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NEEMO 6 Commander
IMAGE: John Herrington prepares for a spacewalk during STS-113 in November 2002.
John Herrington prepares for a spacewalk during STS-113 in November 2002.
*NEEMO 6 Journals
*Aquanaut Profile: John Herrington

NEEMO 6 Journals

NEEMO 6, John Herrington
Day 2, Monday, July 13, 2004

What a day! Waking up to the sight of a four- or five-foot barracuda (had to be at least seven feet long, but I'm making it smaller just so it will be believable) swimming by the bow window, smacking his jaws after his morning meal. He came out of the darkness straight for the window, with a big toothy grin!

Physically, I feel much like I did in-flight on STS-113. Down here at a depth of 46 feet you experience about 2.5 atmospheres. On the surface you are at one atmosphere, so the pressure down here is greater by two-and-one-half times. The first thing you realize is that you talk funny. Much more nasal than on the surface. I sound like I've been sucking on a helium balloon and trying to chat. Also, I feel much more congested. I can still clear my ears, but I feel like I have more sinus congestion. I felt the same type of stuffy feeling in orbit, but it was due to the fluid shift from microgravity. Either way, the stuffy feeling is manageable and not an issue. For my crewmates, this is certainly a good taste for what it will be like on orbit.

Our first event of the day was a public affairs event with some morning news programs in Colorado and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, technical difficulties prevented our connecting, but we appreciate everyone's efforts in trying to make it work. Our connection to a Houston newspaper came off without a hitch.

Our first EVA took us down to the pinnacle excursion line. The current started out strong from the northeast, but eventually came back around from the southwest. It made for slow going out to the end of the excursion line, roughly 750 feet from the habitat. Seven hundred and fifty feet may not seem like much on the ground, but when you are bucking a current, sucking down air from a mask and you can only see about 25 feet in front of you, it gets to be a challenge. The first dive went fine and we returned to the habitat on time.

After lunch, Wheels (Doug Wheelock) and I made our way to the grating located just to the left side of the habitat. We donned a separate breathing apparatus which allowed us to dive without the use of our big twin cylinder diving gear. We simulated the weightlessness of being on orbit by becoming neutrally buoyant, just like floating below the surface of a swimming pool. Using some gear sent down from the surface, we practiced isometric stretching exercises. The intent was to determine if we could conduct these exercises in a weightless manner. These exercises may one day allow us to use isometric stretching in place of some resistive exercises to maintain muscle mass on orbit. We are just trying to determine if we can get in the proper body position without spinning out of control. Not something you can simulate standing on the ground.

After finishing the stretching (good workout prior to our EVA) Wheels and I headed out to "tag" the pinnacle excursion line. By tagging the line, Wheels and I placed markers every 50 feet and reported back to mission control in Houston (known as the ExPOC, Expedition Operations Center). Handling these little tiny tags and wrapping them around the line using small plastic wire ties turned out to be a handful (no pun intended). We had planned on tagging four separate lines, but ended up only completing one line. The current and visibility were certainly factors, but I believe we could have helped ourselves by rearranging our hardware such that it was easier to get the tags off and wrapped on the line. Better planning on my part may have allowed me to work the task more efficiently without needing more than two hands. At times I had to hold the tape measure between my knees while threading the wire ties through the tag and back onto itself. For someone with 45-year-old eyes, focusing on something so small (in the water) is quite a challenge and it makes the task just that much more difficult. When training for space flight we have the opportunity to train numerous times in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab before we actually perform the EVA. Down here we have not had that luxury, but I think this task forces us to think on our feet and come up with a plan as we go. Being able to quickly adapt to changing situations is a must for space flight EVAs and the training we get down here drives that home.

After completing the tagging, we filled our tanks at the way station and headed back to the habitat. I wanted to finish the remainder of our tagging on the south pinnacle line, but my team inside reminded me that we had a PAO event at 1700.

Just prior to departing the pinnacle way station, I looked back to see Wheels and he was pointing past me with his eyes as wide as saucers. I turned around to see a flash of white loop in front of me. As it came closer, I could make out that it was a huge manta ray performing loops in what appeared to be a feeding pattern. He glided by performing loop after loop. I floated there in awestruck disbelief at what I had just seen. What a magnificent creature!

After that amazing show we turned toward home. We hustled back to the wet porch and quickly doffed our dive gear. Our PAO events came off well and we settled down for a planning conference with our topside support team. We discussed changes to tomorrow's plan and the lessons learned from today. Even mistakes are discussed with the understanding that this is a learning process and each lesson will teach us something new.

Meals have been prepared collectively and shared with the crew. Most of it is freeze-dried camping food with a few exceptions for snacks. I find that I eat on the go in space and down here it is no different. You have a lot to do and you find the time to eat as time allows.

After reviewing e-mail for the day, I decided to climb in my bunk and type using a portable keyboard and my personal digital assistant. I have the bow window at my feet and the bow lights are turned on bright. What's amazing is the number of small animals that inhabit this water. Tiny creatures flittering about like bugs under the porch light on a hot summer night.

Huge schools of fish will gather about the windows and dart about as if tied together by some invisible string. The only time they part is when a larger fish swims through hoping for a meal. As the fish passes, the group will gather together again and begin the same fluid dance.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in such a remarkable place. Working with such fantastic people makes this all the more enjoyable. When I flew aboard the Endeavour on STS-113, I marveled at Mother Earth as I flew above her! Now, from here in Aquarius, I have the opportunity to view her from within. From high above you cannot make out the individual. You see things on a grand scale and marvel at the enormity of it all. The view from above reminds me of how insignificant the individual really is. But down here, you see the tiniest creature managing its own existence. Down here you see predator and prey.

I have had the unique opportunity to view both perspectives and they fit together in an odd, mysterious sort of way. In orbit, you can't make out the details, but you know in your heart there are huge chasms that divide us, ideologically speaking. When viewed from within, there is a clear distinction between friend and foe. You see it and you can almost reach out and touch it. There is some meaning here that I'll take with me when I leave. Perhaps a better sense of my place in the world above.

So as I kick back and pull the covers over, I'll glance out the bow window and look into the darkness. Every so often, my barracuda friend will swim out of the shadows, sporting that big toothy grin...

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/14/2004
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