Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wednesday: Deepworkers Head Home

Deepworkers Head Home Today's blog brought to you by: DARLENE LIM Geobiolobist, Limnologist

Today the Deepworker submersible operations have come to an end. We have had 10 successful days of using these subs to map and sample the deepest regions of Pavilion Lake. We found that the Deepworkers were the ideal tool to facilitate deep and long range scientific mapping – they are maneuverable, efficient and safe. Deepworkers gave us an ease of movement and removed the need to decompress or to watch one’s bottom time as you would if we were SCUBA diving. This afforded the scientists the ability to fully immerse themselves in their environment during the submersible dives that lasted 3 hours and covered depths of up to 200 feet. The scientist and astronaut pilots were able to quickly synthesize their impressions of the lake and to focus on gathering thoughtful observations rather than worrying about technical issues related to such lengthy and deep dives.

As the Deepworker activities rolled along, each pilot also saw an exponential increase in their piloting capabilities. During training we were told that it is easy to pilot a Deepworker, and what is harder to do is to know how to pilot the subs well. By the second dive or so each pilot was remarking on the significant increase in their handling capabilities, which allowed them to better focus on the environment around them. This outcome alone validated the use of Deepworkers to achieve our science goals.

The flight planning and science and operational success metrics that we designed in coordination with Dr. Michael Gernhardt from the NASA JSC Astronaut office were highly successful and useful. This demonstrated the incredible utility of having scientists and astronauts explore scientifically relevant analog environments as a tool for preparing for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Furthermore, it was extremely exciting for each of the pilots to be able to sit in the Deepworkers and look at the lake in a holistic manner. Each evening we had All-Hands science meetings where the pilots shared their observations with the science, operations and technical team. During these meetings it was very apparent that we had made significant inroads to better understanding the variability and distribution of microbialites in Pavilion Lake as a result of having our previous exploration challenges mitigated by the use of Deepworker submersibles. These meetings were an important and highly productive part of our day as they allowed us time to engage in stimulating scientific banter and to update our dive plans based on the science priorities we identified. As well, the meetings ensured that the data was disseminated to the entire team so that as best as possible, the Deepworker experience was not limited to the six lucky pilots. This deepened the vested interest that each PLRP member had in the Deepworker activities as our science priorities were based on group consensus, which ultimately led to dive plans for the following day.

With the departure of the Deepworker submersibles today, I am relieved and melancholy. Relieved because we have had a safe and productive 10 days, and we met all of our science and exploration objectives. Melancholy because for now our time in the subs has drawn to a close. On this final point, I can write without hesitation that I will miss piloting the subs, but most of all I will miss the intellectual and emotional camaraderie that this endeavor catalyzed in the group. Over 10 short or long days (depending on who you talk to) we created a family made up of folks from all walks of life. Astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, boat captains, safety officers and one incredible cook. All were passionate about what we have learnt through our Deepworker deployment, and all are looking forward to continuing, growing and evolving this program into the future. As I mentioned in one of my earlier writings, it does take a community and we have created one that I know will move onwards and upwards for years to come. It is such a privilege for me to be a part of this voyage. Thank you to all of the lovely humans who comprise the PLRP community.

July 3, 2008

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