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!

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