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NASA takes up residence in Aquarius


After months of work to bring Aquarius Reef Base back to life, the world’s only undersea research lab is back in operation.

NASA and two of its International Space Station agency partners sent four astronauts 63 feet below the ocean’s surface on Sept. 9 for the first saturation mission since FIU assumed operations in January. The Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems and Training (SEA TEST) mission runs through Sept. 14.

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, a veteran of space station Expedition 31/32 in 2012, leads the crew. He is joined by astronauts Kate Rubins of NASA, Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency, and Expedition 22/23 veteran Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba sets out for Aquarius as part of a five-day mission in the undersea research habitat.

NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba sets out for Aquarius as part of a five-day mission in the undersea research habitat.

The crew is conducting proof-of-concept engineering demonstrations and refining techniques in team communication. Additional test objectives will look at just-in-time training applications and spacewalking tool designs. NASA and partner agency astronauts routinely participate in field exercises to hone their skills in expeditionary environments. Previous exercises in Aquarius have supported 16 NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations simulations.

The astronauts are posting updates on social media using the Twitter hashtag #SEATEST.

Aquarius, submerged by NOAA in 1993, provides unparalleled access to study coral reefs and marine life while also offering opportunities to test state-of-the-art undersea technology, train specialized divers and astronauts. Aquarius was in danger of being decommissioned last year. FIU has put in place an aggressive plan to save Aquarius and has reopened it for the use of scientists, government agencies and private industry. Scientists can dive and live aboard Aquarius for days, even weeks at a time.