Today was our first day of dive training. We started the day with a really nice briefing to introduce all of the NEEMO 9 team members. We have a lot of really interesting and talented people supporting this mission. Jim Buckley and Ross Hein will be our habitat technician crew members. Have only known these guys a couple days, and already know they are going to be great to spend 18 days with living in Aquarius. They both have impressive dive experience. In addition to their extensive experience living in saturation, these guys have done everything from leading Antarctic dive expeditions to working on submersibles at 3000 feet below the surface.
After the briefing, we headed off to the local community pool for our pre-training swim test. Not being known for my "formal lap swimming skills", I have been practicing the last couple months at our JSC pool in preparation for this swim test -- it's amazing how much you can psych yourself out about something like this. The test consists of swimming 400 meters in less than 12 minutes, underwater swim of 25 meters on one breath, treading water for 10 minutes, and doff/don and clearing a mask and snorkel from the bottom of the pool. If you swim, this probably seems like nothing, but to me it was something that I am very happy to have now successfully completed!! So woohoo!
After the swim test, we headed back to the NURC facility for a review of the SCUBA dive rig we will be using during our mission. The "rig" is most like what you would see a technical cave diver using-- weighs over 150 pounds, 2 big tanks, wing type buoyancy control device, cave reels attached, and other assorted equipment hanging off of you for use to keep you safe or during an emergency situation. We also went through what they call "shutdown drills." These are something we will practice on every dive during our training week so that we know how to do it with our eyes closed --- literally, because they will have us doing it most of the time with our masks off.
The shutdown drill is really just like it sounds, where you go through a series of steps to shutdown the different valves to your two different regulators in an attempt to isolate a problem with air leaking from somewhere on your rig. This is a really good thing to do repeatedly because it really helps you to understand how the whole system works, which is key to safing yourself (aka, keeping breathing) in the event of a malfunction.
The dive was beautiful. I sometimes forget how beautiful the water is down here, until I'm on a boat again heading out for a dive and passing through the amazingly clear water with all the different shades of blue. We had a special treat today when two adult and one baby porpoise were swimming behind our boat and putting on a little show in our wake. During our dive we had some more wildlife sightings with a couple of spotted eagle rays, lobsters, and most impressive was a large (at least 6 foot long) moray eel swimming by.
We worked on a number of different dive skills including buoyancy control, buddy breathing, regulator retrieval, manual bcd inflation, and mask off/clearing. Buoyancy control is one of the biggest things we have to be concerned about on this kind of mission. Our motto is "the surface is not an option." And it literally is a motto that we live by. Once your body at depth becomes saturated with nitrogen you have to go through a decompression in order to safely return to the surface. So in the event of an emergency, going to the surface is not an option and therefore you want to do everything you can to minimize/eliminate any risk of doing so. As a result we have very strict rules about the depths we have to stay at (can't go above 40 ft or below 90 ft).
The two guys we have training us this week are Mark "Otter" Hallisbek and our fellow crew member and hab tech Ross Hein. These guys are great, and a lot of fun to work with, and are committed to teaching us the stuff we need to know to stay safe!!