NEEMO 16: Decompression Day

By aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

It’s deco day.

Decompression is a strange experience. It happens at the end of every mission at Aquarius, and it’s happening to us as I write this.

One of the many ways in which life in Aquarius is like life in space is that you can’t just go home when you want to. In space, the reason is obvious… you’re in space. In Aquarius, the reason is less obvious, but just as important. If you simply swim up to the surface after a stay in Aquarius, you’ll get what divers call “the bends”.

Image at right: Aquanauts Steve Squyres (top bunk, Cornell University) and Kimiya Yui (bottom bunk, JAXA) during NEEMO 16 decompression.

Down here in the habitat, the atmospheric pressure is two and a half times higher than at the surface. We keep it that high to keep the water out — the pressure of the air prevents water from coming inside.

The inconvenient thing about living at that pressure, though, is that it forces a lot of nitrogen into your body. Air is mostly nitrogen, and at that pressure the amount of nitrogen that works its way into your body tissues is substantial. Come to the surface very slowly, and you’re fine… the nitrogen can leak out slowly and safely. Come up fast, though, and it’s like opening a bottle of soda… bubbles of nitrogen form in your blood. And that can be very bad news.

To ascend safely from Aquarius takes about 18 hours, which is an impractically long time to be moving up through the water column in dive gear. So what we do instead is seal the habitat up tight, and then slowly pump air out, reducing the pressure bit by bit. Over 18 hours the pressure goes slowly down to normal surface pressure.

As I write this, it’s about 10:30 PM on mission day 11. The gauge in the habitat says that we’re at a pressure equivalent to 18 feet of seawater. By 7:45 tomorrow morning, that’ll be down to zero feet, and we’ll be ready to go to the surface safely.

Except for one thing — we won’t be able to open the door.

With low air pressure inside the habitat, the enormous pressure of the seawater outside holds the door firmly shut. The only way we can get out is to bring the pressure back up to what it was before decompression… a process called “blowdown”. Blowdown is quick. The air valves are opened, the air rushes in, and before long things are back to normal. It’s noisy, too.

And then it really is time to go. Once blowdown has happened, all that nitrogen that was so carefully purged from our bodies begins to leak back in again. So at that point it’s like a fire drill… out to the wet porch, into our scuba gear, and up to a waiting dive boat in just a few minutes. It’s a strange experience.

And then we’ll be able to see the sky again, for the first time in almost two weeks. That will be strange too.

Learn more about NEEMO at

NEEMO 16 Science: Explore, Report, Collect


By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Today was the coolest day of the mission for me.Today we moved from engineering to science.

Engineering and science are different things. Engineers are inventors. Theirjob is to design and build things that people can use. Engineering requiresenormous creativity, and creativity of a very special kind: creativity that iscoupled with practicality. The stuff engineers build actually has to work.

Photo of JAXA astronaut Kimya Yui collects chipping samples from a rock simulating an asteroid boulder.Image at right: Aquanaut Kimya Yui (JAXA) collects chipping samples from a rock simulating an asteroid boulder.

Scientists, on the other hand, are seekers of truth. Their job is to figure outhow the world works. Science requires intuition, knowledge that is based on thework of many other scientists, and sometimes a fair amount of luck.

What we’ve been doing at NEEMO so far has been engineering in the service ofscience. We’ve been testing out hardware that was designed and built byengineers, using the procedures they recommended to us. Our job has been tofind out what works and what doesn’t, and to relay that information back to theengineers. They build, we test, they make changes, and we test again. Someday,on an asteroid, the stuff that works best is going to be used to do science onthat asteroid. We’ve been doing the engineering work to help make that futurescience possible.

But today was different. On our EVAs today we had no engineering tests toperform. Instead, our job was to explore, to report what we found back toMission Control, and then to collect the samples they wanted us to collect.

The cool thing about this is that when we went out the door we didn’t know whatwe were going to  find. The surface of our “asteroid” isreconfigurable, and the day before some clever people had gone out there, setup some challenges for us, and had not told us what they’d done. It was up tous to figure it out.

Just like any other field scientists, we started with reconnaissance, flyingabove the surface with jetpacks and reporting back to Mission Control what wediscovered. On the spot, they came up with a science plan for us, just as wouldhappen with a crew at an asteroid. And then it was up to us to use all thetools we had at our disposal, in whatever way we thought best, to carry outthat science plan.

When Kimiya and I did this on our morning EVA, we relied a lot on our jetpacks.Dottie and Tim made more use of the translation lines and the booms to do theirsampling. Both approaches worked, but in different ways. It was reallyinteresting to debrief after dinner, and compare notes on our experiences.

But most of all, these EVAs felt like real scientific field work to me.It was a taste of how it’s really going to be to explore an asteroid and Ithink it was a big step forward for NEEMO and NASA, and something that’ll takeus a significant step closer toward doing it for real someday.

To learn more about NEEMO visit

NEEMO 16: Pitching and Rolling Topside

By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Onething we haven’t thought about too much on this NEEMO mission has been theweather and sea conditions. The reason is that they’ve mostly been so good.

Photo showing visibility during NEEMO 16Image at right: Squyres shows the underwater visibility with this image.

OnNEEMO 15, it was another story. The start of that mission was delayed by atropical storm, and we came out of the water early because of an approachinghurricane. The beautiful waters of the Florida Keys, which are known to diversfor their clarity, were a hazy green murk for most of the mission. We got thejob done in the time we had, but it wasn’t always pretty. Sometimes we actuallygot lost out there, trying to find our way through the fog.

Formost of NEEMO 16, conditions have been beautiful. You can see it in thepictures that have been posted online: clear water and good diving.

Well…that has changed a bit in the past 24 hours. I took a picture out the bunk roomwindow right before Tim and I headed out for our afternoon EVA, and you can seewhat it looks like… nothing but blue fog. The visibility is maybe 15 feetnow, and I think that’s being generous.

Imageat right: Aquanaut Steve Squyres in the wet porch of the Aquarius habitat.

Badvis is only part of the story. The real issue is the strong winds and big wavestopside. We can’t really see that from down here, but we can feel it. Thenumbers we’ve been hearing are 25-knot winds and 6 to 8-foot seas… seriousbusiness in a small boat. Down here we feel the “surge” a bit as thehabitat shifts position slightly, and the popping of our ears as each big wavepasses overhead. Up top, though, our hard-working support divers are pitchingand rolling in big waves for hours at a time, needing all the care they canmuster just to get in and out of their dive boats. Difficult stuff.

Thegood news is that the bad conditions aren’t keeping us from getting the jobdone. We’ve been down here more than a week, and I think we could almost findour way around out there with our eyes closed now if we had to. The surge movesus around a bit during our simulated spacewalks, but not enough to make adifference. If conditions had been like this right out of the gate, I think itwould have been a bit of a challenge. But with nine days under our belts, we’reable to keep on keepin’ on.

I’m still hoping thingswill get better tomorrow, though!

Learn more about NEEMO at

NEEMO 16: Talent and Dedication

By NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger (NASA Astronaut)

The NEEMO 16 Team…There is no “I” in team

What does it take to pull off a 12-day mission, looking at the best ways to work and explore at an asteroid, while dealing with simulated communication time delays between the crew and Mission Control?
I don’t know exact number, but it takes many talented and dedicated people.  

Mobile Mission Control Center team

Image at right: Mission control in Key Largo, Fla.

Who are those people?  Let’s start back on shore in Key Largo, where there are two teams making sure everything comes together. One team is the Mobile Mission Control Center.  They direct the day, providing timelines for when events happen and support for all activities. 

Also back in Key Largo, we have the Aquarius Reef Base (ARB) team. They run the habitat, keeping it going 24/7.  They also provide the training and logistical support for the mission.  From their team comes two talented members, the Habitat Technicians, who live with the crew, dive with the crew, and pull off numerous feats of amazingness.  

Daily, the Liberty Star and its divers launch the submersibles and provide diving support for our breathing umbilicals. Additionally, ARB sends out boats with dive control and potting support.  Potting is literally large metal vessels that bring down food and supplies and take away trash.  NASA has a boat that brings out our scientists, spacewalk specialists, and tool designers.  
Down below, inside the habitat, is our crew of six.  We execute the mission and provide real-time input.
Each of these teams is essential; each is made of people who see the bigger picture of their role.

To learn more about NEEMO, visit

Dr. Love's Underwater Blog: Mobility and Stability with DeepWorkers

By Dr. Stan Love (NASA astronaut)

Photo of Stan Love preparing for a DeepWorker comm checkImage at right: Astronaut/DeepWorker pilot Dr. Stan Love prepares for a communications check in the DeepWorker submersible.

For the previous fewdays at NEEMO, the aquanaut crew has been moving around, taking geologic samples,and deploying science instruments as if they were astronauts in space suitsexploring a near-Earth asteroid. The buoyancy of the sea water counteractstheir body weight and makes them effectively weightless, as they would be neara small asteroid with very little gravitational pull. But it’s hard to workthat way. With no place to stand, it can take a lot of effort just to keep yourbody stable, and any work you do with your hands is clumsy and inefficient.

But now that NEEMO’smarine science dives are completed, the DeepWorker submersibles are availableto work jointly with the aquanauts. The subs provide two tremendous advantagesto our “spacewalkers”: mobility and stability. Instead of theaquanauts having to move from one place to another by going hand-over-handalong a rope, they can just ride along with the submarine. Instead of the aquanautshaving to fight to keep their body stable with one hand while trying to douseful work with the other, they can clip their feet into a “footrestraint” attached to the front of the sub and have a solid place tostand, plus the freedom to work with both hands. Part of our work at NEEMO thisyear is to quantitatively measure the time and effort it takes to do a widevariety of spacewalking tasks both with and without help from the subs.

So Saturday morning,our first pair of sub pilots, Serena and Bill, got in the water and drove theirvehicles down to a sand patch near Aquarius. Divers hooked communication linesto their sub so they could talk and listen on the same channels as theaquanauts. We had done some preliminary testing on the communication and ithadn’t gone well. But that day, to everyone’s immense delight, thecommunication worked perfectly! Serena and Bill did some test work with theaquanauts, and then returned to the surface.

Photo of aquanaut and DeepWorker sub piloted by astronaut Mike GernhardtImage at right: An aquanaut adjusts umbilicals as astronaut/DeepWorker pilot Mike Gernhardt waits in the background.

Mike Gernhardt and Iwere the sub pilots for the afternoon shift. The plan was for Mike to do thefirst set of timed and scored tasks with the aquanauts while I observed andlistened. But things did not turn out that way, as often happens in operationslike NEEMO. Exploration is interesting in part because you do not know what youwill find. And work in places like space, or the sea, is interesting becauseenvironmental conditions like space radiation, weather, or sea state cansuddenly change the operation in ways that are hard to foresee.

Out on Liberty Star, thelarge and beautiful ship that has come to support sub operations for the restof the mission, my sub was the first to go in the water. The crane hoisted meoff the deck and into the water and the lift hook disengaged. Immediately Iheard the voice of Jeff Heaton, the dive supervisor, on the radio: “Engagethrusters and move away from the ship!” The next second, the sub cabinjolted hard and tilted sharply, and I found myself wedged beneath the ship’sfantail between the rudders and the propellers (which had been turned offduring sub launching). I enabled the thrusters and gave full throttle in alldirections but the sub did not budge. Under the water my VHF radio could nottransmit or receive, and my location under the back of the ship was not accessibleto the through-water communication system we use while the subs are workingnear the sea floor. So I was on my own.

What had happened wasthat my sub had been immediately caught by a strong current and pinned againstthe ship. With no way to escape on thrusters, and the swell continuing to bangthe sub against the hull, the only option was to do down. I flooded the sub’ssoft ballast tank, which seemed to take rather a long time, and finally droppeddown away from the very bad spot I’d been in. Once below the ship I got apartial transmission on the through-water comm telling me to descend to thebottom and hold there. This I did, putting in some forward thrust as well sothat the current would not take me far from the ship.

I reached bottom onmixed sand and coral in about 90 feet of water and stayed there. The comm wasvery bad. Occasionally a call would make it through, but I wasn’t hearing muchand most of my transmissions went unanswered. I was able to tell Topside that Icould see no damage to the sub and that my cabin atmosphere was safe. Theyresponded with a recommendation to stay on bottom while they prepared torecover me. So I sat there and waited. I made test calls now and then,sometimes receiving an answer.

The current strengthenedeven more and began to drag the sub along the bottom. I still didn’t want todrift away from the ship, so I maneuvered over to a rock and let the currenthold me in place against it.

Nuytco Research, thecompany that owns the subs, has worked out emergency procedures for sub pilotsto carry out in case anything goes wrong on their flights. One of those casesis a loss of communication. For most dives, the instruction for the pilot is tostart a clock the first time an expected call is missed, and if an hour passeswith no communication they should bring the sub back to the surface. For ouroperation, since we were always going to be near the ship and in shallow waterand since communication was central to our job, we had agreed on a limit of 15minutes.

I nearly got through acouple of 15-minute intervals, but then a partial call would make it throughand I reset the clock. While waiting I watched the fish moving around the sub.A spotted eagle ray, black with vivid white spots, swam by. I got out my cameraand took a few pictures.

Finally thecommunication with the ship stopped entirely. I waited another 15 minutes, thengot on the thrusters. The current was still strong enough to make it hard todisengage from the rock I was next to. But the sub did come free, and I droveit away from the bottom. I kept an upward eye to make darn sure I didn’t comeup under the ship!

I needn’t have worried.The sub surfaced about fifty yards from the Liberty Star. Immediately Jeff cameover the VHF radio and guided me back to the crane hook. Recovery was swift andefficient, and soon I was back on deck enjoying the breeze and asking whetherI’d made the right decisions. Everyone assured me that I had, and Jeffcommended me on having actually read and followed the lost-comm procedure.Evidently not everyone does that. He also said that from their perspective,they had put me in the water and I had disappeared instantly. I’m glad I wasn’tthe only one who felt that way!

While Jeff and I werechatting, Mike from Nuytco came up and handed me a stubby, heavy, black plasticcylinder with a big blue-smeared bite taken off the edge of it. “Here’syour through-water comm transducer. Do you want to keep it?” Yes, I did. Iwill take it home and put it in my curio cabinet as a memento of an excitingday in the submarine. That ‘ducer sits high on the back of the sub, behind thepilot’s head, and it acts as the “antenna” for the system. If it’sbroken, no communication occurs. The blue color was bottom paint from theLiberty Star. Evidently the ‘ducer had taken the brunt of my impact with theship. That explained the bad communication.

After that, the rest ofthe day was kind of anticlimactic. The Nuytco crew quickly installed a newthrough-water comm ‘ducer on my sub and made sure it was fit for duty. I dranka bottle of Gatorade to replace the fluid I’d lost from sweat (both fromtemperature and stress, no doubt), then hopped back in the cockpit to do our now-badly-delayedmission to the habitat, this time with both subs and no mishaps. We returned toshore at dusk, with take-out dinner plates kindly provided by the LibertyStar’s excellent cook. Another day thoroughly seized.

Learn more about NEEMO at

NEEMO 16: EVA Divers and Subs

By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Photo of Aquanuat Steve Squyres mounted to a DeepWorker Sub.Image at right: Squyres performs an EVA while mounted to a DeepWorker sub piloted by NEEMO Mission Manager Bill Todd.

We’re finally doing it.

I was on the crew for NEEMO 15, back in October. It was a great mission, but it got cut short after just six days by a hurricane. (We were bummed, of course, but you don’t argue with a hurricane.) We got a lot of our tasks done, and we learned a lot. But the thing we all wanted to do most — dual operations between divers and submarines — we never got to.

So why do we have submarines down here? The reason is that they simulate small spacecraft that could be used in conjunction with astronauts doing spacewalks at an asteroid. Spacewalks at an asteroid won’t be like spacewalks at the International Space Station… asteroids don’t come with handrails. So one idea is to take a small spacecraft to the asteroid, and let the astronauts fasten their feet to that spacecraft. The pilot in the spacecraft would position the astronaut, who would have both hands free to work on the asteroid.

We tried that today, with Kimiya Yui and me as the astronauts and two small submarines, (with Serena Aunon and Bill Todd at the controls) as the spacecraft. And it worked. I mean, it really worked. The subs fly beautifully. Being mounted out on the front of one and working with the sub driver to fine-tune our path to our next location was drop-dead easy. And then, once we got where we were going, having our feet locked solidly to the sub was a great way to work.

And… I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the cool factor in all of this. At the start of today’s EVA I was floating above the bottom, listening to the voice communications in my headset and watching for the sub. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, I saw the lights coming toward me through the blue mist. It was like being inside a science fiction movie. And then, once we were flying about the surface… man, I’ve never experienced anything like it. You can hang on with just your knees, both hands free like Leonardo DiCaprio in that scene from Titanic. King of world indeed…

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NEEMO 16: Night Diving

By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)

Photo of Aquanauts Tim Peake and Steve SquyresImage at right: Tim Peake and Steve Squyres translate across the ocean floor.

The past 24 hours has simply been an incredible experience. And considering that this entire NEEMO 16 mission has so far been an incredible experience that is saying something. About this time last night I was heading out the wet porch with fellow crewmember Steve Squyres for a night dive, with only one objective…to have fun 🙂

Night time underwater is something very special. Having lived with the marine life for several days now we have begun to recognize their routine. As the sun goes down, the fish start to get excited. Small larvae gather in the external lights of Aquarius and climb all over our port hole windows. The food chain kicks in and before we know it the huge, beautiful silver Tarpons are darting around at the top of the chain, with Barracuda taking their fill too and ‘Gordon’ the Goliath Grouper lazily keeping score like some oversized referee.

Steve and I were sitting on the ocean floor being awed by this amazing scene when in the corner of my eye I noticed an unmistakable tail swishing movement of a fish larger than even the Tarpon…Nurse Shark! It glided elegantly past us, looking a bit put out since we were sitting right where it had been sleeping the previous night…time to move over a little bit and free up some bed space. We were so thankful just to have the time, peace and quiet to enjoy this wonderful scene, being able to lie back look up at the surface, watching our bubbles causing a bioluminescent firework display.

Only one person can enter and exit the habitat at a time, and it takes several minutes to hat and unhat a diver. So when it was finally time to come back inside I remained outside whilst Steve ‘staged in’, and during those few minutes I was able to enjoy the feeling of complete isolation, with all my lights turned out and just enjoying the environment and the eerie glow coming from the Aquarius wet porch. Steve’s comment earlier had been spot on…just like a scene from the movie ‘Aliens’!

With the previous night’s dive fresh our minds, the morning brought the prospect of something completely different but equally exciting…submersibles. Today was the day that the crew began to work with our ‘Space Exploration Vehicles’ in order to assess how they contribute to the efficiency of the tasks that we have been performing throughout the mission. By the time we were back in the water the light was fading slightly and the visibility dropping, so by the time the subs arrived we were once again treated to a completely surreal image of these two awesome floodlit machines slowly appearing out of the gloom. It really wasn’t that hard to remind ourselves that we were simulating an asteroid mission…the special effects have so far been worthy of an award!

Learn more about NEEMO at:

Dr. Love's Underwater Blog: NEEMO 16

By Dr. Stan Love 

Image of Dr. Love preparing for a night flight in the deepworker sub. Darlene Lim also pictured.Image at right: Stan Love (in the sub) talks with Darlene Lim as he prepares for his nighttime DeepWorker flight.

I last blogged inOctober 2011 during the 15th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO)test. I had come to Florida to drive DeepWorker submersibles as part of NEEMO’sasteroid mission simulation, but the threat of a hurricane cut short our work.Although I didn’t get to drive the sub that year, there was an opportunity todo a short scuba dive at the Aquarius habitat, which provided more than enoughmaterial for a blog entry. Before that, I blogged about piloting the DeepWorkerin a deep, clear mountain lake in Canada for the Pavilion Lake Research Projectin July 2010.

This year I’m inFlorida again for NEEMO 16, working as a Capcom (Capsule Communicator) in the MobileMission Control Center and as a sub pilot. We’re about halfway through the Aquariuscrew’s twelve-day mission, which has been going smoothly and according to plan.Unfortunately there has been more uncertainty for the submersibles. Theyarrived here on time aboard the support ship Lana Rose, but technical problemsand high waves made it difficult to put them in the water for the marinescience dives they were scheduled to carry out during the first part of themission.

 But late on WednesdayJune 13 the seas were calm, the subs were ready, and the pilot roster showed myname and that of marine biologist Steve Giddings. We rode out to the Lana Roseaboard Latency, a work boat from Kennedy Space Center that is serving as ourwater taxi between Aquarius headquarters in Key Largo and the habitat itself,which is several miles offshore. It was a lovely, calm late afternoon, withtowering clouds in the distance promising a spectacular sunset. The Lana Rosecrew welcomed us aboard. We shook hands with Big Jeff, Mike, and Little Jefffrom Nuytco Research. They take care of the subs, run all the pre-dive checklists,and monitor and navigate the subs during their underwater missions.

The sun set while wefinished preparations for the dive. Steve and I climbed into our subs, wentthrough our final checks, and got hoisted into the water. By then it wascompletely dark.

All my previousDeepWorker flights had been in daylight. Although the lighting was dim inVancouver harbor and at the bottom of Pavilion Lake, being in a sub in totaldarkness was a new experience for me. The small computer monitor and videocamera screens in the cockpit provided a little light, and I had twoflashlights on a cord around my neck, but the sub’s powerful external lightsshone out into empty water and showed nothing outside. It was a little likebeing in space.

 The first step in aDeepWorker dive is to head to the bottom and hang out for a while. Followingthe instructions of the navigator aboard Lana Rose, I drove downward. Soon aflat, white, sandy bottom appeared in the circle of light from the sub. Isettled down onto it, about 100 feet below the surface. After a few tweaks tothe life support system, both the Topside team and I were ready to start themission.

Moving along theplanned route, the flat bottom suddenly ended in a steep incline: the slope ofConch Reef. You can’t imagine a greater contrast. Instead of a featurelessplain of white sand, here was a rough, jumbled wall of old reef rock encrustedwith thousands of sponges, sea whips, sea fans, and little coral colonies in apsychedelic kaleidoscope of red, orange, purple, mauve, and brown with anoccasional flash of fluorescent blue. 

Image of Dr. Love piloting the DeepWorker SubMy job was to follow apre-planned route and to take detailed video imagery of whatever I encountered,focusing on coral colonies and the appropriately named barrel sponges. Therewere plenty of both, but it was the more mobile reef creatures that caught myeye the most. Early in the flight a small moray eel, white with black spots,stuck its head out of its cleft in the rock and gaped at me. Squadrons oftorpedo-like squid, a foot or so in length and with eyes that shone like acat’s, kept formation with the sub at the edge of its circle of illumination. Closeto the sub’s lights, a galaxy of small animals swarmed. There were thousands oftiny moving transparent rods, like little sections of pencil lead, and larvalsquid a centimeter or so in length that looked like they were made of glass.Frenetically corkscrewing pink worms wriggled past. Now and then a school ofshiny little fish would come up to eat the creatures attracted by the lights.

 Meanwhile, the subneeded some attention beyond just manipulating the foot pedals to drive thethrusters. Topside asked for life-support checks now and then. My sub wastowing a fiber-optic umbilical, which provided a realtime video signal back tothe Lana Rose. At one point the cable got hung up on an obstruction and I hadto drive back along it to help free it. Now and then I saw the lights ofSteve’s sub passing by in the distance. He was not trailing a tether, butsometimes had to maneuver to avoid mine.

 It was very hot in thecockpit. With an outside water temperature of 85 degrees F, and no way to makethe air in the sub cooler or drier, it was a bit like working in a steam room.A far cry from Pavilion Lake, whose 38-degree water meant that DeepWorkerpilots had to fly in pile jackets, hats, and wool socks! Now I was wearing aT-shirt and swim trunks and was still too warm. But the view outside the subwas so incredible that I rarely noticed the heat. 

At one point, Topside suggestedthat I settle on a patch of sand, turn off my lights, and look forbioluminescence. I tried that, aiming my video camera up into the water columnto see if any creatures out there were making their own light. With the lightsoff, it was profoundly dark outside. I looked hard for flashes of blue orgreen, but didn’t see any. I turned the lights back on and moved toward thenext waypoint.

Ever since I waslittle, I’ve thought that cephalopods (squids, octopuses, and their relatives)were cool. I encountered plenty of them on this mission, besides the onesalready mentioned. A cuttlefish, with a plump brown-striped body and tentaclesheld rigidly curled in front of it, cruised past the sub’s transparent dome.Abruptly, its stripes grew wider and darker, demonstrating the amazingcolor-changing ability that these animals possess. Then the cuttlefish zippedaway. Later in the mission, out on another sandy flat, my eye caught motion ina large conch shell resting in the sand. I drove the sub over for a closer lookat what I thought would turn out to be another hermit crab, several of which Ihad already seen trundling across the sea bed with their snail-shell houses ontheir backs. But the animal that cautiously peeked back out of this shell wasno hermit crab. It was soft, and mottled brown, with a pulsing mantle and asiphon. It was an octopus! I hadn’t seen one in the wild since I was a kid.What a treat! I recorded some video for the biologists, then turned the subaway only to see a large spiny lobster scuttle past. It seemed to know that itwas in a bad place, out on the sand and far from the protective cover of thereef, and was making all speed for a better place to hide.

All too soon Steve andI reached the final waypoints of our flight plans and it was time to return tothe ship. We had been in the water for almost four hours and it was well pastmidnight. As we prepared to surface, Steve brought his sub close to mine, thentook video of me leaving the sea floor. I lifted off slowly, the sub rotatingslightly to bring its lights in line with the ship above and trailing a plumeof disturbed sediment behind it. It looked very much like a slow-motion versionof an Apollo lunar ascent module lifting off the Moon forty years ago.Meanwhile, aboard ship, another video camera recorded the brilliantly lightedsub approaching the surface in a circle of bright blue water.

Once back on deck, theNuytco crew helped Steve and me secure the sub cockpits and climb out. Latencyshowed up a few minutes later to take us back to shore and sleep after anincredible night dive.

I have two more dayshere at NEEMO 16. With luck, I’ll fly another sub mission. This one will have avery different focus. Instead of taking images and making observations for marinebiology, I’ll be working with the aquanaut crew on a very complex real-timeunderwater simulation of a human exploration mission to a near-Earth asteroid.But that will be a topic for a future blog.

Learn more about NEEMO at

NEEMO 16: Simulating Communications Delays

By Aquanaut Kimiya Yui (JAXA)
The topside crew discusses scenarios in mission controlImage at right: The topside crew discuss communications delay scenarios in the mobile mission control center.
Today, we didn’t have any EVAs. However, we had several interesting events today! Our commander Dottie had live, underwater interviews while in her diving gear. Tim Peake and Steve Squyres had some interviews with a 50-second communication delay. Imagine if you asked a question, but you couldn’t get an answer for 100 seconds? It must make a really strange interview!

These kinds of events were completely new to us, so we really enjoyed the challenge and also learned a lot from them. We know that during deep-space missions, communication with mission control on Earth will be delayed, and it will be very challenging for us to communicate during our missions. 

Of course, we had some hard training today. We had different types of emergency trainings, also with a communication delay! We got really good data, which will be valuable when we are going to explore an asteroid or Mars. We need to know what will be the most effective ways – and what kind of tools will be used – to comunicate effectively with a communication delay.
By the way, do you think communication delay will affect our team work? Of course, it is hard to react to an unexpected situation without timely support from the ground team, which is an expert team. However, I felt the bond of the crew became much stronger. And more interestingly, I feel that not only crew but entire team’s bond became stronger!
When teams overcome tough situations, the individual grows and team members will be bonded stronger! That is why we always need to keep a challenging and difficult mission! Sending humans to an asteroid is a tough mission, but I believe it is worth it!
Learn more about NEEMO at

EVAs with Jetpacks

By Kimiya Yui (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
Aquanaut Kimiya Yui (JAXA) uses a jetpack while performing tasks underwater.

Image at right: Aquanaut Kimiya Yui performs tasks underwater while using a jetpack.

Under the water, the scenery is so beautiful, but we don’t have much time to enjoy this view when we are conducting EVAs.

On Mission Day 4, we did various tasks which were almost the same as Mission Day 3. However, we started using a jet pack for our tasks. Have you ever dreamed about becoming a “Superman?” Yes! Our jet packs (simulated “Super SAFER,” packs that ISS astronauts use) allow us make this dream to come true. It’s cool, easy and smooth! Everyone liked this method of moving around. I felt as if I was flying around an asteroid! However, we can’t just enjoy flying… We are going to go to an asteroid to do science, research, work etc., not just for fun.  So, we started doing our tasks by using this jet pack. Once we started to do our tasks, we didn’t like this method as much because it was hard to stay in the same place. Yes, it was fun but it was hard to do our tasks! We are testing various kinds of methods, and each one has its pros and cons. 
We are working really hard and take this really seriously because we all know that this kind of test can save billions of dollars in the future, if we conduct the test correctly and get accurate data.
To get good data, the entire NEEMO team is cooperating with each other and doing their tasks. We are lucky, because we have a lot of skillful and professional people in this place that allow us to conduct this amazing mission.
I hope our efforts will contribute to the future of human exploration, and I really hope future human exploration will be conducted under the international framework!

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