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NEEMO 6 Commander
IMAGE: NEEMO 6 Commander John Herrington
NEEMO 6 Commander John Herrington gears up for a training dive.
*NEEMO 6 Journals
*Aquanaut Profile: John Herrington

NEEMO 6 Journals

NEEMO 6, John Herrington
Day 10, Wednesday, July 21, 2004

As I dip my feet in the wet porch one last time, wearing only a pair of running shorts, I grab my mask, a small "pony" bottle of compressed air, slide my booties and fins on and prepare to leave the habitat with a mental dive bag of fond memories guaranteed to last a lifetime. Our tenth morning onboard was a flurry of activity: packing our remaining clothing, clearing the bunks of our linens, vacuuming, wiping down the surfaces with antiseptic spray, and pretty much trying to stay out of the way of the three hab technicians we have with us. In addition to Coop and Joe, Roger Garcia came aboard the day before to operate the habitat as we began the decompression process. This morning they were meticulously working through a checklist to prepare for the recompression of the habitat to its storage depth of approximately 46 feet. During the night, the pressure inside the habitat slowly rose to sea level. Once the pressure was stabilized at zero feet, we began a 45-minute clock after which we would rapidly (roughly 15 minutes) re-pressurize the habitat. This allowed us to open the hatch to the wet porch, quickly grab the minimal gear we had remaining and begin a 2-minute swim to the surface. I slid my mask over my eyes, put the regulator in my mouth and ducked my head under the water. There was a small ascent line clipped to the base of the wet porch and we used it to guide us to the surface just aft of the recovery boat. Every time I left the porch on previous dives, I was encased from neck to toe with a wetsuit, including gloves. This time, most of my skin was exposed except for my running shorts and my feet. As I came around the corner of the habitat, my arm scrapped up against the structure and lo and behold, about 6 inches of fire coral was waiting to greet me. Talk about getting my attention! Yow!

The visibility was tremendous this morning, easily 75 feet or more. The surface was nearly calm and numerous swimmers dangled from the surface as members of the next NEEMO team, as well as our surface support team, watched our departure from the habitat. As we slowly rose to the surface, I looked back at the Aquarius and fondly thought about this adventure, in much the same way I looked at the Endeavour following our landing on STS-113.

Here was a vehicle meant to sustain humans in an environment in which we were not meant to exist, surrounded by a medium that does not support our normal metabolic process. Yet, we have found a way, using the intelligence that is inherent in our beings, to produce something that allows us to venture into a world hostile to human life. And not just to exist, but to thrive. Through the hard work of thousands of individuals we have designed, developed and deployed engineering marvels in which and from which we can live and work in extreme environments for days on end. Such is the Aquarius and such are the Space Shuttles and the International Space Station. I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent time in each type of vehicle.

I leave this experience with a much deeper appreciation for the life that exists in the sea. It is a wondrous environment full of beauty, brimming with life, from the smallest plankton to the magnificently agile manta rays. I also leave with a profound and abiding respect for the men and women that live and work under the surface of the sea. Their work is just as dangerous as flying in space and they relish the challenge just like those of us in the astronaut corp. The folks at the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) were extremely professional and their ability to share their knowledge of this environment and how to work safely within it made our mission a resounding success. Craig "Coop" Cooper and Joe March seamlessly blended with the four of us and made each day better than the last. They are consummate professionals and I am honored to have spent my time undersea with them.

Working in close quarters can bring into focus the unique qualities of an individual's personality. For me, living and working in Aquarius with Wheels, Nick and Tara was a blessing I will appreciate for the rest of my life. Their dedication to the team was superb, their technical expertise was far-reaching, and their sense of humor abundant. Even though some days did not go as we planned, they rose to the occasion and met the challenges head on. What we all learned during the past 10 days will serve us well as we continue to train for and support space flight.

We are living and working in space on a daily basis. As we continue the process of returning the Space Shuttles to a flying status, the International Space Station continues to circle the globe. Every 90 minutes it circles the Earth. Next time it passes over your head, look skyward and think of Mike Finke and Gennady Padalka, or whoever happens to be living aboard at the time. These are the people who are living on the frontier. And as the ISS passes over the horizon, look deeper into the distance and realize the vision of exploration extends beyond where we currently reside. How far our vision extends is limited only by our imagination.

My best,

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/27/2004
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