Most habitat missions (Science)
Last updated: January 21, 2020 at 3:14 am
180 scientific missions were conducted aboard Hydro-Lab (a.k.a. Hydrolab) in the Bahamas (100) and in St. Croix, USVI (80) from 1970 to 1985. The missions in the Bahamas, which were chronicled in the Hydro-Lab Journal, were funded by the Perry Foundation. Missions in the U.S. Virgin Islands were funded by NOAA, which purchased and refurbished Hydro-Lab in 1977.
Hydro-Lab was built by Perry Oceanographics as an underwater classroom for Florida Atlantic University in 1966. The original cost for Hydro-Lab and its support systems was less than 60,000 USD. The 16-ft (4.9 m) habitat, which was designed in the form of a cylinder, had a 8-ft (2.4 m) diameter. During its first operations, Hydro-Lab was secured by chains to a concrete base installed on the seafloor. This caused the habitat to sway in swells and led many of the aquanauts to become seasick while inside. The main compartment was furnished with two bunks, two folding chairs, a collapsible table, and a small dehumidifier. Due to its small size, humidity increased to 100% whenever the aquanauts entered via a moon pool. Most diving equipment also had to be stored submerged outside the habitat either on the platform on in the sand. Clearance between the opening and the concrete base was only 3 feet (0.9 m) so divers had to remove their tanks before entering. Hydro-Lab was also equipped with a lockout chamber, which made it possible to maintain the interior pressure at 1 ATM (1 bar). This was required during docking operations with a visiting Perry Oceanographics submersible in order to transfer personnel and equipment without getting wet. Air and electricity were supplied by an umbilical connected to a compressor and generator installed on a floating platform. Fresh water was gravity fed via a 250-gallon (946 l) storage tank located beside Hydro-Lab. For their more personal needs, aquanauts had to crouch in the moon pool entry trunk to shower, and because there was no head compartment, they either used a camp-style chemical toilet or relieved themselves underwater. Meals consisted of freeze-dried food, bread, cookies, canned fruit and juice, and candy. There weren’t enough bunks for the three crew so sleeping took place in shifts. Constant noise, having to keep watch and making regular contact with the shore station every 30 minutes resulted in many cases sleep-deprivation. Missions under these uncomfortable and cramped conditions usually lasted no more than five days.
Hydro-Lab was decommissioned in 1985 and was later replaced by Aquarius. The habitat was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution National History Museum in Washington, D.C. before being relocated to the NOAA Auditorium and Science Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. As of 2018, more than 130 missions resulting in over 600 scientific research papers have been conducted aboard Hydro-Lab’s successor, Aquarius—now known as the Aquarius Reef Base—since 1993.
W. L. High, I. E. Ellis, W. W. Schroeder, and G. Loverich. (1973). Evaluation of the undersea habitats – Tektite II, Hydro-Lab, and Edalhab – for scientific saturation diving programs. U. S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Center; Seattle, Washington, USA.
Aquarius Reef Base | Florida International University
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.