The first full day of Mission 31 dawned stormy, and it was with some trepidation and a hastily chewed Bonine tablet that I boarded the boat at Reef Base in Islamorada to motor out to Aquarius. The wind and seas were at the limit of what the Mission 31 officials deemed safe diving conditions, but by the time we reached the underwater habitat’s Life Support Buoy (LSB), the waves had calmed enough to let me gear up and slip into the water. Once under the surface, the churning swells were replaced by calm and I descended to Aquarius, which was visible from above, the lights from its windows appearing like those of a cabin in the woods. As I approached, I could see schools of colorful reef fish picking at the coral that coated the habitat and, further down, several six-foot-long tarpon hanging in the shadows. A lone aquanaut was out walking on the seafloor, as if on the Moon, his helmet tethered to the habitat by a length of precious umbilical hoses.
I had been warned to keep my depth above 50 feet to maximize bottom time, and as I slipped under the “porch” of Aquarius, I saw my computer read 48 feet. I popped up inside the moon pool, removed my regulator and mask and took a breath of the pressurized air inside. “Welcome to Aquarius”, Fabien Cousteau said with a smile as he stood above me in the wet room.