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ASF EXP 1 A
ASF EXP 1 B
ASF EXP 1 C
Cocoa Beach
121 Scrub #1
121 Scrub #2
STS-121
ASF EXP 2 A
ASF EXP 2 B
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ASF EXP 2 D
ASF EXP 2 E
STS-116

ASF Expedition 1

Facing the abyss.
These photographs document ASF Expedition 1.
Photo Credits: Linn LeBlanc, Les Peaker, and myself
The crew of ASF Expedition 1
The crew of ASF Expedition 1
The Mission Control Trailer
Les gives a pre-dive briefing in Mission Control
Jules' Undersea Lodge Mission Control.
Les gives a pre-dive briefing in Mission Control.
Mary arrives at Jules
Jerry arrives at Jules
Mary arrives at Jules'' Undersea Lodge.
Jerry arrives at Jules' Undersea Lodge.
As a child, people would often ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I grew on a farm as the son of farmers whose parents were also farmers.  The expected answer was probably that I would follow the family trade and become a farmer.

That response however was never one that the inquisitors received from me.  My first career of choice was that of scuba diver.  If you consider popular television shows of that era including “Flipper” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, it should not come as a surprise that I wanted to be a scuba diver.

The Navy's Sealab Program where men lived under the sea in a habitat for extended periods of time in the 1960s also caught my interest.  I dreamed of constructing my own underwater habitat and living in it. 

Growing up on the farm in Nebraska, there were not many opportunities to learn to swim yet alone scuba dive. As I grew older, I became more and more interested in the space program and less interested in scuba.  I could not get enough coverage of NASA's manned space flights.

In college I decided to study electrical engineering.  After I received my bachelors degree, it was time to make a career choice. I took a job in private industry.  I never found the time or motivation to become a scuba diver and didn't believe enough in myself to apply to be an astronaut.

In the summer of 2005 and opportunity came up to do a scuba dive with Mercury Astronaut and Sealab II commander Scott Carpenter.  It wasn't space flight, but it would certainly indulge two of my early childhood interests.

The opportunity was an auction lot made available through the astronaut scholarship foundation. Dinner underwater with Astronaut Carpenter was included up to two days of accommodations. I dearly wanted to participate in this, but not only by myself.  I wanted my wife Mary and 11 year old granddaughter Lexie to join me.

There was one slight problem in the grand plan.  I still did not know how to swim.  At least not well enough to give me the confidence to attempt scuba diving.  Another factor which complicated the matter was that over the years of sitting behind a desk, I kept getting more and more out of shape and putting weight..

I mentioned the auction lot to Mary, thinking that she would just dismiss it with a "that's nice" or "that's interesting" comment.  I was shocked when she encouraged me to go for it.  She backed me 100 percent even with the knowledge of my poor swimming skills.

Without Mary's support, I never would have had another thought about this auction lot.  I had resigned myself to the fact several years ago that I would never be a scuba diver.  On the night of the auction I gained some courage through a few glasses of wine.  Mary was behind me all the way.  I bid for and won the auction lot.

Like the dog who chases a car and finally catches it, I was not sure what to do next.    Up until that point, I never had the motivation to change my diet.  Now I had some serious motivation and a target date.  We intended to do this scuba dive with Scott in March of 2006.

I began a rigorous workout program of walking and climbing stairs.  For the stair climbing, I would walk up to my fourth floor office at work, four times a day. Also, every morning, seven days a week, I would do a brisk walk for one hour. My walking regime began at 6 AM.  It was a peaceful time and often dark enough where you get a beautiful view of the moon and the stars.

After a month and a half of this exercise, the problem was that I didn't lose any weight.  Incredibly I had  not lost a single pound.  Drastic action would be required.  I could no longer continue eating breads, pasta, and potatoes.  Those carbohydrates had to go.  I told Mary that I thought we should do the South Beach diet and she was ready.  She also wanted to lose weight.

So we were in this together.  She started working out at the gym while I walked.  That summer we also decided to take swimming lessons.  These lessons were through a lady named Margaret who had taught our grand daughter to swim so well.  In fact 22 years before when I first took swimming lessons it was in her pool, but the teacher was her daughter Julie.

Back then I had learned how to float on my back and do the elementary back stroke, but never got comfortable in the water.  My wife was comfortable in the water, but her techniques weren't the best due to the fact that she had taught herself.

The lessons were good, but my wife progressed much faster than I did.  I still couldn't master the breathing part of the front crawl.  I tried and tried but just couldn't seem to get my body to turn just right.  I did however get much more comfortable with treading water.  I also worked on getting to the side of the pool from a treading water position.  The swimming lessons lasted for about 2 weeks that summer.  After that, we practiced in a lap pool at the gym where we have a membership.

Throughout the fall I continued my walking regime and I got in much better shape.  I was not only walking by December but now I was able to jog uphill.  The South Beach diet was doing wonders and I lost a total of 26 pounds between October and the end of the December.  With the weight loss and the better aerobic shape I was feeling much better as a person.  Exercise really does improve ones outlook on life.

January rolled around and March seemed ominously close.  I started getting very nervous, because my swimming was still not where I wanted it to be.  I told Mary that I was worrying about not being able to swim well enough so that we could start our scuba training.  I wanted  to get some private lessons.

My assumption was that she would find me a private swimming instructor at some public pool facility.  Perhaps with one on one instruction, I could find the confidence and learn the skills that I needed.

However, Mary skipped right on by the double dog dare you and proceeded immediately to the triple dog dare you.  She signed herself, Lexie, and me up for scuba classes!  If that wasn't bad enough the scuba classes would begin within four days.  I was nervous before but that sent my anxiety level soaring to new heights.

Our instructor was to be PADI diving instructor Dennis Burt.  The class that Mary arranged would consist of only Mary, Lexie, and I as students.
Our first meeting with Dennis consisted of filling out a lot of paperwork and watching some videotape.  He also fitted us with and sold us masks, fins, snorkels, and boots.  The first lesson I learned was that scuba was an expensive hobby.

We also received our PADI training books.  This was on a Friday and Dennis wanted us to read the first three chapters by the time we met again in three days.  I thought this was an unrealistic expectation.  The PADI classes are something for which you can receive college credit.  As such, there was a lot of material to grasp.  I was wasn't so concerned about grasping it myself, but I knew that we had to get 11 year old Lexie through all of this.

On Saturday, our brutal schedule became even more troublesome.  My mother-in-law called Mary to tell her that she was having heart surgery on Monday.  Mary of course left the next morning to be with her mother during the surgery.  That left only Lexie and I to study together.

I would pick Lexie up after school on Monday and Tuesday and we would watch the course's video tapes and read over sections in the book.  Thankfully the videos were excellent and Lexie picked up on the scuba quiz questions pretty well.

Mary was supposed to be studying her scuba work in the hospital during her mother's surgery.  Of course you can imagine how distracting it is trying to study in a hospital.  She encountered someone working at the hospital who had himself been training to become a scuba diver for several years.  The one phase of the program which he kept failing the swimming test.  His troubles were an ominous portent for me.

Mary called our scuba instructor and tried to reschedule our pool time until later because of the family emergency. However, that schedule was frozen in place as the instructor already committed to the pool rental from the dive shop.

Fortunately, the surgery for Mary's mother went well.  It was nothing too invasive.  It only an exploratory catheter.  The diagnosis was good.  In a couple of days Mary was able to return home.  I was glad that Mary's mother was Okay.  I was also relieved that Mary would be returning home for our scuba classes.

The few days flew by and our Friday appointment with destiny arrived.  It was time for our first pool session.  I was really stressed.  Mary and Lexie were also anxious, but Mary at least seemed to put on a brave front.

We drove over to the dive shop where the instructor had rented pool time.  Dennis had his own issues as he was rear ended in traffic on the way to the pool facility.  There were no windows to the outside in the pool area, so to me it seemed rather dark and dingy.  It was not a terribly uplifting place.

The pool itself was covered with a sky blue insulating cover. At first glance it was difficult to get a feel for what the pool was really like.  Dennis and the dive shop proprietor slowly pulled the cover of the pull back.

Like a scene from a horror movie a demon emerged as the cover was pulled away. It revealed what to me seemed like an immense abyss. This pool was deeper than any other swimming pool that I had ever seen in my entire life!  It was 13 feet deep.  The bottom seemed a long way away.

Extreme fear began to well up inside of me.  It did not help that Lexie, who can swim like a fish, was freaked out by the depth of the water.  My mind was going a hundred miles an hour.  I was trying to figure out how in the world I could pass this swimming test.

We got ready to go into the pool.  Okay Mary and Lexie were ready; I was still wrestling with my fear of this swimming test.  I knew that if I could just get past that, then the rest of the training would be a piece of cake.

Dennis came back into the pool area and told us to hop in begin swimming laps across the pool for our test.  I think the required length on this pool was 20 laps.  Dennis was still dressed in his street clothes and he told us he would be back as soon as he had his swimming trunks on.

Mary and Lexie hopped in and slowly began their pursuit of the 20 laps.   I remained firmly planted on the side of the pool.  There was no way that I was starting my laps without the instructor being present.

Dennis came back out and I think was somewhat perplexed that I had not started doing my laps yet.  He said, “You're going to have to show me that you can swim.”  I asked if it was Okay to do the back stroke.   Floating on my back is the most comfortable position that I have found in the water.  Dennis said that would be fine.

So I began my slow transit across the pool.  About half way across, Dennis, stopped me.  He asked me if I ever snorkeled?  I told him that no I never had.  He asked me if I would like to try.  I said "Sure!"; realizing that snorkeling is another way to meet the distance swimming requirements for scuba.  I would do anything to delay swimming across the abyss. Dennis said, “Okay, well hop on out." 

Dennis then turned his back on me and walked away.  As much as I was relieved for the chance to snorkel, I was now all alone and gripped in mortal fear.  Normally it is not a big deal to get out of a pool.  I realized though that by this point I had floated out over the abyss.

I did not freak out.  It was an uncomfortable place for me, but I maintained my composure.  I transition from floating on my back to treading water and scampered out of the pool.  It was a relief to get out of the pool, but I had little time to relax.

I walked over to the other side of the pool and Dennis showed me how to put on my fins, mask, and snorkel.  I practiced breathing through the snorkel and finned my way across the shallow end of the pool.  I  went back and forth a couple of times.

I still hesitated to face that monster the abyss.  Dennis sensed that and told me, “You are just going to have to superman out there.”  I knew in my mind that was true.  I knew that if I could not demonstrate the ability to deal with deep water, I never would become a scuba diver. 

From an intellectual perspective, I knew that I could float on water.  I had done the prone glide countless times in swimming lessons. The human mind doesn't always rely on intellectual thought.  Survival instinct is embedded deep within the mind and that instinct takes precedence over all other thought processes.

Still I had to face my fear and some way find the means to overcome it.  Slowly I headed out for my fate.  With my teeth, I held a death grip on the mouthpiece of the snorkel.  I was not going to let go of that life line. My body pumped out as much adrenaline as it possibly could.  I was sucked down air like a race horse finishing the Kentucky Derby.

I began to pass over the abyss.  Face down in the water, I watched as the wall sloped nearly straight down into the distance.  It occurred to me at that point, that trading the back stroke for snorkeling was not entirely a winning situation.  I now had to stare into the face of the monster.

I passed into the zone of no return.   I was no longer in the shallow and of the pool and could not stand up as an out if I had to.  I was also far away from the safe haven of the walls.  It was just me and the demon.  Time stopped and it seemed like eternity before I reached the other side of the pool.

I was so relieved when I made it that I grabbed onto the wall in celebration.  There was to be no celebration at this time however.  Dennis informed me that if I grabbed the wall, my lap count would have to start over.  The laps must be completed without any break.

Grudgingly I acknowledged that rule and began snorkeling back towards the shallow end.  Once I left the abyss and was over shallow water, I felt a sense of relief.  I did not stop to celebrate though; I had to turn around for another joust with the demon.

Again and again I ran at that monster.  I found that my internal lap counter would only count up as high as one.  My horizon of focus was just completing a single lap.  After getting to the end with the deep water I turned around and headed for the shallow water. That was one lap.  In my mind, the count proceeded, "one, one, one, one, one..."

Nobody knows how many laps I completed before Dennis tried to get my attention to tell me something. Not trusting that he wouldn't make me start over, I refused to stop.  I presumed that if I stopped, he would make me start over.  I was focused on getting this job done, one lap at a time.  Never mind the fact that I had no idea how many laps were left.

Dennis banged some weights on a scuba tank trying to get my attention.  I thought this was ploy setting me up for failure so I plodded on with my repetitive one lap routine.  Finally, Dennis free flowed a regulator.  Okay, I knew he was serious now.  I paused in the shallow end of the pool and raised my head up.

Dennis wasn't going to make me start over, what he wanted to do was tell me that I needed to keep my legs straight.  With my knees bent it was like I was climbing stairs and I was expending a lot more energy than I needed to.

I acknowledged the instruction and resumed my repetitious traverse across the pool. I seriously doubt that my form got any better.  I was just too focused on the task at hand to worry about form. I did find my self breathing less though.  I became accustomed to the snorkel and acquired a good degree of confidence in it.  My breathing rate reduced.  It was still fast by human standards, but I was no longer competing with Secretariat.

Mary and Lexie had finished their swimming test and were asking Dennis if I had done enough yet.  Nobody was counting my laps.  I was in an open ended test.  Dennis would make the call after he figured I had gotten comfortable enough with the demon.

Some time later, Dennis tried to get my attention again.  I was reluctant to stop but I wanted to hear what he had to say.  He told me that I had done enough snorkeling laps.  Actually I know that I exceeded by many times the required number of laps.  When I got out of the water Dennis asked me if I was tired?  I told him "No, I had enough adrenaline in me to carry on for hours."

So I passed the swimming test!  This was a huge relief to me.  My biggest fear with these scuba lessons was that the instructor would fail me based on my swimming abilities.  I didn't think I would measure up. With that behind me, I could now focus on the task at hand, learning the skills necessary to scuba dive.

Dennis instructed us on how to assemble our equipment.  Attaching the buoyancy compensator and regulator to the scuba tank was fairly simple for me.  Mary and Lexie had more difficulty with that task.

The 3 of us with Dennis now got into the water in the shallow end of the pool with our equipment.  We lowered our heads in the water and learned to breathe to the regulator. That led to a new found feeling of freedom.  Being able to breathe and see underwater was a neat concept.

Dennis demonstrated and walked us through the different methods of regulator recovery. When I first attempted the sweep back method with my arm, I did not come up with the regulator.  Being in the water without a regulator to breathe from did not lead to a sense of panic though.  I knew that I had a backup regulator. I knew where it was so I simply grabbed it instead.  After a few more attempts I was able to recover my normal regulator with the sweep back motion.

The next task to learn was mask clearing.  In order to clear the mask the first thing you need to do is flood it.  Dennis demonstrated and then we were instructed to fill our mask half way.  When I filled mine, I got water up my nose.  My instinct was to stand up and clear my nose in the comfort of the atmosphere.

I knew that was not the right thing to do, but it was instinctive.  In my mind I ran through the instructions from the PADI text book.  If you get water in your air passages, just cough through the regulator.  That does two things, it clears your air passages and it clears the regulator.

Once again I flooded my mask.  Once again, I got water up my nose.  This time I did not stand up.  I remained kneeling in the shallow end of the pool and coughed through my regulator.  It worked!  The book was right.  After that I mastered the art of not getting water in my nose when I flooded my mask.

We did partial mask clears and full mask clears in the shallow end of the pool.  I was feeling pretty good about that.  I did not realize though, that Mary still was having trouble with clearing her mask.

Dennis then told us that we would go to the deep end of the pool and repeat these exercises.  We skimmed along the bottom heading over the edge of the abyss.  I had no fear of the monster at this point.  I was comfortable with my scuba equipment so the depth no longer concerned me.

As we descended, I was surprised by how much pressure you encountered, in just such a small change of depth.  I followed the instructions from the book on how to equalize, but I was having problems.  Finally as I wiggled my jaw and swallowed, I equalized and was able to continue my decent to the bottom.

Once on the bottom, Dennis selected me as his first test subject for mask clearing.  I knew why he did this.  He figured if anyone in our group was going to panic, it would be me.

Calmly I flooded my mask half way and cleared it.  I had no issues with water intruding into my nose.  I then had to flood my mask entirely and clear it.  Once again I had no issues with that.

Dennis then signaled that he wanted me to totally remove my mask and hand it to him.  I did so, without hesitation.  I was now on the bottom of the 13 foot deep pool with no mask and no snorkel.  I did however have my regulator to breathe through.

Without my mask, I could not see very well.  I could make out Denise's form, but really couldn't make out any detail.  My mask acted like my eyeglasses do on the surface.  With it I could see well, without it the world went blurry.

Dennis handed my mask back to me.  I put it on my head and cleared it.  I was pleased that I was able to do that without any difficulty.  Dennis then signaled that there was a problem with my snorkel.  When I felt the snorkel and mask strap I could tell that what had happened was that Dennis intentionally twisted my snorkel around my mask strap.  This was another part of my test.  He was trying to determine if I would panic when he through the unexpected at me.

Calmly I took my mask off once again and untwisted the snorkel from the strap.  I put the mask back on my face and cleared it.  It was no big deal for me.  I was feeling very good and very confident in the mask exercises.

Next it was Lexie turn to demonstrate clearing her mask.  She did fine and did not have to go through the twisted strap exercise.  The last person to be tested was Mary.  While Dennis was putting Mary through the paces, Lexie and me relaxed on the bottom and watched.

Suddenly, Mary bolted for the surface.  Apparently something had not gone well with her mask clearing.  I saw Dennis reach up and grab Mary's weight belt.  Situations that occur under water should be solved underwater.  Mary was having no part of that.  The more that Dennis pulled down, the faster she finned and paddled her hands.

As I sat on the bottom looking up, I must admit that the situation looked rather comical to me.  I guess I should have felt concerned about Mary, but I felt confident that Dennis would take care of her with whatever situation arose.

So Mary and Dennis were at the surface, while Lexie and I remained sitting on the bottom of the pool at a depth of 13 feet.  Lexie looked at me and signaled, what do we do now?  I shrugged and indicated that we should just relax here on the bottom until instructed otherwise.

In about 5 minutes Dennis convinced Mary to descend back to the bottom.  I don't think she was too happy about it, but like a good trooper she complied.

We went through several other exercises at the bottom of the pool, practicing sharing air and indicating out of air.  Those exercises seemed to go smooth enough.

After a while we ascended to the shallow end of the pool for a few more breathing exercises.  By this time we had been in the water for nearly 4 hours.  Mary and Lexie were chilled to the bone.  Apparently females are much more sensitive to losing body heat in the water.

Dennis finally called an end to the pool session and instructed us on how to hop out of the pool and how to break down our scuba equipment.

I was on top of the world.  I had faced my demon of fear and I had overcome it.  I was becoming proficient at scuba skills.  Underwater it felt as if I were walking in space.  I was so charged by what we had just been through, I just wanted to celebrate.

I turned toward Mary who was working on removing her regulator from her scuba tank and asked her what she was thinking about?  She looked up at me and without displaying any emotion on her face, calmly stated, “I hate you.”

I knew that Mary wasn't kidding at the time.  At that particular instant in time, she indeed hated me, and I accepted that.  More than that, I understood why.  This experience had taken Mary over the limit.  She was well beyond her comfort zone.

Later Mary would feel bad for telling me that as she had never felt that way about me before.  To me it was just a natural reaction.  Even though, Mary was fully behind the idea of becoming scuba certified, the whole situation would never have arose, had it not been for me and my passionate interest in the space program.

As we drove home, Mary and Lexie were both very cold.  I was cold too, but not nearly as affected as they were.  When we got home, Mary was exhausted all she wanted to was sleep.  I began to get concerned that perhaps her panic ascent had brought on a case of the bends.  It was unlikely, but being new to the scuba experience, my mind was racing.

Reading the PADI text, some of her behavior could be interpreted as symptoms of the affliction.  I wasn't sure what to do and was somewhat panicked.  Mary assured me that she would be fine and said that she would feel better if she had something to eat.

I went to a drive through sandwich shop and got us all sandwiches.  I was relieved when Mary perked up after that.

The next day, Saturday, Mary and Lexie both stated that they weren't going back.  That was it for them.  We had one more classroom session to be followed by another pool session.  My response to both Mary and Lexie was, “That's fine.  You need to decide what you want to do.  Nobody can make up your mind for you.  It's a decision that you have to make.”

Deep down inside I was conflicted with a feeling of sadness.  I was hoping that they could share in this experience with Scott Carpenter, but it did not look like this was going to happen.   I felt exuberant having faced and overcome my demon.  Mary was on the other end of the spectrum.  She faced her own personal demon and at that meeting the demon reined victorious.

Sunday rolled around and there wasn't much change in attitude.  Mary still didn't feel like she could go back.  Monday came, and somehow she mustered up the courage to try it one more time.

We did more studying in the PADI divers manual and watched the PADI instructional tapes.

Tuesday came, and it was time for our second and final pool session.  Once again I was pretty freaked out.  Not only did I have my demons to overcome, I was now worried about what issues might be gripping Mary and Lexie.  It would not have taken much for any one of us three to just turn around and go back home.

After we removed the cover from the pool, our first task at hand was to assemble our equipment.  Having grown up on a farm, working with equipment is fairly second nature to me.  I had assembled my equipment and watched as Mary and Lexie still struggled with theirs.

I knew that finishing first was not a good thing.  Dennis looked at my kit and said great, turn off your air, bring your mask, snorkel, and fins and come over to the deep end of the pool.

“Not, the deep end of the pool!” I thought..  My Adams apple welled up the size of a watermelon.  I knew it was inevitable, so like a condemned man at the gallows I walked in silence over to meet my fate.

Dennis said that what we were going to do was determine how much weight I needed to be neutrally buoyant.  He instructed me to put on my mask, snorkel, and fins.  He then told me to hop into the water at the deep end.

Once again instinct was stronger than intellectual thought.  I knew that I would float in this deep water.  After all I had been back and forth across it countless times, just a few days before for the snorkel test.  I sat on the edge and plunged into the water.

I was pleased when I didn't sink.  Dennis then told me what he wanted me to do was exhale all of the air out of my lungs to see if I would sink to the bottom.  “All of my air?” I thought wait, I need that to breathe and you want me to get rid of it?  Like a soldier grimly off to battle, I complied.

I was again relieved when I didn't sink to the bottom.  I simply floated with my snorkel safely out of the water.  I could get air if I really needed it.

Now Dennis raised the stakes again.  He handed me a four pound weight and told me he wanted me to exhale all of my air and sink to the bottom.  He repeated, “I want you to sink all the way to the bottom.”

So here I was, all alone, about to be cast into the abyss.  Dennis was still dressed in street clothes.  I knew he wouldn't be saving me.  Mary and Lexie were still preoccupied with assembling their equipment.  I didn't even know if they knew where I was.  It was me against that demon, the abyss.

Once again my only instructions from Dennis were: “I want you to hold on to this weight, let out all of your air, and sink to the bottom.”  There were no instructions on how to get out of this predicament once I was on the bottom.  My mind was racing a billion miles an hour, but I didn't have time to ask for further instructions.  I was given a mission, and it was my job to comply.

I exhaled the air out of my lungs and sure enough, I began my descent below the surface.  My mind continued to seek a solution for the situation.  I was not panicked, but I was far away from any comfort zone.

Slowly I sank deeper and deeper.  With all of my education and intellect, I had no answers at this particular moment.  It did not occur to me that I could drop the weight if I had to in order to get back to the surface.  I could only observe what it was like to descend below the surface.  The surface got farther and farther away.

About 2 feet from the bottom, I thought this is probably enough.  Instinctively, I flipped my fins back and forth.  Much to my utter amazement my descent halted and I rose a little bit.  “Hmmm, I thought to myself, this is good!’  I flipped my fins back and forth some more, I kept rising!  Hallelujah, the surface is not receding it is now getting closer.  My next thought was “Fins donut fail me now!’

I got back to the surface, cleared my snorkel and took a breath of life sustaining air.  I must have looked like a breaching whale as I sucked in that sweet atmosphere into my lungs.  I still had that four pound weight firmly grasped in my hand.

Dennis was happy and told me I could hop out of the pool.  I was ecstatic.  At that point in time, I probably could have walked on water.   Now, I had not only floated over the abyss, I had been to the abyss and more importantly returned.  The demon was dead!

I must have been grinning ear to ear at that point. A huge wave of relief washed over me. Dennis was obviously testing me again.  He intentionally put me in a position where it was just me against the water.  He intentionally remained in street clothes to test my limits.  I passed the test!

Mary and Lexie then went through the routine to find the proper weight for their neutral buoyancy.  Dennis let them off pretty easy and they didn't have to descend all the way to the bottom.We were now going to attempt the giant stride into the deep end of the pool.  Of course when trying something new, “Bring out the chicken.”  I was selected to attempt the first giant stride. 

I attempted the stride, but had really poor form.  Rather that being vertical, I leaned into it. There was a reason I did this.  I was concerned that the bottom of my tank would catch the edge of the pool and the tank would whack me in the back of the head.The face first plunge wasn't a whole lot better though.  I survived the plunge, but in the process my weight belt fell off and sank into the abyss.  Without weights I was like a fish out of water, listing badly to one side. 

Mary and Lexie then did the giant stride and did a much better job than I did.  Dennis then joined us in the water.  Dennis locked arms with me and together we descended to the bottom.  I was able to reach down and grab my weight belt.

I would get first hand experience to practice my skill of reattaching a weight belt underwater.  Double checking to make sure I had set it up for a right hand release I put it on.  Dennis then wanted us to kneel on the bottom.

I was having difficulty staying on the bottom.  I tried releasing air from my BC, but that didn't seem to help.  Then I spotted an extra 4 pound weight lying on the bottom.  Maybe that would be a decent solution.  I pointed to it and Dennis signaled to me that it would be Okay to add that weight to my belt.

I struggled to reach down to the weight lying on the bottom, but finally reached it.  Now I had to take off my weight belt, attach the extra weight and put my weight belt back on.  It was quite the work out of weight belt skills.  I succeeded though, without too much difficulty.

In the deep end we practiced the fin pivot, practiced removing and putting back on your BC, sharing air and skills like that.

In the shallow end of the pool we practiced the controlled emergency ascent by exhaling the width of the pool.  We also practiced breathing from a free flowing regulator.

The evening was going pretty well.  Dennis then came up with the idea of throwing our masks and snorkels into the deep end of the pool.  Swimming over to the deep end on the surface and descending down to retrieve them.

That's all good fun, but it is pretty difficult to see underwater without your mask.  I had an idea of where I threw my mask so I descended to that area.  I could make out a chartreuse color on the bottom which turned out to be my mask.  I grabbed it, put it on, and cleared it, just as we had practiced.

Lexie also found her mask fairly quickly.  Unfortunately for Mary, Dennis grabbed Mary's blue mask instead of his clear mask.  His mask was nearly impossible to see on the bottom.  This too, I think was a special test by Dennis, this time targeted at Mary with her problems with mask clearing.  After some time, the clear mask was located and Mary and Dennis swapped masks so that they would each have the mask that belonged to them.

We practiced hovering around the deep end of the pool.  The abyss now seemed fairly small though and with four people down there it was pretty crowded.  As time went on Dennis would continually point to someone to signal that they were out of air and their buddy would have to share air with them.

At one point Dennis signaled to me that he was out of air.  Once again I had trouble getting to the bottom with the weight that I had on.  A few seconds elapsed and Dennis feigned passing out that it was taking me so long to reach him.  I finally did get to him, but not as quickly as I would have liked.

We were on the bottom and Lexie calmly indicated to me that she was running low on air.  As we were trained I reached for my alternate air source to hand it to her.  Just as I did that my weight belt unclasped and started to fall off.

Fantastic, I could see myself shooting towards the surface without any weights.  I dropped my alternate air source to grab my weight belt before it fell to the bottom.  As I did that, I saw Dennis shoot over to Lexie and hand her his alternate air source.

He then took her to the surface.  It then dawned on me, that this was not a drill. Dennis had not signaled Lexie to do the low air indication.  She really was low on air.  From practicing the free flowing regulator breathing our tanks had been depleted faster than we realized.

I felt horrible, I had failed my granddaughter.  She needed my help and I felt that I had failed her.  Of course there never was any real danger in this situation and I could have gotten her the air after fixing my belt, but that didn't make me feel any better.  It was a good wake up call to keep on your toes when diving, even under the simplest conditions.

That was the end of our final pool session.  The only things we had left in our scuba certification were the testing over the knowledge we learned in the diver's manual and then of course the open water certification.

We took some practice quizzes over the course work that night after the pool session.  Everyone did fairly well.  Lexie missed a few more questions than Mary and I did, but for an eleven year old assimilating college level material she did great.

Our final exam happened a few days later and this was administered over the course of a couple of hours.  Lexie wasn't quite on her game that night and missed more questions than she did on the practice quizzes. 

I missed two questions and that really tweaked me as I've always been a perfectionist when it comes to exams.  Those questions, I felt were trick questions though.  Mary missed a few more questions than I did.  But we all passed.

Dennis told us that he wasn't as concerned with Lexie’s test score as she exhibited outstanding skills in the water.  So there we were.  We were nearly all certified.  The only thing left was the open water certification.

Since this was the middle of winter in Texas it was too cold to do our open water certification there.  We intended instead to do that testing in Florida, just before our scuba experience at Jules' Undersea Lodge with Scott Carpenter.

The story of diving and dining underwater with Astronaut Scott Carpenter continues.  Follow the ASF EXP 1 B link for the next part of the story.

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UPDATED : June 11, 2008
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