Underwater Spacewalks

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Steve Squyres conducts an underwater
By Aquanaut Steve Squyres (Cornell University)

Image at right: Steve Squyres conducts an underwater spacewalk.

Extra-vehicular activity. Spacewalk. Whether you say it in NASA-ese or plain English, a walk in space conjures up images of floating serenely above the Earth’s surface (or maybe above an asteroid), enjoying the freedom that only zero-gravity can afford.

The reality, however, can be a little different.

Nobody does a spacewalk just for fun. Yep, they’re fun, no doubt about it… ask anybody who’s done one. But they’re always done with a purpose. If you couple that sense of purpose with a solid emphasis on safety, the reality of a spacewalk is that it becomes an intricate matter of managing tools, equipment and tethers. Lots and lots and lots of tethers.

I’m the one non-astronaut on the NEEMO 16 crew, so I don’t have the months of training in EVA tricks and procedures that my fellow crewmembers have. Luckily, though, I come from a mountaineering background, where we use the same kind of equipment — nylon slings and carabiners — that the astronauts use on orbit. It’s really the same kind of problem… you need to move around, and you need to clip yourself reliably to something so that you don’t drift (space) or fall (mountains) off into nowhere.

So the good news is that I sorta know what I’m doing. The bad news is that we all have to do a lot of it! We don’t go anywhere without two safety tethers holding us down to something. Any piece of equipment we have with us has to have a tether. The box that holds all the tethers has a tether. And on and on and on. You can see from the picture how it looks. Do it right, and everything works reasonably well. Do it wrong, and you’ve got spaghetti.

We did it pretty well today, most of the time. But you’ve really got to keep your focus. Drifting serenely above the Earth, or an asteroid, or the sea floor definitely has a certain appeal. But if you want to do it right, you also have to be pretty good at not getting tangled.

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/neemo.

Splashdown!

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By Aquanaut Tim Peake (European Space Agency)

The NEEMO 16 Crew prepares for splashdownImage at right (left to right): JAXA Astronaut Kimiya Yui, NASAAstronaut (and N16 Commander) Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, ESA AstronautTim Peake, and Veteran Aquanaut Dr. SteveSquyres.

After months of training and preparation the day finally arrived…Splashdown for NASA’s NEEMO 16 mission. The crew woke early, eager to pack the few last remaining items into the ‘pots’ that our superb support crew, amongst their many other tasks, would be taking down to the Aquarius habitat ahead of our arrival.

The atmosphere on the Key Largo dockside this morning was buzzing with activity, conversation and good humour. The NEEMO mission team had gathered to say farewell to the saturation crew – and despite our intense excitement at what lay ahead we were genuinely sorry to say goodbye to all our friends and colleagues who have dedicate so much time and effort into making this a successful mission so far.

The weather today was kind, as it had been all week, and with only a 2-3 foot swell to deal with, our dive boat made quick work of the 8km out to Life Support Buoy, which feeds Aquarius with electricity and clean air. It felt quite weird — donning SCUBA gear for what could have been a routine dive but knowing that we would not be surfacing for 12 more days! With our team photo complete and the hot Florida sun beating down on us — finally jumping into the ocean was just the best feeling ever.

Since we had full cylinders of air on our backs the team enjoyed a great dive around Aquarius, which included of course posing for the customary pre-mission photos! As we positioned ourselves around one of Aquarius’ port holes we were joined by an inquisitive little turtle, who we later learned was called Little Joe and was a huge fan with previous NEEMO crews. With the air getting low it was finally time to say goodbye to our topside dive buddies and head into the wet-porch of Aquarius, where our lab technicians James and Justin were waiting to greet us. Some of the first things we noticed were the higher pitch of our voices and the fact that it was very hard to whistle in the thick air under a pressure of 2.5 atmospheres.

Aquarius is such an amazing place — unique as it is currently the only underwater habitat in the world and as James took us through the initial briefing it was hard not to be distracted by the Wrasse, Grouper, Barracuda and myriad of other marine animals who were queuing up outside the portholes to look at these strange humans who had come to share their environment for a short period of time.

Unfortunately, our free time to enjoy the new environment was limited as we had to get to work setting up our ‘IV Station’ with communications, IT, cameras, etc., and getting back into the water in pairs with our mini-workstations and jet-packs attached for more familiarization and practice of our asteroid extravehicular activity techniques.

So a successful and busy start to this amazing mission, and as we acclimatise to our new surroundings, it is very clear to see that the real fun is only just beginning!

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/neemo.

The End Of An Analog (For Now)

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By Autonomous Mission Control Crew D Commander Anna Fisher
May 18, 2012 – Run #3

Busy day onboard Cabot. Can’t wait to get home and take a hot shower!
GMT 17:10 Our day is off to a good start. 5 min time delay is a bummer.
GMT 21:14 Minor problem with the atrium flow but worked the mal and able to proceed.
GMT 20:06 Life onboard is good. Will have to do a 28v R&R in the future.

Mission Managers Test Wrap Up
By Megan Rosenbaum, Analog Technical Lead

Overall the test has been going really well. Many of the crew and flight controllers have expressed the same sentiments in terms of their feelings on communicating over a comm. delay. Communication does become more difficult with failures and when you need more interaction between the ground and crew, but it does not hinder their ability to work through the issues. Both sides have adapted quickly to what each more significant delay brings to the table, but overall the crew and ground are handling the delay very well.

The current baseline runs mostly incorporated current ISS operational concepts and the overall approach to this first test could be best summarized with the following statement.-MCC has the “expertise” and leads operations as it does today. Although we know we would do things differently for long time delay, the point of this is to figure out at what time delay which things break and why.

During the runs in June, the following things will be added to the overall test:

– We will use an Automated Caution and Warning System (ACAWS) to help troubleshoot system failures. The Crew will also have ACAWS during the runs which will better equip them and give them the ‘expertise’ to deal with failures.- The runs will add chat (instant messaging) capability to compliment traditional Air-to-Ground voice calls.- We will also have a new procedure viewer which will allow the ground to see where the crew is in each step of the procedure that they are executing. The new web-based Procedure Display is called WebPD.-The crew will also have planning tools (Desktop SCORE) in the mitigation runs for self scheduling as desired.

Hope to see you back here in June!

Testing Out The Time Delay

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Today marked the first day of the first run of a new analog mission at NASA:  Autonomous Mission Operations. The Autonomous Mission Operations – or AMO – tests look at the capability of a crewed spacecraft to plan and fly a mission with minimum support from ground.  As human exploration moves farther and farther away from Earth, the constant communication we currently enjoy with the crew of the International Space Station will become impossible. Communication from Earth to the crew will take longer and longer to reach its destination – and the same will be true of the answers the crew sends back.

The communications delays that astronauts would experience on the way to a Lagrange Point, asteroid, Mars or other distant destinations will make it necessary to change the capabilities of spacecraft, change the roles and responsibilities of ground and crew and the ways that ground and crew interact during the mission.  The purpose of the AMO project is to define what some of those changes might be.

To do so, AMO will run two series of tests this summer. The first is taking place May 15-18, and the second June 12-17. During those time frames, four different crews made up of one astronaut commander and several space shuttle or International Space Station flight controllers acting as flight engineers will run three, two-hour mission scenarios a day. Working inside the Habitat Demonstration Unit (which has been dubbed Cabot for the AMO tests) at Johnson Space Center, the crews will take turns working through the same timelines under three different simulated time delays: 1.2 seconds (what we’d experience at the second Lagrange Point), 50 seconds (the communication delay for an asteroid), and five minutes (how long it takes to say hello to Mars).

As part of the simulation, the commanders of the four crews will send blog updates throughout the course of the mission. Today’s blogger and commander (of crew A) is astronaut Rex Walheim.

 

15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 1:
Crew is in good health and good spirits.  Today we are working IRED Cleaning, water transfer, filter changeout and camera surveys.  We are working a little slowly as we get acclimated to the habitat.  MCC is treating us well.  Food is good. 

 

15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 2:
I was tasked with finding the ovoid.  There was a slight mutiny onboard as the other crewmembers found out what this task was and decided they wanted to be involved in this Easter egg hunt as described in the Limerick below:

There once was a crew on the Cabot
That searched for the egg of a rabbit
Inside was a sweet
Just one tiny treat 
So whoever first found it would grab it

(Mission Manager’s Note:  Stowage and Inventory on the space station is something that the crew and ground consistently monitor and manage.  In spaceflight, staying organized and keeping the proper items in stock is critical. Occasionally, we find that items have gone missing or have been tucked in a location that wasn’t accurately recorded.  To simulate this for AMO, we have a “MISSING-ITEM-SEARCH” scheduled. The crew is looking for a piece of Environmental and Life Support “equipment” that had been noted as MIA.  In reality, the missing “equipment” was a plastic egg filled with candy that we hid somewhere inside the Deep Space Habitat. We called it an ovoid canister.  The crew reports when/if they find the missing item and the stowage location to the Mission Control Center.  It’s a fun task, but mimics a real-life scenario.)

 

15 May, Rex Walheim, Entry 3:
Crew feeling well.  Procedures going well.  Almost feels like we have been here before.  50 second time delay in both directions.   It is about on the borderline where you can either press on autonomously, or wait for the ground to tell you what to do during an off nominal situation.

Ovoid found and consumed!

 

Follow along with the AMO tests via Facebook at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.

Thoughts As I Wait On The MCC

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By Autonomous Mission Operations Crew C Commander Alvin Drew
May 17, 2012 – Run #1 – 50-second time delay (one way)
Busy morning so far for this “quiescent” phase of the mission.  Looks like we’ve beat up our equipment here – failed hard drives, worn out parts for the weightlifting machine and scuffed paint on the exterior of the hygiene module – nothing critical though. One day MCC will answer me immediately after I talk to them and it’s bound to startle me.

 

May 17,2012 – Run #2 – 5-minute time delay (one way)
About 60 million miles from Earth – 5 minutes time delay each way – I’d hate to pay those long distance charges.

 

May 17, 2012 – Run #3 – 50-second time delay (one way)
About 10 million miles from Earth – I can just barely pick out my house from here.

Time Delay Adds Challenge To The Routine

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May 16, 2012 – Test Day #2
By Todd Quasny, AMO Crew B Flight Engineer 3 (and real life MCC Flight Controller)
Today has been a very challenging day.  We have performed a total of three runs in which we perform routine activities that would need to be performed if we were on a long duration spaceflight. These activities include cleaning and replacing air filters, transferring water to our plants so they can grow into food, as well as performing a camera inspection of our space vehicle to make sure there is no damage to the outside.

For each run through of our activities, there is a delay in communications between us and Earth that is representative of what it would be like if we were conducting a mission to an asteroid or even Mars. This creates quite a challenge to perform even the most routine activities and it takes a lot of work and even some creativity to get everything done.

 

During our second run of the day, one of the crew members simulated getting sick. As Crew Medical Officer (CMO), it was my job to treat the crew member in coordination with the ground. Since we had a 5 minute communications delay at the time (so 10 minutes round trip), talking to medical professionals on the ground and consulting on the best course of action was a daunting task to say the least.  I was required to setup our ultrasound machine to take images to be analyzed by the people on the ground. Not being medically trained myself, this was really exciting to me! The capabilities that we have to handle so many diverse situations during spaceflight, both planned and unplanned, is so very cool!

 

May 16 – Test Day #2
By AMO Crew B Commander Lee Morin
Several malfunctions today with time delay to MCC of 50 seconds each way. A little easier than 300 seconds so I guess we are getting closer to Earth!

Had a problem with the water transfer, flow rate was too high so shut it off since a too-fast flow rate can damage the plumbing. Worked the issue with MCC and got the required 90% of the water transferred by using the backup plumbing and backup procedures.

Also had a problem with a power converter that created a flood of error messages when it failed. Narrowed the problem down to the 28V converter.  Power-cycling did not correct the problem. We will perform a Repair and Replace tomorrow.

With all the MALs I got behind and FE2 helped me out with the soil pH tasks.

In the earlier run we had a medical emergency, FE3 performed a medical ultrasound for abdominal pain on FE1. This put us way behind but fortunately FE1 recovered for the next run.

Runs 1 and 2 were both involving 300 seconds of delay, the delay to Mars when Mars is at its closest. It is very difficult to coordinate with MCC with such a long delay, and not have wasted time. Often you have to decide whether to press on and just tell MCC what you are intending, or to wait for them to tell you what to do.

Today we also had two educational events, one with just the commander and one with the whole crew. The audience had pretty good questions.

This has been very interesting and the habitat really does create a spaceflight-like experience.

 

Follow along in the AMO mission on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nasa.amo.

What's Your (Call) Sign?

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By Jeremy Frank, Autonomous Mission Operations Project Lead

Mission Control is usually portrayed in movies and television shows as filled with people intently staring at computer screens showing information about a spacecraft and the astronauts inside it. These people are referred to as flight controllers. Each of these flight controllers has responsibility for one part of the mission, or part of the spacecraft. The International Space Station flight control team consists of between 15 and 35 flight controllers, depending on what activities are taking place. Each of these people has a different responsibility. Perhaps the most famous of these flight control positions is the Flight Director; she or he has the responsibility to run the mission, and ensure that the crew is safe. Another well-known flight controller is the Capsule Communicator, or CapCom; this person’s responsibility is to communicate with the crew. Other flight controller responsibilities, while less well known, are equally important. One person is responsible for managing the orientation of the ISS and its orbit around the Earth; another is responsible for managing the activities of the crew, and so on. Each of these flight controllers have unique, and short, ‘call signs’ to uniquely identify them.
 
For the AMO project, we are conducting a much shorter ‘mission’ (2 hours, instead of 2 weeks for a typical Space Shuttle mission, or 6 months for the typical crew stay onboard the International Space Station). Our ‘spacecraft’, the Habitat Demonstration Unit, is also quite a bit simpler than either the ISS or the Space Shuttle! As a result, we created a much smaller flight control team. Even with this smaller team, we will learn a great deal about how to conduct operations in the presence of larger time delays than those experienced during any previous human spaceflight missions.
 
We opted to keep ‘traditional’ call-signs for the Flight Director and Capcom, but most of the other flight control responsibilities are a mix of traditional responsibilities. As a result, we chose to name our positions based on the names of Near-Earth Asteroids. These objects take their names from many different sources, so we had a lot of names to choose from! Our flight control call signs and positions are:
FLIGHT – Flight Director. In charge of the flight control team.
CAPCOM – Capsule Communicator. Responsible for communicating with the crew.
PSYCHE – Biomedical Engineer. Responsible for crew health and safety, hygiene, and medical consultation.
IRIS – Robotic systems. Responsible for external camera operation.
KALI – Operations Planner. Responsible for creating and managing daily activities of the crew.
JUNO – Spacecraft systems. Responsible for electrical power and life support.
VESTA – Mechanical systems. Responsible for onboard computers, data networks, avionics.
CERES – Payloads / Science. Responsible for geological laboratory and management of geology samples.
 
You can learn much more about the history of the Mission Control Center, and the job of flight controllers here.
 
 
And don’t forget to follow along with the AMO tests at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo!

Inside the Asteroid Beltway

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NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie (Dorothy) Metcalf-Lindenburger uses the ARGOS.By NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger

NASA’s Johnson SpaceCenter is located southeast of two highway loops that encircle the city ofHouston. The outermost highway is known as Beltway 8.  While the NEEMO 16 crew conducted training April 17-20 outside this beltway, our upcoming Junemission is focused on simulating a mission insideanother beltway – the asteroid beltway!

During training week, thecrew assembled face-to-face for the first time and learned details about NearEarth Asteroids (NEAs). Future missions to these asteroids could help us learnmore about deep-space exploration and the beginnings of our solar system.Depending on the target NEA composition, future missions could also prospectand mine resources; and develop mitigation options for NEAs threatening planetEarth.

We also learned about thespacewalk tools we will be using during the mission and then practiced usingthese tools on the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS).  After taking a tour of the SpaceExploration Vehicle (SEV), we flew the asteroid simulator.  While there are similarities betweenflying a plane, a helicopter, a shuttle, and a Space Station RoboticManipulator System (SSRMS), flying around an asteroid is a unique experience.Asteroids may have non-uniform gravity fields and erratic spin rates – not to mention the deep-spacedebris and sub-optimal lighting – all conditions that will challenge even thebest pilots!

During the rest of trainingweek, we learned about the Aquarius Laboratory and what daily life will be likeliving in the underwater habitat for (almost) two weeks. Communication delays will beincorporated to simulate living near or on an asteroid. Each day, there will be two spacewalks,and the beginning of the mission will focus on working on a NEA that astronautscould tether to, while the second half of the mission will involve submersiblesthat will simulate the SEVs and working on an asteroid that is less cohesive.

Often times we thinkabout the solar system existing beyond us or outside of our “beltway,” but inreality, we live in a dynamic solar system, where the traffic, including NEAs,continues to be better understood. NEEMO16 will provide more data on how to work and live near NEAs.

To learn more about the NEEMO 16 mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/neemo.

Test-Driving a Spaceship

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Crewmates José Hurtado and Alvin Drew participate in an MMSEV             flying simulation.
Crewmates José Hurtado and Alvin Drew conduct an MMSEV flying simulation.

Test-driving a spaceship.  That is essentially the mission this week for me and my crewmate, astronaut Alvin Drew.  As crew of the new prototype Mult-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV), we are test subjects in an important study of how well the MMSEV serves as a home and as a vehicle for exporing a near-Earth asteroid (NEA).  To do that we are living and working in the MMSEV for three days during a simulated mission to a NEA.

During the day, we are kept busy with various tasks such as flying the vehicle, making simulated “spacewalks” or EVAs (extravehicluar activities), and other mission-oriented tasks.  These are meant to test the various methods humans might use to explore a NEA.  For example, today I did an EVA in the virtual reality lab.  With a head-mounted display and special gloves, the lab allows me to experience the first-person view one would have in a spacesuit during a spacewalk.  On this EVA, Alvin piloted the MMSEV in the simulation with me on the outside attached to a robotic arm.  Our task was to visit a set of six points on the surface of the spinning asteroid using one of several possible stategies.  These points could be sites for making scientific observations or for collecting samples.  We chose to approach the targets at close range (a few meters) with me on the arm, at which point I would detach, acquire the target, and return to the MMSEV for a ride to the next point.  Another EVA I did today was in the ARGOS facility where I practiced some of the types of tasks an astronaut might be doing at a study point on an asteroid.  The ARGOS is a crane and winch system designed to suspend a human subject wearing a harness in such a precise manner as to offset their weight, simulating microgravity. In this simulation, I tried various concepts for collecting samples while floating about, including scooping loose material into a bag with a claw, picking up rock fragments with a gloved hand, and hammering pieces of rock off an outcrop.  I also tested the use of tethers and lines vs. a rigid arm for anchoring and stability. These are just two of the various scenarios our three days of simulations is testing. The engineers, scientists, and mission planners at NASA are interested in which methods are the most efficient in terms of fuel and time (and hence consumables such as air) and which ones may be best for achieving science and mission objectives.

While we are conducting the mission and evaluating the performance of the vehicle for the exploration tasks, we are also paying close attention to the comfort and usability of the spacecraft as a mobile home.  This includes the sleeping quarters, facilities for preparation of food, storage space, hygenie, and even the Waste Collection System (WCS) — our MMSEV toilet.  Sleeping in the MMSEV is comfortable, and, with the whirring sounds of electronics and the air handling system, it sounds like the inside of an airliner.  You have a little more room to spread out in here than you do on a plane, though!  At night we can divide MMSSEV into two private sleep stations separated by the central aisle (and the WCS) and isloated from the cockpit and the suitports. The MMSEV can carry all the food we need on board, and it has a water dispenser/heater for drinking and rehydrating meals. Our mission this week is to live in here for three days (and so far I have few complaints!), but the vehicle is designed to support a two-person crew on missions of two weeks or longer. NASA will use the lessons we are learning this week to make those missions a reality.

Dr. Love's Underwater Blog: NEEMO 15

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Image: One of the DeepWorkers that Dr. Love would have piloted during NEEMO 15.

Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog 2011 #1
October 25
Key Largo, FL

Welcome back to Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog!

For readers new to the blog, I posted the first installments in March 2010, while I was in Vancouver, Canada learning how to pilot the DeepWorker submarine from the experts at Nuytco. I wrote more entries in July 2010 from Pavilion Lake, where I spent a week driving submarines and serving as support crew on the chase boats while we made surveys, took photographs, and collected samples to try to understand the strange coral-like “microbialite” growths on the bottom of the lake. Pavilion Lake was a bizarre and beautiful environment to explore by submarine, with near-freezing crystal-clear water, steep underwater slopes forested with sculptured calcium carbonate knobs and towers, and mathematically flat basin floors carpeted with snowy white calcite fluff.

This year I was planning to return to the cozy cockpit of the DeepWorker to support the 15th NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations (NEEMO 15) at the Aquarius underwater habitat near Key Largo, Florida. Fellow submersible pilot Ricky Arnold and I made it as far as the operations base in Key Largo, but then the plan changed. This happens commonly in field operations, but it’s always exciting when in happens.

In our case, the culprit is Hurricane Rina, which is rapidly strengthening in the Caribbean Sea east of Belize. It’s not a threat to us right now, but the forecast shows it heading this way. Because it takes several days to safely get the aquanauts to the surface (without subjecting them to the risk of decompression sickness) and secure all the boats and other assets that support NEEMO, the folks in charge had to make a decision this morning. They decided to take the safest course of action.

So no DeepWorker driving for Dr. Love this trip…but the Underwater Blog can go on, because two days ago I had a chance to scuba dive at the habitat. Boy, was that ever different from Pavilion Lake! Warm water, substantial current to swim against, swarms of colorful tropical fish, and every solid surface encrusted with corals and sponges. We also had a chance to poke our heads into the habitat and chat with the aquanauts. It’s a very strange experience to swim 50 feet down under the sea, then poke your head up into air and talk to folks wearing street clothes. Since Halloween is coming soon, we said “Trick or treat!” and explained that we were dressed as scuba divers. The aquanauts thought that was silly, but gave us candy anyway.

The following day (yesterday), the NEEMO team was still operating according to the planned schedule, and I had the opportunity to work as a CAPCOM on board the support ship for that day’s DeepWorker operations. At Pavilion Lake, we launched and recovered the subs from a barge made from two big rectangular steel floats, with a gap between them and an overhead chain hoist for raising and lowering the subs. This ingenious setup worked great, and had the advantage that it could be easily broken down into components small enough to transport by truck to a remote mountain lake and to place in the water using a mobile crane. At NEEMO we operate on the world ocean, which means we can use oceangoing ships. In our case, we have the great fortune to be able to use the Liberty Star, one of the two small ships that NASA used for thirty years to go out to sea after each Space Shuttle launch, find the two solid rocket motors that separate from the stack two minutes into flight and parachute into the ocean below, and tow them back to port so they could be inspected, taken apart, refurbished, re-filled with solid propellant, and used again to boost another Shuttle toward orbit. What a treat to work aboard such a historic vessel!

Liberty Star has a large crane on the aft deck that makes light work of hoisting a DeepWorker in and out of the water, even in 3-5 foot seas. It has an air-conditioned bridge from which we tracked the subs and operated the equipment that let us communicate with them. And it has a full galley serving three square meals a day. It made a spectacular platform for supporting the submarine operations. It also made a great observation platform. At one point a school of flying fish came by, gliding from wavetop to wavetop. Another sight unknown at Pavilion Lake.

So that’s all for the Underwater Blog this trip. But the next time NASA sees fit to put me underwater again, I’ll be ready to share the experience.

Cheers,

Dr. Love

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