Mission Day 4 – Diving and Potting
We woke up early and excited. Today was going to be a good day because our objectives for the day included plenty of diving. We wanted to maximize our dive times, so immediately after breakfast and the morning planning conference, Tim and Joe began to prepare for our dives. In fact Tim was so excited to get out and get diving that he skipped breakfast and kept Joe in tow as they ran through their dive pre-check lists.
Tim and Joe explored Sector C, an area to the east of the habitat. They were heavily laden with equipment—a diver mapping and navigation system, a diver tracking system, video camera, still camera, and the rest of our technical dive gear. They walked along the ocean bottom, exploring the sea floor just as we would explore the moon upon our return in a few years. The reef survey of this sector will allow us to return to the most interesting areas in a few days and obtain representative samples of the surrounding terrain. We’re testing this technique to evaluate its effectiveness for our future lunar expeditions. A side benefit to the dives is the amazing wildlife we encounter. We were visited by a big turtle affectionately called aquanaut number 7. He approached us from directly opposite the station, checking both Tim and Joe out individually like he was looking our equipment over for our sea safety review. Plenty of Jack fish, snapper, and barracuda. In all there were beautiful fish and coral all around Joe on an amazing three hour dive.
Jose’s educational outreach was exciting. Six schools, including one from the United Kingdom, participated. Dominic assisted Jose in giving a great tour of the habitat. The students asked good questions about our experiments, remote robotic surgery experiments and the plant germination experiment. Some also asked about our weight suit studies related to the design of a new space suit and moon suit design. The aquanauts really enjoy these school kids joining the mission. Their questions are extremely interesting and right on subject for exploration of the seas and space.
Image: NEEMO 12 crew members pose for a group photo at their undersea habitat as they begin the 12th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission. Image credit: NASA
Potting operations confounded by current also wreaked havoc on the NURC divers as they had to use all their skills to bring up components of a robot while bringing in components of another robot. All of this equipment is “one of a kind” and full of electronics. The potting divers use extra care to keep the material dry and protected as it transits down from the surface ship through the pressures of water to Aquarius. When transporting items down, they need to make sure that the items are protected from the increased pressure of the deeper depth and are not damaged by their packing material being crushed into them. When bringing items up from Aquarius, the divers have to make sure that all of the air is removed from the bags, so that as the item is brought up, it does not start up to the surface too fast and pull the diver up with it. If possible, they prefer to use pressure canisters, known as “pots” (hence the term, “potting”) that keep the item at a constant pressure (whether starting at sea level or at habitat depth) and relieve the pressure change once at the final destination. Then the biggest issue for the diver is just the initial weight and buoyancy of the pot, which does not change with depth.
Heide and Jose finished off the LunaSea, which simulates a communication tower, during their afternoon simulated moon walk. However, the afternoon was challenging as a strong current developed making it hard for the aquanauts to work and erect the structure. Perhaps the highlight of the construction was when our commander, Heide, installed the NEEMO 12 flag on the solar array. Along with the aquanauts building the LunaSea tower, the rover was to be out observing. The remote operation of the rover from MCC was successful today. However, we cut the operations short due to that pesky strong current.
In the evening, we have the opportunity to catch up on our daily reports and e-mails. All in all, it was another great day from the ocean floor. We are amazed at all of the analogies that we have with space and lunar exploration, but also how the ocean floor is a very unique and wonderful place. We hope that you continue to join us for more exciting tasks tomorrow.
The NEEMO 12 Crew