As we gear up to finish our shoot of Aquarius, let me wet your appetite by showing you the INSIDE of the habitat! Remember, Aquarius is a cylinder, about 43 ft/13 m long with a diameter of around 20 ft/6 m. This illustration will give you a very good idea about the layout. On one end, there is the “front door”, or point of entrance/exit to and from the water, on the other end there are the sleeping quarters with 6 bunk beds for the Aquanauts, and in between, all the living and working area and equipment. During my visit, there were 3 of us inside, science officer Otto and Diving officer Roger besides myself, and it felt surprisingly roomy, although I’m sure it would feel somewhat more constrained if all 6 people were inside. I feel terrible Rudi could not come inside, as he got a severe bloackage on one of his sinuses just as he was about to enter the habitat, so he had to go back to the surface. The habitat has a permanent connection to the surface, called the umbilical cord, not only for air (of course!) and phone communications, but also for WiFi internet, so yes, you could update your Facebook page during a mission, if you had the time and energy for it. Aquanauts go on daily excursion missions outside the habitat that last up to 6 hours, even longer sometimes, and when they come back “home”, whatever energy they have left is for excitedly discussing all the things they saw, review the day’s work, get some food and sleep. As you can see in the photos, there are a couple of large view ports that allow the Aquarius residents to get some nice views of the locals, including the huge barracudas that patrol the areas, as well as several other that are even known by name, such as the turtle “Little Joe” and the Goliath grouper “Charlie”.
Missions to the habitat are what’s known as “saturation” missions, where the pressure inside Aquarius is the same as that of the surrounding water, that’s why on the entrance, the water never comes in and floods the place. I cannot describe to you how awesomely cool it is to look at that entrance pool, known as “Moon Pool”, and see the water there, perfectly contained, and fish swimming by all the time. The benefit of a saturation mission is that no decompression is ever need until the end of the mission, since Aquanauts are always at a constant pressure, it is like doing one long, endless dive to 50 ft/15 m for 10 days. Then, at the end of the mission, on the way to the surface, divers perform one long, slow decompression that lasts 18 hours, and takes place inside the habitat. This is the same principle used on oil exploration rigs where divers spend long periods of time living and working at much greater depths. This also means that, visits to the habitat are considered “dives” so while you might think the diving part is only going down to the habitat and coming back up from it, the time you spend inside counts as part of the total dive time, so visitors are allowed to spend 80 minutes inside, to stay within the no decompression limits. This is the reason Rudi did not go inside once he got his problem, because he knew that for the next 80 minutes, his sinuses would still remain under the same pressure as outside, so he feared he would not be able to clear the blockage and mess it up for me, so he went back up. Anyway, enjoy the photos and the diagrams, and soon we will post more info and a video.
Please visit Aquarius’ Facebook page and click on “Like” so that if we get enough Likes, we may show those in charge that Aquarius still fascinates the public and they should keep it open! http://www.facebook.com/AquariusReefBase