5 Aquanaut Peggy Whitson searches near the ocean floor
while performing an extravehicular activity near the
Aquarius research habitat.
5, Peggy Whitson
Day 12, Friday, June 27, 2003
started off early, with us leaving the habitat just after 6 a.m.
The best part about this dive was that the only objective was to
have some fun! We videotaped some of the "night-life"
using our flashlights to illuminate those interesting anemone I
described earlier and some of the other dramatic colors in the corals
that decorate the habitat.
Then, as dawn
approached, we explored the 5th Leg. We have 5 different "excursion
lines" that radiate from the habitat. We use these as our "roads",
so that we don't get lost. You might be surprised how easy it is
to get disoriented in the water, especially at those times when
visibility is limited. In fact, if we want to travel out of range
of site of the excursion line, we have to attach another line from
one of our reels of string onto this line so that we will always
have a way to get back. With saturation diving, going to the surface
to get a bearing on the life support buoy is only a last ditch method
of finding your way home.
We had spent
4 days this week on the 5th Leg doing coral science research, and
it now is familiar stomping grounds. The dimensions, coral health
and videotape will hopefully prove valuable in an ongoing research
project to map the coral life on this reef. This project is especially
interesting to me because while on orbit, I also participated in
a coral mapping study in which designated reefs were photographed
from our vantage point in space to help the folks on Earth who were
conducting studies on and mapping coral reefs. Coral from underwater
is extraordinary, with all different shapes, textures, colors and
sizes. While I really enjoyed this close-up of the coral reef, the
view from space looks like the work of an artist's hands in all
shades imaginable (and then some more) of aqua, blue and white.
We had seen
numerous types of wildlife during the week on the 5th Leg, and we
wondered what types we might observe in the early morning hours.
The large moray eel was not sleeping in his cubby hole of coral
and sand that we had found him in on a couple of occasions earlier
this week, but we found a spotted eel that didn't look all that
pleased that we had disturbed him.
We also spotted
a jellyfish by chance. It's nearly invisible body is made up of
wings, with the only really distinguishing and slightly more visible
characteristic being the dual horn-like structures along it's back.
You pretty much have to take our word for it that we saw it, since
the video camera couldn't quite manage to find anything to focus
to the habitat for an air refill, we headed out the Pinnacle excursion
line. This line is my favorite because the terrain drops steeply
away to one side and climbs on the other side. The reefs form rows,
running downhill, with white sand beds between. Previously, in this
area we had experienced what an upwelling feels like. Cold water,
filled with nutrients, can really reduce the visibility and change
the water temperature dramatically over a very short distance. This
morning the visibility was good enough to enjoy the expanse and
dramatic relief of the coral reef surrounding us.
To end our
final dive we videotaped stupid aquanaut tricks. Skills in diving
off the edge of the platforms, solo and synchronized, playing leap
frog, and pyramid building were all captured on videotape for posterity
(or not). All in all, we had a great time inside and outside this
I am convinced
that Aquarius can provide some very valuable training, especially
when we combine flown and unflown astronauts to share in the experiences
that mimic/simulate some aspects of space flight. I also think that
our data/testing will show that this environment is a good one for
testing hardware and procedures that might be used on the space
station or mimic some of the physiologic effects of living in an
Much like being
in space, it is difficult to imagine that the mission is coming
to a close and that we must leave. I know that on my next trip in
orbit, I will look on these waters with the perspective of familiarity
and awe now that I have had the opportunity to explore this area
from such dramatically different viewpoints.