NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and a bucketful of researchers (including yours truly) rolled into a tiny town in British Columbia this week, with a 52-foot “Mobile Mission Control Center” and two submarines in tow.
Our subs are helping us study a pair of lakes – in particular, some wild-looking carbonate structures in them. But what’s NASA’s interest? We’re using these subs – each barely big enough for one person – as analogs to space exploration vehicles.
We’ve recruited scientists and astronauts to fly the subs, and our experience here is giving us insights into mission-planning and scientific research… especially in places with limited communication and a need for life support. The underwater world is a perfect venue for modeling space exploration, and, in fact, enormous portions of our own oceans and lake bottoms are less explored than the Moon. Think about it: 24 humans traveled to the moon, and twelve walked on it between 1969 and 1972. Only two men have ever been to the Mariana Trench. The last – and only – manned mission there was in 1960.
With the Space Shuttle returning to Earth for the last time ever early this morning, I hope that soon we’ll set our sights on even farther-flung exploration – back to the depths of our own oceans, and far out in the opposite direction.