Underwater as Outer Space

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.

Check us out on the nasa.gov homepage today! (The full article is here.) You can read the story behind our project at pavilionlake.com, and check the New York Times soon for coverage.

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