Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Key Largo, Fla.
Day 1 – Monday, July 17
Arrival. By some small miracle, the whole crew rendezvoused within 2 mins of each other in the Miami airport baggage claim area, truly a good omen for the mission! We all got stuck in traffic so exited stage right to a Cuban restaurant – another miracle decision off the crowded Miami freeways. Koichi, Drew, Karen and K2 (Karen Kohanowich) were in one van and got the call to do the grocery shopping; quick work at the store with the four of us and back at the condo by 10 p.m. A little practice with cameras, and snuggled into bunkbeds. Turned out none of us slept well, just because of excitement, new place, etc.
Day 2 – Tuesday, July 18
After a morning run and breakfast, the team headed over to condo one for training. We conducted introductions all around – the University of North Carolina at Wilmington crew, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency visitors, and NASA topside crew. A special NASA guest was Rick Sanchez of the Life Sciences Program. Otter hosted the four of us for a good intro into Aquarius and systems. He had a more detailed map of the area than any we had seen previously, which showed the life support buoy mooring lines and excursion lines. They've taken many of the excursion lines in, though, in preparation for hurricane season, since we won't need them since we're not on scuba. Visibility can change from 60-70 to 10-20 feet in minutes because of bay outflow, and they experience the same unpredictability of currents. When scuba diving, aquanauts carry waterproofed VHF radios in case of the need for emergency surfacing. We were told to watch out for marine life- fire corals, bottom dwelling sting rays, bristleworms are the worst, don't pull the nurse sharks' tails, barracuda won't bother you, and a hammerhead hung out during one decompression just checking everyone out.
He gave us a full rundown on living in the habitat. You don't need to bring much for personal hygiene, just toothbrushes. Everyone shares a tingly peppermint shampoo, and takes short, 'Navy' showers. We have to GET DRY in the wetporch before entering the rest of the habitat. Each of us will have a different color chamois towel for that. Keeping your ears clean and dry is very important.
Fire shouldn't be a problem. The habitat has several sets of emergency air breathing masks in case of air contamination; the aquanauts can breathe safe air while the contaminated air in the habitat is vented. We're told that would take about 20 minutes.
Roger Garcia gave us a very thorough briefing on the diving helmet and emergency procedures, including: loss of primary air, helmet flooding, breathing resistance, free flowing regulator. In the afternoon, we walked through hatting the diver on board the R/V research diver boat.
Day 3 – Wednesday, July 19
The third day of training was in shallow water (20-foot deep) just shoreward of Aquarius. We used the diving helmets off the R/V research diver boat. NOAA's Undersea Research Center (NURC) has great training set up with a small manifold and 100 cubic foot tanks that fit on the middle transom, and 80-foot umbilicals that don't take up too much room on the aft deck. Roger is the consummate dive supervisor and makes sure everyone knows what's happening. He and Otter hatted James first, and sent him down to be "red diver" for the duration. Then we took turns diving and tending, and being duty photographer. Everyone did great, and loved the hat. The seas had started to pick up, and it was hot. Koichi was first - he wore his full wetsuit so that he could get his weight right, and was ready early. By the time we got him hatted, he was feeling the effects, but was stoic through it all! We went through our surface check routine, and on the bottom did a headstand, flooded the helmet, did an out of air drill, and bounced around on the bottom a bit.
In the meantime, the other NASA folks were getting in enough dives to be NURC-approved divers. They had a couple of dives to go after we were finished, so we ended up bouncing around at anchor for another hour or so. Not real comfortable for those of us who've misplaced our sea legs, so many of us stayed in the water snorkeling.
Finally it was time to head over to Aquarius for a scuba familiarization dive. Otto and Alex took the four of us down for a tour. The visibility wasn't bad, about 30-40 feet. It's always an impressive sight to see the Aquarius looming ahead of you in the water! It's about the size of a big motor home, and the top grates look like a landing deck above the Yellow Submarine. Right off the bat, we were welcomed by Lucy and Stella Grouper; big fish about 4 feet long. We all took advantage of the 40 minutes to explore all around the outside of the habitat, checking out the valves and tanks and sealife, and getting the 'lay of the land' of the neighborhood.
Training continued after we returned; Derek had "Scuttle," the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), set up to do some piloting practice in the canal next to the condos. Each of us tried our hand driving the vehicle across the canal and getting a feel for the automatic heading and hovering controls. It's a sturdier vehicle than others used, but still takes some umbilical awareness, as even the lightweight power cord provides some drag. It will be a great vehicle to simulate moon ROV operations.
Day 4 – Thursday, July 20
In the morning, we finished the list of our personal items to be transported to Aquarius such as clothing, personal digital assistants, and notebooks, and gave the NURC folks our first bag of items to be 'potted down.' The pots are actually pressurized painting pots that have been modified for Aquarius use.
Today was the real indoctrination into Aquarius diving, as we dove down to the wet porch, suited up in our diving helmets with the help of support divers, and did a brief familiarization dive in the helmet and fins. The team also conducted scuba check-out dives with the NURC staff to become qualified NURC divers. We were all thrilled with the helmets, and with diving around the habitat being able to talk with one another. Can't wait to return and make longer dives!
That evening, we had more ROV briefings and learned how to make the data and control connections which will allow the flight controllers in the Exploration Planning Operations Center (ExPOC) in Houston to control the ROV in a true "remote control" scenario.
Day 5 – Friday, July 21
Billed as a day off, we ended up spending a good amount of time going over our timeline and choreography for the mission. In comparison to Space Shuttle flight training, which normally lasts a year after crew assignment, our two weeks of training was rather abbreviated. It was very challenging but was thorough and efficient. We were comfortable with our knowledge and skills but were glad to take the time to understand what each of our team members understands about our various roles and duties during the mission. Let's dive!!
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