Aquarius Resurfaced: Bringing FIU’s Aquarius into the 21st Century

The dawn of the 21st century was an important time for exploration both in space and beneath the sea. NASA was beginning to build the International Space Station to study how humans can adapt to living and working in space, especially as they looked towards travel to Mars. As NASA was embarking on this journey into the new century, Aquarius Reef Base was entering a new chapter of its own as part of a technological modernization initiative named Aquarius 2000. This initiative called for Aquarius to be pulled from the Conch Reef off Key Largo to undergo a year-long modernization process that was completed in 1997.

One of the most important modernization efforts for Aquarius was replacing the Mobile Support Base with an unmanned Life Support Buoy. The Mobile Support Base was a 50 foot by 100 foot life support barge that was moored directly over Aquarius. Manned around the clock during saturation missions, the Mobile Support Base required 12 support staff and housed vans with needed services and mission support equipment. The equipment included a watch desk, science lab, dive locker and recompression chamber.

Transitioning to the Life Support Buoy streamlined Aquarius operations and reduced costs. The need to have an around-the-clock support crew working directly over Aquarius was not necessary as there was a second habitat technician onboard. Life support systems, such as electrical generators and air compressors, could now operate autonomously with redundant systems in place to ensure aquanaut safety.

The use of the Life Support Buoy also provided Aquarius with enhanced communication capabilities. The Internet transmitted voice and video in real-time. Oceanographic, meteorological and mission-specific scientific sensors also streamed data from sea to shore.

From some of the first live links conducted underwater to a worldwide audience to innovative teacher-under-the-sea opportunities, these new capabilities prompted the creation of unique education programs.

The Life Support Buoy was a key component needed to transform Aquarius solely from an undersea research laboratory and training facility into a community that inspires future generations of scientists and explorers.

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