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