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NEEMO 2

IMAGE: Astronaut Mike Fincke

Astronaut Mike Fincke aboard Aquarius.

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*NEEMO 2 Journals
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NEEMO Journals

NEEMO 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.

Along with 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.

Yesterday 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.

Our second 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.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/09/2003
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