Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2006
NEEMO 10 is splashed down and under way! Saturday dawned sunny and calm after a rainy off-day, and we set off amidst fond farewells from topside support and camera crew. Our Japanese visitors wished us 'fair winds' with gifts of authentic Japanese antique fans, which came in handy in the hot, still canal air. The seas around the life support buoy were up to their old tricks though, and tossed us off into a slight current.
Our first team coordination test began before we reached the bottom - our team picture! We executed three highly choreographed maneuvers (thanks, Maestro Bill!) as Bill and Marc snapped away to get a poster-quality shot. After they were satisfied, we ducked into the wet porch and officially began our week as aquanauts.
The first order of business for all Aquarius aquanauts is a full safety and familiarization tour. We learned the habitat's important valves, switches (red shunt trip breaker) and procedures. One of the most important things that's not immediately obvious is the humidity. Once you get wet, it's impossible to dry off, so we use chamois squeegee towels instead of terry cloth, and make sure we're dried off before we leave the wet porch and enter our living spaces. We then swallowed a quick lunch and got ready for an afternoon of familiarization dives and practice with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
A word about food - the main meals are dehydrated camping food, easy to make with hot water and share if you can't eat a whole two-person serving. The bags of food are supplemented with tortillas, cheese, and chocolate; not necessarily in that order!
Karen Nyberg (i.e., "Bergy Bit") and Karen Kohanowich (i.e., "K2") were the first divers out for the familiarization dive. This mission is using new lightweight umbilicals which float rather than drag on the bottom, so a primary objective of the dive was to see how well the divers could manage walking around the coral areas with the umbilicals. Another tactic we're using on this mission to assist with umbilical management is what's called 'fairleading,' which means the umbilicals are led out of the habitat to a distant anchor - in this case a spare gazebo about 150 feet away- and then looped back to the Aquarius. Since the umbilicals are 400 feet long, we have enough umbilical to go back to the spare gazebo - called the 'Koblick station' and about 250 feet beyond.
The first team of Karens headed to the Koblick station and beyond to the Kamper station, a deeper gazebo about 150 feet further that is 90 feet deep. The umbilicals reached about 70-80 feet further than the Kamper station. During the first umbilical test Thursday, the topside team had realized that the lines were actually too light, and floated too near the surface of the water. They fixed this by attaching small lead strips along the umbilical at intervals. Today, after a bit more maneuvering, the divers realized that one of the umbilicals was a bit heavy, so they adjusted the weights. The floating umbilicals are definitely more maneuverable and reef-friendly than the older, heavier versions.
The conditions were calm and visibility was good for Karen and K2's dive, but Koichi and Drew weren't so lucky. By the time they suited up and got in the water a half hour after K's dives, the current picked up to about a knot, which can be quite a challenge with 400 feet of umbilical. In addition, Koichiís regulator began to free-flow, likely because of a bit of sand and debris. Nevertheless, he returned safely after a 45-minute dive, instead of the planned 90-minute dive.
While the divers were out, the remaining two crewmembers practiced with the ROV. A new addition to the "Scuttle" is a camera mounted on a tall pole, about 3 feet above the ROV. The idea was to see if the view helped the crewmember drive the vehicle. The team didn't find the higher view that much more helpful, and unfortunately the ROV suffered a number of voltage faults that shortened the practice time. There's more familiarization time scheduled tomorrow to keep working out the bugs!
The evenings are marvelous - when the outer light fades and the habitat lights come on, it invites all the fish to come take a look. A small turtle checked the team out as they finished off their dehydrated rice and tortilla dinner, and Lucy the Grouper paid a number of curiosity visits. In all a very successful first day and a promising launch to the week!
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