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2 NASA Aquanauts Surface After 30 Days Underwater

From Associated Press

Two NASA aquanauts, who spent 30 days in an underwater facility befriending barracudas, eating gourmet food and conducting experiments, snorkeled through jellyfish to the lagoon’s surface Friday.

The pair gave a pale thumbs-up, squinted at the sun and were doused with champagne. A colleague who intends to remain underwater another 30 days stayed behind.

Aquanaut Christopher Olstad, 37, said he missed “the sunshine and my wife.”

Olstad, the mission commander, and 34-year-old John Conant had stayed in an underwater hotel and research station on the lagoon’s bottom since May 6. Their mission was part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiment on the isolated living conditions faced on extended space missions.

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After surfacing, the two were taken away for a series of physiological tests. At a news conference later, they appeared dazed and pale with bloodshot eyes.

“We haven’t embolized or anything,” quipped Olstad, referring to the dangers faced by divers who surface too quickly. “We felt like we were fairly isolated. We didn’t see anybody except ourselves. We became more creative and independent.”

After boredom set in, the men started hoarding snack bars, hiding them from each other.

“We had our secret stashes,” Olstad said.

Conant added: “Chris doesn’t know it, but I found his.”

While Olstad and Conant resurfaced, Richard Presley remained underwater at Jules’ Undersea Lodge to work on other experiments. He hopes to break an undersea habitation record set more than two decades ago.

The lodge, once an undersea research laboratory, is a steel-and-acrylic bubble anchored 65 feet offshore in 30 feet of water. It has three portholes and three chambers--a wet room in which the aquanauts come and go in scuba gear, a recreational room with a galley, and sleeping quarters.

The aquanauts went out three or four times a day to swim in the one-acre lagoon, collecting water samples, studying plankton and cleaning the bottom of the lagoon, but never surfacing. Researchers consider the excursions analogous to spacewalks.

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Conant said he would miss a barracuda who followed him every day while he was conducting the experiments.

“We each had our shadow,” Conant said. “I had that barracuda following me everywhere. I’d turn around and there he was, right behind me.”

The mission was the first underwater habitation program by the agency since 1970. Four volunteers were originally chosen for the mission. But William Soeffing, a 35-year-old cell biologist from Sioux Falls, S.D., had to surface on May 9 because of flu-like symptoms.


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