Splash Up (Splash Down +17 Days/Mission Day 18)
Everyone was out of their bunks early today in order to ensure everything was ready for splashup. We finished our final packing while ensuring that the habitat was cleaned and configured for us to depart and leave Aquarius untended. At about 8:30 am, shortly after reaching sea level pressure we initiated blowdown. At this point most of the nitrogen that was absorbed by our bodies due to the increased pressure was released and the threat of decompression sickness was reduced to a safe level. In blowdown the pressure of the habitat was rapidly brought from the sea level pressure achieved during decompression to two and a half times sea level pressure in order to equalize the pressure inside and outside of the habitat. Once the pressure equalized with the ambient conditions the hatch that was sealed prior to decompression was opened and all six of us proceeded to the wet porch where we were greeted by the safety divers who escorted us to the surface.
After 18 days of wearing heavy cumbersome equipment it was very nice to simply put on a scuba mask, fins and a hold a small bottle of air in our hand as we departed the wet porch into the ocean.
As we slowly ascended up the line that stretched from Aquarius to the boat that would take us back to Key Largo, I found my self looking back at Aquarius and saying goodbye to the incredible place that we had called home for the past 18 days. I also found myself looking up to the surface and reflecting on how wonderful it would be to arrive back on land and start the process of reuniting with my family. Nicole led us up the line followed by Tim, myself, Dave, Ross and Jim. It was a wonderful feeling when my head popped out of the water. The two things I remember most about that moment were the smell and the Moon. As soon as I took my first breath on the surface I thought to myself, “What's that smell” but then I immediately remembered that the smell was the smell of fresh air. Also in those first moments after surfacing I saw a bright half moon directly over head. I thought that it was wonderful to see the moon first after surfacing because we had just spent the last 18 days simulating that we were on the Moon and it is my hope that the accomplishments of the mission will help humanity return to the Moon. After climbing onboard the Research Vessel Legacy and shaking hands with those on the boat I saw another boat about 100 yards away with some of the family members, friends and colleagues that arrived to celebrate the end of the mission. Some of them were on the boat while others were in the water snorkeling and watching us ascend from Aquarius. It was great seeing so many smile faces including my Godson Roman (Nicole and Chris' son).
We were blessed with an incredibly beautiful day for splashup. The Sun was shinning the temperature was perfect and the sea was calm. We took a wonderfully enjoyable ride back into port and during the trip I had some time to reflect on the mission and the realization that it will take a very long time before I will be able to fully mentally process the experience. When we arrived back at NURC base there were more family members, friends, and colleagues waiting for us at the dock. It was great to see everyone and to witness touching family reunions. As I write this I am 36,000' above the Gulf Coast, about 1 hour away from landing in Houston. I am very much looking forward to reuniting with my family.
The rest day of Thursday was spent unpacking, doing wash, medical evaluations and phone calls to report our safe return to the surface of the Earth. Thursday evening we had a wonderful party at an ocean front home of friends of the NEEMO team. Many people flew in from all around the US and Canada to celebrate the success of the mission. Speeches were made and tokens of thanksgiving awarded by the crew to key people who helped the mission. One of the speeches was from Scott Carpenter. I had a very nice talk with him during the evening. We share an interest in renewable energy and it was very interesting to hear his view on where energy production should be headed. It was an absolutely beautiful night with a star filled sky. We were even blessed with a fly by of the International Space Station during the party. All in all it was a wonderful way to end an incredible mission.