by Heather Paul and Amanda Knight
Analog Lead Technical Liaison
for Education and Public Outreach
Topside in Key Largo, Florida!
During NEEMO 14, the aquanauts perform saturation diving. Saturation diving is a technique that allows them to avoid the effects of “the bends” so they may work on the ocean floor for their mission. “The bends” is very similar to the experience astronauts have when exiting the space vehicle to perform spacewalks. In these instances, the pressure in the spacesuit is lower than the pressure in the vehicle. In order to safely and effectively prevent “the bends” for saturation diving, dive tables have been developed, to determine the time required for decompression, depending upon the maximum time at a specific depth.
“Saturation” refers to the aquanauts’ tissues absorbing the maximum partial pressure of gas possible for a given depth, after being exposed to breathing gas at that pressure for a prolonged time. Saturation diving is important because, once an aquanaut’s tissues become saturated, the length of time required for decompression and safe ascent from the depth of Aquarius will not increase.
Mission day 13 was dedicated time for the aquanauts to decompress. Decompression happens as the pressure within Aquarius is slowly brought back to the surface pressure from the operating depth of the Aquarius habitat. This process takes over 17 hours to complete. Once the decompression is completed, the aquanauts are allowed to swim to the surface and return safely home.
For more information on Aquarius, saturation diving and decompression, please visit http://aquarius.uncw.edu/.
On mission day 14, the crew, happy and healthy, safely made it to the topside boat to return back to the site of Mission Control in Key Largo, after completing all mission objectives. Everyone was glad to see the crew after two weeks.. and they were very glad to be in the sun!
The crew and support divers return to the dock in Key Largo where the topside support team was happy to welcome them safely home!
It has been such a privilege to work with such an amazing Aquarius crew and topside support and personnel! And thanks to each of you who have been following along with us on this extreme environment mission. Videos, photos and information will continue to be posted to our social media sites, so please stay tuned!
If you enjoyed seeing how we continue to prepare for planetary expeditions and are developing technology and operations, keep your eyes out for our next set of analog field tests, which are just around the corner.