Mike Fincke aboard Aquarius.
2, Mike Fincke
Day 8, Monday, May 20, 2002
It is NEEMO
Mission Day 8 already. Time has been flying fast aboard the Aquarius
underwater laboratory. Unfortunately, until now I haven't had the
chance to make any journal entries sharing this great adventure.
the National Undersea Research Center and UNCW (NURC/UNCW) NASA
has employed this undersea enterprise as training for a long duration
space mission as well as an opportunity to test out a few new operational
concepts that could be used in future space flights. As an analog
to the International Space Station (ISS), the Aquarius habitat is
just about perfect. Inside, we have approximately the same amount
of volume as we do in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module or in the
Russian Zvesda service module. Although the Space Station currently
has a crew of three, it will eventually have a crew of 6 or 7, like
Aquarius. When we are inside, it feels like we are onboard a remote
outpost - a great analog.
Our daily lives
have been very much like typical days on the ISS with several small
exceptions. Since we are in a saturated environment at 2.4 times
the surface atmospheric pressure, we have the ability for extended
SCUBA forays underwater. The average recreational SCUBA diver may
get up to an hour or two underwater in daily diving (less the deeper
you go), but we have the ability to have up to 9 hours a day in
the water (at 95 feet or less), which makes Aquarius attractive
to undersea researchers. As a result, our time has been dominated
with our Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) more than a typical Space
Station mission. I am particularly proud of the NEEMO crew for their
endurance and enthusiasm on this mission. Dan, Suni and Marc have
had outstanding results diving twice a day for over two weeks now
(during our training week and then for 7 days under the ocean).
We have completed underwater mapping tasks using new communications
gear, constructed a Waterlab structure in record time, and have
contributed to the body of science by measuring corals on the reef.
It takes many calories to keep warm and active for both EVA-dives
totaling over 5 hours, every single day. Another benefit of this
supersaturated atmosphere is how well we sleep through the night.
we completed our last two EVA-dives, each having their own special
significance. For the first dive, the longest one for the mission
lasting 3.5 hours, we came together as a team and gathered almost
as much coral data as we had on 3 previous coral science dives.
Our secret? We learned from each preceding dive certain underwater
techniques and divisions of labor so that with a good plan ahead
of time, we were able to be at our best. It is this ability to quickly
learn and adapt that makes for successful missions on the land,
in the sea or in space. In the middle of this dive, it began to
rain on the surface and in between breaths on our SCUBA gear; we
could hear the sound of the rain on the surface and see the flashes
of lightning. It was eerie and serene at the same time.
If one of the
missions of NASA is to "explore new worlds" then it is
appropriate that I am writing this from under the sea. One of my
first impressions of the coral reef environment was how much life
there is here, how busy it is, and how strange and alien it seemed
to me. Not having studied undersea flora and fauna very much I was
surprised how weird and wonderful things are. For example there
are corals that to me have the form of a saguaro cactus, which would
make me think that they are a plant, yet they are true animals.
Many sponges along the reef have wondrous colors and shapes completely
unfamiliar to a land-based eye. As we explore for life on Mars and
perhaps Jupiter's moon, Europa, we should also spend more effort
to understand our "alien" life here in our oceans.
dive yesterday was our last and as such, a special treat. It was
a dive during the dark night. As the mission director Bill Todd
said, "No other environment on Earth can capture the essence
and isolation of space better than the ocean," and we got to
experience that essence and isolation in the dark of the sea. After
Thor and Ryan gave us a thorough safety briefing and loaded us up
with flashlights and glow-sticks we exited the wet porch-airlock
and watched the effects of the sunset over the ocean. The ocean
is usually fairly noisy with many animals communicating with each
other, however as it became darker, it became quieter. As we swam
through the still-warm water, we noticed that several different
creatures were corresponding with light. The rich hues of their
bioluminescence were impressive, there were greens like the terrestrial
lightning bugs and a deep blue not mimicked on the surface. We spent
the rest of the dive keeping a sense of situational awareness so
that we wouldn't get lost and so that we could remember this experience
of a lifetime.