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Splashdown Day

IMAGE: Peggy Whitson and Emma Hwang

NEEMO 5 Commander Peggy Whitson, left, and crewmate Emma Hwang share a moment before splashdown.

*NEEMO 5 Journals
*Aquanaut Profile: Peggy Whitson

NEEMO 5 Journals

NEEMO 5, Peggy Whitson
Day 4, Thursday, June 19, 2003

I have spent a lot of time in the last 6 months wishing that I were back living on the International Space Station. Especially with the one year anniversary of my launch (June 5th), my thoughts often travel in the 240 mile orbit above, wondering about the experiments that they are working on, the sights out the window, the feeling of floating without effort, and envious of the contentment and satisfaction derived from keeping the station in working order. This longing to be in space is probably why this opportunity to have a mission under the sea intrigued me.

NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) is a 2 week mission in the Aquarius Habitat which is situated on the Conch Reef about 60 feet below the water and 9 miles from Key Largo. We are testing this facility as a space analog, in which we conduct "space walks" (dives) each day to conduct research (coral science), technology demos (communication hardware tests), or a construction task. Inside the habitat, we also are testing hardware, like the portable doppler and hearing assessment, for potential use in space. Science experiments include nutritional studies (more ISS food...I consider this the down side of the mission), environmental microbiology and viral reactivation. A couple of webcasts with science centers and schools are also planned to share some of our experiences with young people. Lots of things to keep us busy!

I heard someone asking Ryan (one of our habitat technicians) why he would want to go under for FOURTEEN days. His response was that it's really great to be a part of this, to develop a routine and to take part in the challenge. He commented that it was hard to leave after he had been inside the habitat for a few days. Hearing Ryan's comments brought back all the same feelings I had while on orbit. There may be a lot more to the space flight-under sea analogy than just the isolation in a hazardous environment!

Even during training there were a lot of similarities to flight preparation. Getting to know my crew was probably the most important aspect, since we trained together for such a short period of time relative to preparation for space flight. However, living together in the condo in Key Largo during our training weeks has expedited our exposure to and comfort level with each other. The crew is a great mix of dedication, enthusiasm and most importantly, a wacky sense of humor (and that is without the potential effects of nitrogen narcosis).

On the day we "splashed" (dive lingo for heading under water), I woke the crew with the reminder that it was "Launch Day." My excitement level didn't compare to that day one year ago when I climbed into the orbiter; maybe because there is only one first time, or maybe because I hadn't dreamed of ever getting this opportunity, or maybe because they were predicting high seas (I've been known to chum the water on such days).

Arriving into the habitat felt much like our arrival to station, settling into a new and foreign environment. The biggest difference here is that there are certainly a lot more alien life forms floating/swimming around this underwater station than the one circling above the Earth.

One of the benefits of looking out from the station is seeing the Earth on a scale that makes you appreciate the fragility and sheer beauty of the planet, seen in a way that is not typical for us land-dwellers. This view underwater is also not typical of what we expect. The delicate flora and fauna of this undersea world is also apparent, everything from the effortless glide of a stingray to the thumbnail-sized Christmas tree worms that instantly retract with a wave of the hand nearby. And although the sharks and barracudas don't really fit into the delicate category for me, they fit the graceful part of motion under the sea.

Four days undersea...for me it seems even more unusual and unbelievable than living in space for 6 months. More to come...

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/20/2003
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