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May 14, 2002

Kelly Humphries
Johnson Space Center, TX
(281) 483-5111

Release: J02-53 -- Students to Share Underwater Experience of “Aquanauts”

Students at a Pasadena, Texas, elementary school will have a chance to see and talk with NASA “aquanauts” practicing for space living 20 meters (65 feet) below the surface of the Atlantic near Key Largo, Fla., on May 16.

The educational opportunity is associated with the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project in which four “aquanauts” will live in the “Aquarius” Underwater Research Facility for three separate nine-day missions this summer and fall. The objective is to test the concept of using undersea habitats as practice facilities for long-duration space habitation.

The students, who attend Pearl Hall Elementary School in Pasadena -- which is near the home base for the team of underwater researchers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center -- will be able to see television pictures and talk with the crew members via JSC’s Distance Learning Outpost videoconferencing system. The aquanauts will also share their experience with participants from the Orlando Science Center in Orlando, Fla., and the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. Such “point-to-point” conferences enable viewers to interact in real-time with experts.

“Living underwater parallels living in space in many ways,” said Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager at JSC. “The time frame for missions involves long periods of time away from normal environments and families. Communication with others is not always immediate. Because of the fact that in both environments one cannot readily come home, repairs or replacements must be able to be made on the spot, if necessary.”

NEEMO will be used to develop operations concepts, conduct experiments, perform space-analog tasks and sharpen team and interpersonal skills. JSC personnel will work together with the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) to accomplish these missions in May, July and September.

Aquarius “aquanauts” will explore and investigate an alien environment hostile to human habitation. Aquarius, the only undersea research laboratory in the world, is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The 14-meter-long (45 feet) by 4-meter-diameter (13 feet) underwater home and laboratory operates 4.5 kilometers (3 miles) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Similar in size to the International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module, it is situated next to deep coral reefs and provides life support systems that allow scientists to live and work in reasonably comfortable quarters.

The facility is supported by a 10-meter life support buoy on the surface which provides power, life support and communication requirements. There is also a shore-based “mission control” which supports all Aquarius missions with 24-hour mission monitoring.

Additional point-to-point educational opportunities are being organized for the July and September NEEMO missions by the Distance Learning Outpost. Details about those interactive events will be available later.

"What a great opportunity for students to see real time what is going on in a unique facility at a remote location, ask the experts direct questions, and then watch the aquanauts provide answers over the DLO live link," said Susan Anderson, distance learning manager at NASA Johnson Space Center.

For more information about the Distance Learning Outpost and other JSC educational programs, visit:


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