- About Aquarius
Aquarius is an underwater laboratory and home to scientists for missions up to 10 days long, but to call Aquarius a home is like calling the space shuttle Discovery a mode of transportation. Aquarius is made to withstand the pressure of ocean depths to 120 feet deep. Presently, Aquarius is located in a sand patch adjacent to deep coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, at a depth of 63 feet. The laboratory is attached to a baseplate that positions the underwater habitat (underwater laboratories are also called habitats) about 13 feet off the bottom. This means that the working depth of those inside the laboratory is about 50 feet deep. Located inside the 81–ton, 43 x 20 x 16.5–foot underwater laboratory are all the comforts of home: six bunks, a shower and toilet, instant hot water, a microwave, trash compactor, and a refrigerator even air conditioning and computers linked back to shore by wireless telemetry! Using Aquarius as a base for research diving expeditions definitely has its advantages.
Check out the Habitat
This is a side view of the Aquarius just prior to deployment in November, 1993.
Side cut away view
The special diving capability of Aquarius, called saturation diving, allows scientists to work out on the reef up to nine hours a day without fear of getting the bends, compared to one hour if they had to work from the surface. See the pressure lesson for more details.
Increased research time on–bottom is the key element that enhances scientific productivity beneath the sea. The support personnel enhance program productivity through diver training, and scientific and operational expertise. Safety is a hallmark of the program.
The Length of an Aquarius Mission
Aquarius missions typically last 10 days. We conduct shorter missions at the start of the year for training and to test systems. The longest missions in Aquarius are 14 days, but this doesn’t happen too often. We are talking about a special project next year that might last 30 days. Interestingly, and this relates to the technique of saturation diving that we support, once you are saturated it doesn't matter if you stay one day, a week, or a month — the decompression time remains the same.
At the end of missions aquanauts decompress inside Aquarius, where pressure is slowly brought back to one atmosphere (or surface pressure) from the operating depth of about 50 feet — and it takes over 17 hours. Aquanauts then “lock–out” and swim to the surface. People sometimes think that Aquarius is brought to the surface during decompression, but it stays on the bottom; it’s the pressure inside Aquarius that is changed.
How do we get the images from Conch Reef and Aquarius to your web browser?
Inside the Aquarius underwater laboratory, three cameras are hooked up to an Axis 2400 video server (we have space for a total of four cameras but we only post images for three). The crew at mission control can connect directly to the video server via IP address and get extremely good video at about 20 fps, which they use to monitor the aquanauts. A Cron script utility, running on the video server, gives an FTP command, which sends a halfsize JPEG and a fullsize JPEG from cameras every 15 seconds to UNCW, who is hosting the video. An applet on the webpage then tells your browser to “refresh” every 15 seconds so that you get a new, still image as frequently as one is sent.