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NOAA RESEARCHER JOINS WITH ASTRONAUTS TO TEST MOON EXPLORATION CONCEPTS ON THE SEAFLOOR

NOAA image of the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla.July 21, 2006 To pursue similarities in ocean and lunar exploration technologies, a NOAA ocean researcher will team with three astronauts from July 22 to 28, on a mission to Aquarius, NOAA's undersea laboratory off the coast of Florida. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

Karen Kohanowich, NOAA program manager for Aquarius, will join mission leader Astronaut Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA astronauts Andrew J. Feustel and Karen L. Nyberg, and Aquarius technicians Mark Hulsbeck and Dominic Landucci of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

This is the tenth mission to use Aquarius as a space analog in a joint venture between NOAA and NASA.

NOAA image of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the team trained.The mission will include "lunar coral" sampling and mapping procedures, techniques for using remote-controlled robots on the moon's surface, and undersea extra-vehicular activities imitating moonwalks to test concepts for mobility using weighted backpacks to simulate lunar and Martian gravity. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the team trained. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"NOAA will use this opportunity to build on its undersea research efforts and interagency partnership successes," said Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program. "Humans working in space or under the ocean face similar challenges of lack of oxygen, weightlessness, remoteness, extreme pressure differentials and cramped quarters. Many techniques, technologies and skills necessary to work underwater can be adapted for lunar research, and vice versa," she said. "These missions also are a great example of how the Aquarius complex is uniquely suited for a wide range of research applications."

News Audio (mp3): July 25, 2006 from Aquarius
Karen Kohanowich (coh-hah-no-wich), NOAA program manager for Aquarius and deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program
Kohanowich describes where Aquarius sits in the ocean. :48 Kohanowich said part of the mission involved mapping. :53
Kohanowich talks about the heavy spacesuit being tested for Mars exploration. :54 Kohanowich said the mission schedule is fully loaded. :24
Kohanowich said there isn’t very much that you can bring to the undersea lab besides a few T-shirts and shorts, and, of course, your music player. :46 Kohanowich describes what it’s like to work in the undersea lab. :47
Kohanowich said there’s nothing like working under the ocean, especially for a former Navy diver. :22

NOAA image of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, getting ready for more training near the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla.The team spent a week at Johnson Space Center becoming familiar with mission equipment, procedures and timeline. After the training, Kohanowich was asked about similarities and differences between the work of a diver and astronaut. "I'm drawn to the exploration and challenge of both outer space and the deep ocean," she said. "For me, exploring the ocean is filled with surprises and discoveries throughout the entire volume of undersea space. You can't see the ocean floor until you reach it, and once there, you can't see it all at once as you can with satellite photos of planets and moons. The promise of ocean discovery is in every step one takes, and that intrigue is what draws me down rather than up." (Click NOAA image for larger view of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, getting ready for more training near the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The Aquarius is owned and funded by NOAA, and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Aquarius is a 45-foot long, 13-foot diameter complex located three miles off Key Largo in the NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It rests about 62 feet beneath the surface. A shore-based mission control center in Florida monitors the habitat and crew. NOAA has used the Aquarius for scientific research since 1988, and began partnering with NASA in 2001 for astronaut training missions. This is the second of three missions planned this year with NASA.

NOAA image of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, testing her diving equipment as she trained for her upcoming mission near the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla.Kohanowich became manager for the Aquarius program in April 2005. Previously, she was a U.S. Navy deep sea diver and oceanographer, and retired as a commander after 23 years of service. Early in her career, Kohanowich supported 1,000 FSW (feet of sea water) saturation dives at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Karen Kohanowich, deputy director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, testing her diving equipment as she trained for her upcoming mission near the undersea lab Aquarius off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. Please credit “NOAA.”)

In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Relevant Web Sites
Aquarius and Live Video of the Mission

NOAA Undersea Research Program

Media Contact:
Fred Gorell, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, (301) 713-9444 ext. 181