Women aquanauts speak out on living underwater at Aquarius

Fifty years ago, an intrepid group of female marine scientists embarked on a historic mission to live and work beneath the sea aboard Tektite II. To commemorate this epic achievement, former female aquanauts Ellen Prager, Dawn Kernagis and Sylvia Earle took to the digital airwaves to discuss their experiences aboard FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underwater lab.

Dawn Kernagis during NEEMO XXI
Dawn Kernagis during NEEMO XXI

Prager, Aquarius’ former chief scientist, was a guest on “So You Want to Be A Marine Biologist” podcast episode 27, where she talked about her career path and the three weeks she spent living underwater. In 1998, Prager was an aquanaut on a project that monitored the deep corals of Conch Reef. In 2000 she was aboard Aquarius for JASON XI, which highlighted the similarities of undersea and space exploration.

Kernagis, a research scientist at the University of West Florida’s Institute for Human and Marine Cognition, joined the “DeeperBlue” podcast. As an aquanaut aboard NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) XXI, she explained how saturation diving affects human physiology and discussed how the instruments and protocols tested during NEEMO missions are valuable to astronauts preparing for exploration in space.

Sylvia Earle at Aquarius during 2012's Mission Aquarius
Sylvia Earle at Aquarius during 2012’s Mission Aquarius

World-renowned marine biologist and one of the aquanauts aboard the celebrated Tektite II mission in 1970, Earle and her daughter Liz Taylor, president of DOER Marine Deep Ocean Exploration & Research, joined the “Ocean Elders” podcast. They discussed the history and future of undersea habitation. Earle, who participated in three Aquarius missions, was also a keynote panelist in Tektite 2020. This virtual conference paid tribute to the Tektite II mission’s achievements in helping to lay the groundwork for women to pursue living and working underwater.

In part because of Aquarius and the research conducted there, FIU has been ranked No. 9 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The university ranked third in the United States and is the only institution in the state of Florida to make the list.

Valerie Ramirez contributed to this article.