Q: Diving today is so much more commonplace than in the days of Conshelf. A lot of people will go on a cruise and sign up for “Discover Scuba”, a little 30-foot dive or the like. How many consider they’re taking their life support system on their backs, that they’re weightless, looking at alien creatures? There are so many foreign and exotic aspects and extreme aspects to diving.
A: I think that we’re so used to being bombarded with television programming and online programming and just in general having a lot of information around us. Of course, that coupled with the fact that travel is much easier for many of us and we have this false sense of familiarity with oceans because we may take a vacation on an island nation. We happen to walk down the beach in Florida, for example, and take a dip. We have this sense of well-being, of course, and delight towards the oceans, but also false sense of understanding of exactly what it means and what’s below that blue veneer. There’s so much.
You’re absolutely right. This is an alien world that’s very much akin to space travel when we go and explore it. There are all the parameters and difficulties and all that, and then all the wonders and discoveries around every turn, every coral reef. This hopefully will be one of those projects that will reignite that interest, or like I said, a new dawn of exploration of the oceans. Day to day, they [the oceans] represent our life support system. Why wouldn’t we want to know more about our very own life support system?
Q: What you’re doing is akin to somebody going to live on the international space station for a month. There’s all the same sort of logistics involved.
A: There really are. But most people think, “Ah, you just go in, you kind of strap on a tank and jump in and have a good time.” I’m like, “It’s not quite like that.” It’s like saying that jumping on a plane to go to California is the same thing as going to outer space and living on the space station. No.
Q: You’re going to be 60 feet deep, or close to two atmospheres [a unit of pressure], right? What sort of implications does that have on your decompression and breathing gas logistics?
Most people think, “Ah, you just go in, you kind of strap on a tank and jump in and have a good time.” I’m like, “It’s not quite like that.”
A: The entrance to the Aquarius habitat is, I believe, at 65 feet. The bottom is at about 75 feet or something like that. There’s an eight or ten foot difference to the bottom. What that allows us to do once we’re saturated is to go, for example, to 100 feet for five hours. We’ll run out of air way or get cold way before we hit our bottom time. It’ll allow us to dive anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day, essentially.
Q: Will you be tethered or will you be on scuba?
A: We’re going to be doing both. We’ll be tethered [attached to an air hose] for close-in projects or for close-in science. Anything that has to do with 100 yards or less, I think that the extent of the cable is 100 or 150 yards. Anything beyond that will be scuba [“self contained underwater breathing apparatus”]. We’ll be diving doubles, triples [two or three tanks].
Q: How are you training for this?
A: Each person is doing their own thing until we get to the training days, which will be run by director of operations and his team. They’re going to be running us through quite a battery of tests and exercises for ten days prior to splashdown, including of course getting used to the hard hats [diving helmets]: doing the course lengths in a pool and then doing the length underwater unassisted and all sorts of things like that, then running through emergency procedures and just making sure we’re familiar with the operations of the habitat itself, although we will have two engineers with us who are experts at running the habitat, so we don’t have to worry about it. But we still need to know what that big red button does, for example.
Q: How many of you will be there at one time and how many will be there for the full 31 days?