

So the transfer of the camera from the entrance lock out to the wet porch. As you can imagine, taking something cool in a real humid environment can get condensation like you would on a glass of ice water on a summer day. So the lens fogs up on the camera, but we’re back now and I’ll let Jonathan [talkover]

Sherri: Well you guys know being in heat and then when you step outside of your car after you’ve been in the air conditioning with either your glasses or your sunglasses on, you step outside, they fog up, does the same exact thing.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. The exact same effect. So we hope that you were with us at least for a part of that journey into the wet porch there.

Back to Jonathan.

Sherri: We did. We were, we saw it. And it was neat to see the scuba divers coming in. Not sure if that was Jeff or Danny coming up, but I know it was one of them coming up waving at us. It was neat to see him.

Jonathan: Yeah it was-, that’s great, yeah. That was just a happenstance, just happened to be coming up at that perfect time.

Sherri: Great, well we’ve got a whole bunch more question from our viewers out there in Worldwide Web land. Let’s move onto the next question. Sharon is a first grader here in Texas and, boy, she’s doing some long-term planning. Because she wants to know what kind of education do you need to be an aquanaut?

Back to Sherri.

Do you have to go to college?

Jonathan and Greg shown on screen.

Jonathan: Well really there’s a lot of different ways to get to here, but yeah, going to college is a really nice start. This is something that we all really enjoy and think is an outstanding opportunity, and opportunities like this are really provided primarily just to scientists and to the technicians who work down here.

And so having an education and a background in either engineering or science is the way to go.

Sherri: Okay great. Well Aaron writes in from Riverside, California.

Back to Sherri.

By the way, hi out there Riverside, California. We’re getting a lot of questions from you guys today. He wants to know when do you get to talk to your family, and do you do anything for fun while you’re down there, or is it work, work, work?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: Well, we do get to talk to our family a little bit. We’re trying to make this very much like a space mission, which means that it’s limited. We’re going to actually have a video conference with our family members and we’ll do that later on this week, but it’ll only be one time during the entire mission. Otherwise we have e-mail, and we do have an emergency phone, but we are not using it for communication with our family right now.

In terms of fun, is the whole thing is fun for us. We’re doing something that-, we all enjoy scuba diving and we would be scuba diving on our holidays. Instead, we’re here scuba diving for our work, so it’s really great.

But it’s very busy. There’s a time line that we have to follow, and we have to get through all the tasks, and one thing we’ve learned is that when you’re on a mission, on a time line, it’s a lot of work to keep up with that. And so we’re pretty much busy the whole time from when we wake up until we go to bed at night.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: All right. Well you guys showed us the galley area and pointed out the food that you have stored for eating while you’re down there. Taylor is a sixth grade student from Texas and wants to know what kind of food is that that you guys are eating down there?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Jonathan: Well for part of our mission, we actually have some NASA food here, which is very, just the same stuff that’s eaten on International Space Station, which is pre-packaged, and pre-prepared. At the same time, we have a lot of food like backpacking foods that are freeze-dried and we just add hot water to them and let them sit for a few moments.

This is some of the backpacking freeze-dried food and you can see here, it’s vacuum sealed, partially because we’re living under pressure here. It was vacuum-sealed to start and then bringing it down to this depth, it’s especially vacuum-sealed now.

Greg: This is some of the NASA food that we have. The reason the package looks like this is because when you’re in space, you have to re-hydrate the food, but you have to use some-, somehow get water to the food without spraying water all over the cabin when it’s in Zero G, and it’s a little harder to-, you just can’t pour the water into the package.

his Mountain House food, you can pour the water straight into the package and let it re-hydrate and eat it. This, we have to use this syringe which looks very scary my first thought.

Sherri: It does look very scary.

Greg is holding up syringe.

Greg: This is not a medical syringe. We have to keep this in a safe place, but we basically put hot water into the syringe and we inject it into these packages. And this is what we do on the shuttle and on the Space Station to re-hydrate the food that we have. And this food is labeled. This is creamed spinach, it’s also labeled in Russian because we’re eating this on the International Space Station, and so we have crew up in space right now eating both American food and Russian food. And the American food looks like this.

Sherri: Now Greg and John, tell us how tasty is that food really?

Greg: Some of it’s pretty good.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s really, it’s not bad at all and there’s a lot of variety here. We’ve got all kinds of different things from corn flakes to chicken fajitas, to fruit to cream of spinach, to sliced egg.

Greg is holding up packaged foods.

Greg: Macadamia nuts.

Jonathan: There’s a lot of variety and they do a really good job of keeping the food from becoming redundant and boring. It’s really quite good.

Greg: Some of it is great. Vegetarian vegetable soup.

Sherri: That sounds pretty good, it’s right about lunch time for some of us.

Jonathan: Yeah? We’re thinking about that too. We all came in from our dive and after a while we’ll be tearing into some of this. And this vegetarian vegetable soup is actually a new food that we’ll be trying out and reporting on back to the food guys so that they can get an idea of what our feedback is.

Greg: In fact, they’ve put together a special menu for us, for each of us and as part of our-, part of this experience and part of the value NASA is getting out of it is to evaluate some things that they might use on the Space Station.

Sherri: Well Greg, do they assign a menu to you or do you have any say in selecting your food items?



Greg: We have more say than I expected. Actually yeah we did. We gave them some constraints and they set up a menu within those constraints and then they ask you if you like that, does that sound good? And you can go back and forth and iterate with them.

Jonathan: Yeah. And also the nutritionists are professionals at this, so when they put together a meal package for us, it’s going to be well balanced and have lots of variety as well.

Greg: And lots of calories, yeah.

Sherri shown on screen.

Sherri: Well that’s good. You guys have to adhere to the food pyramid down there just like we have to adhere to it up here, eating our five fruits and veggies a day and so on.

Greg: Absolutely.

Sherri: Well Amanda is a seventh grade student from the state of Texas and she wants to know what is saturation and how does being in saturation affect your body?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: Saturation is-, what happens in saturation is that when your body, when you take on gas and you breathe, what you’re getting mostly oxygen and nitrogen, most of that is nitrogen, about 80%, 79%, 78% nitrogen. Well the nitrogen is relatively inert, your body doesn’t use nitrogen. Your body uses the oxygen and when you exhale, you’re getting rid of carbon dioxide.

Well what happens is when a gas is in your body, in your bloodstream, it’s in solution. It’s not as a gas bubble, it’s actually as molecules in your bloodstream. And your tissues take on that nitrogen because you’re under pressure. So just the pressure effect causes your tissues to absorb nitrogen. The problem is if you come up too fast, and you have a certain amount of nitrogen already dissolved in your tissues, what will happen is that gas will come out of solution and turn into actual gas bubbles, and you certainly don’t want gas bubbles to expand in your body while you’re not-, while you’re on your way up.

The right way for the gas to come out of your body is by having your blood circulate and collect it as the pressure decreases as you go up, your body carries that gas out of the tissues, back to your lungs where it can be turned back into normal air and you can exhale it.

So that’s essentially the problem. And saturation just means that you’ve got a certain amount of nitrogen in your bloodstream and your body, that you have to get rid of, that’s not the normal amount that you have when you’re at the surface.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: We’ve got another great question for you guys. When you are submerged at the depth that you are for extended periods of time, what kind of effect, if any, do you have on your human body? For instance, does your pulse rate go up or anything like that?

Jonathan: Really when we’re down here, we don’t notice a lot of other effects. Some things are minor.

Greg and Jonathan shown on screen.

Just based on the fact that the air is much denser down here, our voices all sound a little bit different, and you guys might not notice it on the Internet, but we all noticed it when we showed up.

M: We’re all laughing at each other’s voices.

M: Yeah, and also, we can’t whistle anymore.

Jonathan trying to whistle on screen.

M: Kevin’s better luck than everyone else.

Jonathan: But in terms of noticeable outward effects, no, down here, we don’t notice a lot. We are saturated with nitrogen in our blood, but so long as we stay at this depth, it doesn’t have any effects on us at this point.

Greg: There are some other issues though. You asked an earlier question about how long we can stay down. Really the limiting factor tends to be just general health and other things that-, for example you get cuts and they don’t heal as well. Or you’re putting a wet suit on and off everyday and you can get little skin irritations that don’t heal very well. And so there’s some, so far we haven’t had anything, but those tend to be some of the other things to watch out for down here.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: We’ve got a sixth grader from Texas named Lindsay and she wants to know how do you guys initially get down into the Aquarius habitat?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: That’s actually really neat because for all of us, we commented and individually recognized that coming down to Aquarius felt like we were arriving at a space station. There’s a lot of parallels between this end and the Space Station. And what we did though is we had transportation on a boat out to the site of Aquarius. We dived down, and in the Wet porch, where this whole interior area is pressurized, the air is at the same pressure as the water at this depth, so it’s just like a little swimming pool. It’s a wet porch, we call it a "moon pool."

And so we’d come up in this moon pool, and there’s this open space and-, but it felt like it might feel when you go to the Space Station, you come in and you open the hatch and you look in and there’s somebody up there waiting for you. And we arrived, and these guys were already here setting everything up, and it was a pretty neat experience, actually.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Okay, Olivia is a sixth grader, also from the state of Texas and wants to know how long you guys have been down there?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

M: Well this is our third day down here. We’ve got a total mission of nine days and we’ve been down for three so far, and everything is just going great. We’re really enjoying it.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Okay, you’ve been down for three days. What will be your total stay by the time you get back up, Jonathan?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Jonathan: At the end we will have been down here for nine total days.

Sherri: Wow. Okay. Great. Well Ginger writes in and she’s from West Virginia, and she wants to know how NASA ensures psychological well being of you guys down in the aquanaut habitat and for the astronauts, particularly when you’re in these extreme environments for long periods of time, and how that would play out maybe when we travel to other planets like Mars?

Greg: That’s a really good question and a very important question. And it’s part of the reason I think that NASA is down here, looking at this mission as a space analog. We’re in an isolated environment here. It is true that stuff does have to come down and go up, and it’s a little easier to access it than it is to access the Space Station, but we are isolated from the surface. We are living in a small space. We’re together round the clock, and we have to deal with that environment and maintain our happiness and our health.

But it is something that NASA’s looking at, and we’re all here experiencing it, and we’ll try to debrief whatever feelings we have about working in close quarters. So far, luckily, we’re all getting along very well. We haven’t had any problems, and we’re really enjoying it. So I think if this crew were going to Mars, I think we would do just fine.

Jonathan: And another thing that NASA is doing for us while we’re down here, is they’ve set up a time for us to all have a personal family conference that we’ll be able to do very much like we’re doing right now with you all. And have a video conference with our families back home in Houston or wherever they happen to be. And that gives us all an opportunity not to feel so isolated while we’re down here and to feel a little bit closer to home.

And NASA definitely does realize that that’s very important for crews here and on the International Space Station and later as we return to the Moon or go on to Mars.

Greg: The crew from the International Space Station that just returned recently, they were up there for over six months and that was also longer than they expected. So it’s quite an interesting problem for us to deal with. For a Mars trip, it would be six times that long.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Sure. We’ve got a follow-up question submitted from the food conversation we had a little bit earlier of wanting to know do you get to eat any food from your outside surroundings, like do you get to go out and catch your own fish and bring it in or anything like that?

Jonathan speaking screen.

Jonathan: Well we’re living here in a marine sanctuary, which really is, it’s a national park. It just happens to be under water. So it’s the same thing as if you were in Yosemite or something, you probably wouldn’t go out and start munching on a deer. In a lot of respects, this is the same kind of thing. There are a lot of fish here, but we pretty much just want to observe them in their natural habitat and not disturb them, and certainly not eat them.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Well speaking of being in a sanctuary and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, do you guys see sharks? And if you do, we have a viewer who wants to know if they scare you.

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: Well we have seen some sharks in the area. Mostly around here they’re nurse sharks, and nurse sharks, they look just as scary as any other shark, but they’re very docile, very calm sharks. They’re really curious and friendly, and there really isn’t anything else that we’ve seen, nothing bigger than probably five or six feet. And I don’t think we’re really that worried about it at all.

We’d like to see a bigger shark, but we haven’t yet.

Sherri: Well you guys, you know we’re going to have the inevitable question. I knew it was going to pop up at some point. You showed us the bathroom facilities a little bit earlier. Obviously you don’t have plumbing down there. Could you explain to use how that whole system works for you guys under water?

Jonathan: Well actually we do have plumbing down here. We have water and we do have a marine head that works very much just like the sink did. And it’s pressurized because we’re living in a pressurized environment that would drive anything right out of here into a sanitation canister outside.

And then also, when we’re out and we’re swimming around and we’re doing scuba dives on our EVAs, it’s just like being a fish and you just do your thing.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Well thank you for that candid response, Jonathan.

Jon or Danny, I guess, I hope you can hear us. I do want to let you know that your cousin from Colorado wrote in and asked a question we’ve already talked about a little bit earlier, but I want to let you know that he says hi.

Each of you can answer this. What’s your favorite thing about going underwater on a scuba dive?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: Well I think the thing that draws me to scuba diving is very much the fantasy of exploring another planet and another place. Because when you’re scuba diving you feel like you’re in another world, and I think a lot of divers feel that about diving and really enjoy it for that reason.

And we’ve noticed that we feel that way in general, and that we’re living in a habitat, this could be a habitat that’s in space or on the moon or on Mars, and when we leave we have to put on this life support equipment that we’re very dependent on, and we go out into this environment which is not habitable by humans, and explore and watch, in this case because we’re on Earth we get to see life, and explore the Florida fauna and the surroundings.

But you still feel very much, we were noting yesterday how we feel like, instead of looking inside the fish tank, you’re inside the fish tank, but you still feel like you’re behind a glass window. And you are. You have your mask on and all your equipment on, and so it’s exploring, but you can’t really ever completely interact with it all because you’re protected from it. So it’s interesting.

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: And I would say my favorite thing about going under water and going out on the scuba dives is it’s just the diversity of life that you see out there. There’s so many different kinds of fish and coral and all kinds of marine animals and seeing the way that they all interrelate with one another. And then these little tiny ecosystems and there’s just a tremendous amount of complexity, and you can study it forever and never understand it all. And that’s really the fascinating part of going on a scuba dive.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Great. Well we’ve got a note here to say that all the Dorys are watching, so I guess that means something to one of you.

Why did you guys decide that you wanted to work for NASA?

Greg speaking on screen.

Greg: Well for me, I wanted to work for NASA since I was seven years old. My family was on a trip to Florida, and we were there and we saw the launch of Apollo 11. And so it was actually on that day that I decided that I wanted to do this, and I've wanted to work for NASA ever since, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to work toward this as a career.

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: I’ve wanted to work for NASA for a long time. I’m going to date myself to the young end a little bit on this one, but when I was in kindergarten I saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise flight mockup fly over my elementary school in Colorado. And I thought that was a really exciting experience, and I’ve always wanted to work for NASA every since that time.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Well thanks, guys, for sharing that. We had an unidentified viewer wanting to know that from you.

We also have another question. Do you have to do any specific training before you go underwater to live in the Aquarius Habitat?

Back to Greg and Jonathan.

Greg: That’s a very good question, and in fact we do. And one thing we’d like to mention is that you’re only seeing six folks here, but there’s about triple that many folks on the surface who are involved in making this whole operation work out. Some of those trained us, some of those are NASA folks who are working all the planning and arranging everything, all the logistics of everything that we’re doing down here besides putting the whole program together.

And then the National University Research Center, which is part of NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, those folks are the ones who own, NOAA owns this habitat, and the Research Center operates it from North Carolina. And that’s a huge team of folks who are all expert divers and researchers and they’re all operating this entire facility.

So what happened was they took us out for an entire week of training last week, and that involved getting used to these specialized equipment we have. We have very redundant equipment that’s used for typically like cave diving, much more safe rigs than the normal scuba diver gets to use. And we also have in fact really neat communication masks that we can talk on a radio underwater in our masks.

So we’ve had some specialized training on all this and a lot of emergency training. So it was a very intense week last week to get ready for this. And those guys did an amazing job, and we feel very comfortable with everything we’ve done, and we’ve got the two hab techs here taking care of everything else, so we’re in good shape.

Sherri: [talkover] that Greg just described. We had someone ask, with all that training, do you still have to pass some sort of physical exam before you can go down there?

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. And the reason is once we’re down here, we’re pretty much down here for the whole duration. And so we all need to make sure that we’re very safe and that we can all make it through that whole time period. And so, yes, absolutely need to make sure that we’re all very well trained on all the gear and that everyone is in very good physical condition, we’ll go through a physical very much, it’s like a flight physical that pilots would go through and astronauts would go through to ensure that we’re all in tiptop shape and that no one is sick or has any ailments that would prevent them from being able to do something like this, or that would pop up and become a problem midway through the mission.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: We just want to remind all of you out there in Worldwide Web land, we’ve got less than five minutes left, so if you have a last minute question that’s burning on your mind, submit those into the chat room and we’ll try to get them answered before the end today.

We’ve got another great question: Will the habitat protect you if there was some sort of natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane off the coast of Florida. What would you do?

Greg speaking on screen.

Greg: That’s a very good question. This habitat has actually weathered through several hurricanes already. We wouldn’t want to stay in the habitat during a hurricane, but it’s one of the things that the support team on the shore is watching very carefully. They’re constantly monitoring the weather. And because of that 17-hour decompression process we talked about earlier, we have to be ready way in advance of an approaching hurricane to make our decision to stop what we’re doing and go through the decompression and get back to the surface and if necessary also evacuate the region, the Florida Keys.

So they’re watching that very carefully and there’s several procedures to go through and different stages of warning to go through as the storm approaches. But if a storm did approach and we had to leave, the habitat would stay here, and it would be fine. There’s a couple of steps they have to take in order to batten down the hatches and make sure that it’s secure and powered off. And the life support buoy on the surface, which has generators that provide oxygen and the power, that would be towed in and put in a secure place. But otherwise the habitat would do fine.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Do any of you get claustrophobic?

Back to Jonathan.

Jonathan: No. No we haven’t. And that’s something that we just basically, they asked us beforehand, and we had to check that box and say, no, we don’t get claustrophobic. And so far no problems with that at all. Everyone feels very well accommodated by this volume.

Sherri speaking on screen.

Sherri: Are the aquanauts outside working on any activities or what are they doing out there? Or did they both come in earlier when we saw them?

Jonathan speaking on screen.

Jonathan: Actually they both just came in and so if you’d like to have a chance, they can have a seat here and we’ll have a little chat with them as well.


Sherri: Hi, guys. Thanks. We saw you waving out the window earlier at us.

Jeff and Danny shown on screen.

Jeff: Yeah, we had a great time out there, a great dive this morning on the little construction project that was described to you. And the water’s beautiful. There’s plenty of life out there to see, and when we get done with the work there’s plenty of recreation to do.

Danny: How you doing, Sherri? It’s nice to see you again.

Back to Sherri.

Sherri: Hi, Danny. We’ve only got time for a couple more questions. Why don’t we let you two guys take them. One of the questions from our viewers out there wants to know what kind of personal things are you allowed to bring down with you to live onboard the Aquarius?

Danny and Jeff shown on screen.

Danny: I didn’t really bring a whole lot as far as personal gear. We’re allowed to bring down, obviously, the clothes that we wear, but I have two photographs, one of my kids, and one of my wife and myself. That’s all I brought the personal gear.


Jeff: And I did about the same thing, Minimum clothing, just enough to get through the mission, and a few photographs of the family.

Back to Sherri.

Sherry: No special treats, favorite candy bars or anything like that?

Jeff speaking on screen.

Jeff: Well we did send Danny to the [candy] store a couple of days before we came down here, and he stocked us up on all that kind of stuff.


Danny: Yeah, I think I’ve got everybody’s favorite snack food up here, including everybody out there.

Sherry speaking on screen.

Sherri: Well it’s nice to know you can personalize a little bit. We talked about the menus earlier and how important was to eat nutritious meals, but we all know that we have some sort of favorite candy bar or snack that we like.


Well, Dr. Greg, Cameron writes in and says, "Hey, it looks like you’re having a great time. Wanted to make sure and say hi."


Well unfortunately we have run out of time today, but it was so great for you to spend this time answering all of our questions. We tried to get to as many as we could for all of you out there. If we weren’t able to get to your questions, we’re sorry. We tried to plow through as many as we could.


But on behalf of the Distance Learning Outpost, all of the folks out at Aquarius who are working down in the Habitat, and the Ames Research Center who’s bringing us this Web cast today, thank you so much. We’re signing off from Johnson Space Center.


Aquanauts: Terrific. Glad to have you with us.

Sherri: Bye, bye.




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