Dining under the sea with Astronaut
photographs document ASF Expedition 1.
and Mary relax in the common area of Jules' Undersea Lodge.
documents our time together under the sea.
Depth of the common area in the habitat.
and Linn listen intently one of Scott's stories.
mer-chef in action.
dining under the sea with Scott.
dinner guests prepare to depart.
final confirmation of Okay before heading up.
Living under the sea at Jules' Undersea Lodge. A
target date was set for our undersea adventurer. It was to begin
on Monday, April 19th,
2006.This was the Monday following Easter
Sunday.That was a long time after our
final scuba training pool session and I was concerned that our skills
be as fresh as they should.
Mary called ahead to the Jules Verne Lodge to find out if we
could come in early that weekend to finish our scuba certification
were to dive with Scott Carpenter down to the lodge.The manager at Jules, told us first that
wasn't necessary and second they were really booked that weekend.
They would certify us after we were already underwater
staying at the lodge.Our open water
certification would be like an EVA from the lodge.I really wanted to be certified before hand,
but the thought of this being like an EVA during our stay sounded
On Easter Sunday afternoon after hunting Easter eggs with
the grand children, Mary, Lexie, and I flew to Miami,
Florida.We rented a car and drove from Miami
down to Key Largo.We
arrived late at night in Key Largo
into the Holiday Inn hotel.
The next morning I had an email from Linn, the Executive
Director of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.The
news was not good.Linn told us that the
water in the lagoon
where Jules was located was terribly murky.They
were not sure if we would be able to dive down
to it or not.
An alternative possibility was for us to snorkel over the
Aquarius habitat where a crew of NASA astronauts was spending 14 days
underwater.This opportunity was offered
by world renowned diver Bob Barth. Bob
had been a key member of all three of the US Navy Sealab teams.Nobody knew diving as well as Bob.
Seeing Aquarius sounded great, but it would not replace my
if I were to miss living underwater myself.Eating
dinner with Scott Carpenter under water was a
big objective and
just as big was living underwater for two days.
Linn suggested that we meet Scott and Bob for breakfast and
discuss what we were going to do.So as
if my anxiety level was not already high enough just about diving, here
with the distinct possibility of our mission to Jules Verne Lodge being
canceled due to the visibility.
Scott, Bob, and Linn were seated at a table at the Holiday
Inn restaurant.They were already well
into breakfast.We were introduced to
Scott and Bob and they asked us about our diving experience.I felt like this was an evaluation, and got
the feeling that Scott and particularly Bob were highly skeptical that
enough experience for this dive to Jules.
As we ate and talked, the atmosphere seemed to relax
somewhat.Bob pulled out a bottle of ear
his pocket.He gave it to us and told us
that was what they were using on Aquarius and it was excellent for
things like unwanted bacteria from growing in our ears.I thought that was a wonderful gesture on
We were still debating whether or not the conditions would
be too difficult for us to make it down to the lodge.Suddenly, Bob stood up and announced that he
had an idea and that he was going over to the lodge.That was all he said before he excused
himself from the table.
We had no idea what he was up to.I
secretly hoped that the world's most
experienced and best diver had come up with a master plan that would
successful completion of our intended mission.Nobody
knew exactly what was on Bob's mind.
We finished breakfast and it was decided that we would drive
over to the lodge with Scott and Linn to check out the conditions and
person to the people managing the lodge.
We got in Linn’s SUV and on her iPod she started the song
“Yellowbird”.This was one of Scott
Carpenter's all time favorite songs and he smiled when he heard it.Scott then told us the story about how he and
his wife were good friends with the singer who performed “Yellowbird”.
One time at a concert in Houston,
a lady put a yellow canary in a cage up on stage for the singer to keep.The singer of course had no way of
with this bird to his next concert site, so he gave the canary to the
Carpenter's after the show.
Scott recounted how they got home late and placed the cage
on the kitchen table and went to bed.The
next morning they awoke to find the cage was
upset in the kitchen
and all that was left of that poor canary were yellow feathers.Apparently the family cat liked the canary
even more than Scott liked the “Yellowbird” song.It
was really funny to hear Scott recount
that story about the demise of the canary.
It was a short drive from the Holiday Inn hotel to the site
of the Jules Verne Lodge.We drove
around back to a parking area that looked restricted.Scott assured Linn that it was Okay to park
there.We walked around and appeared to
enter the lodge complex through a back gate.It
didn't seem the way that normal guests and
visitors should go, but we
Scott as our guide we confidently continued on.
Scott pointed out what appeared to be a white diving bell of
some sort.He explained that this was
the Personal Transfer Capsule that was used on Sealab III.It was in this very capsule that Bob Barth
and Barry Cannon made their ill-fated dive to Sealab III.Cannon died during that dive do to improperly
configured dive equipment and it was Bob Barth who recovered his body.
I didn't expect to actually see a piece of naval equipment
that was used during the Sealab programs.That
was a big bonus for me.Interacting with
two famous Sealab divers and seeing
an integral part of
original Sealab equipment really put this adventure over the top.Seeing the PTC was like seeing John Glenn’s
Friendship 7 capsule for the first time.
the lagoon where the habitat rested.The
water lived up to its billing.It was dark
green and very dark and foreboding.
We were introduced to the Rick the manager of the Jules complex.He assured us that there would be no problem
getting us down to the lodge.We weren't
Bob Barth came over and asked Lexie to follow him.Lexie looked at me skeptically and I nodded
that she should go with Bob.Bob took
Lexie to show her and iguana swimming in the lagoon.Unfortunately, the iguana had disappeared by
the time they got there, but I appreciated Bob for being so thoughtful.
We discussed the situation with Rick around an outdoor
elevated table.The table looked like it
would have been more at home at a Tiki bar than it did being at the
the lodge.The plan was set.Scott would stay at the Jules Verne complex
and conduct a warm up dive to re-acclimate himself to diving.It had been some time since Scott's last
Linn, Mary, Lexie, and I would head back to the hotel.At ,
Mary, Lexie, and I were to be back at the lodge for taking care of our
paperwork and receiving our pre-dive instruction.
As we walked away from the Jules office, Bob Barth turned to
me to comment about our upcoming dive.What
Bob told me was that some of his best dives
were in really murky
water.He said that it's a great feeling
when you see the whiteness of the habitat pop out of the darkness when
approach it.I appreciated Bob's
comments. I'm sure it was obvious to him that I had a lot of anxiety
dive.Like a good mentor, his words were
very comforting to me.
Linn, Mary, Lexie, and I wound up at a dive restaurant near
the Holiday Inn for lunch.This joint
had no pretense of being a 5 star restaurant.The
lady who waited appeared as salty as any veteran
sea captain.The food was adequate and the
view was nice
so we overlooked the slow service.
You're not supposed to drink before you go diving, but Linn,
Mary, and I figured that one drink wouldn't hurt us.A glass of wine to steady the nerves seemed
appropriate at the time.
Before long, it was time for us to head back over to the
Jules Verne complex.We packed our
masks, snorkels, fins and the items that we would take down with us to
habitat.If all went well, we would be
leaving the world that we knew for two days.
When we got to the Jules complex, we were introduced to Les.He was to be our Jules mission director and
our certified PADI dive instructor.Les
was the man assigned to take us through our open water dive
Les is originally from England
and has lived in Australia
for some time as well as other parts of the world.As such, he has a definite accent when he
speaks.Les was rather upset when he
found out that we were not already certified divers.
Les's reaction to our experience level only did more to
raise my anxiety level.It also raised
my ire.Here we were told for months
that it would be no problem to certify us after we were down inside of
habitat.Do these people have no idea
what they are talking about?There was
an apparent lack of communication between Rick and Les and I was not
We were taken into a small conference room and given some
paperwork to fill out liability waivers and that sort of thing.Teresa, another employee of the Jules
complex, also provided us with water and told us to drink plenty of
combat the dehydration that would come from the dry air in the habitat.
After we filled out the paperwork, Rick came in.He told us, “We did not have to do this. We
could stop now, if we wanted to.”Great,
here is “Mr. No Problem” now telling us to stop.Well
Okay, he didn't tell us to stop, but
it's not a comment that boosted my already fragile confidence.
There is a saying that “A chicken is interested in
breakfast, but a pig is committed.”Having
finished signing the release forms, we were
now committed.Rick brought us wet suits,
BCs, and the other
equipment we would need for our dive to Jules.
Les then took us along with Scott over to the mission
control trailer.He would be our mission
director. This trailer was the equivalent of NASA's mission control.
us a safety briefing on the communication methods that he had with the
lodge.It was from this trailer that Les
would monitor us and our habitat while we remained underwater.There was a bed in this trailer, so Les would
even sleep there during our mission.
After that we walked over to the dock from where our dive
would commence.Rick had wheeled our
equipment over to the dock.
We turned over to Les the things that we wanted to have down
in the lodge during our stay.This
included our changes of clothing, toothbrushes, DVDs, camera, books,
and a few
photographs.All of this stuff we were
taking would have to be shuttled down to the lodge by Les and Rick in
waterproof containers.The containers
were made of yellow plastic and the size of a large briefcase.
Les told us to put our equipment on.Following
our PADI instructions we took our
BCs and dipped them in the water.Linn
was surprised at this and asked “What are they doing?”Les replied that we were just following what
we had learned in our PADI classes.The
BC is dipped in water so that the tank strap won't come loose after it
wet.That was a good feeling that Les
recognized that we were doing what we were supposed to do.
Linn and Scott were allowed to float off the back of the
dock and follow a line down to the habitat with Les as a guide.With apprehension we watched as they
under the water.I say with apprehension
because we knew that once they were down inside of the habitat, it
would be our
turn to go next.
Les came back up and told us that he was going to take Lexie
down first.That sounded like a great
idea to me.Since Lexie was only 11
years old, I thought that there might be a possibility that she would
and not get in the water.Having Mary
and I topside to talk her through any possible issues, seemed like a
Since Les was doing our open water certification, we had to
do the giant stride off of the dock instead of taking the easy route
floating off.This was the first giant
stride that we would attempt in over two months.
Lexie put on her equipment and tip-toed out to the edge of
the dock.I don't know what the distance
between the dock surface and the water was but it seemed really large.In my mind it seemed like it was at least 4
feet.It could have been less but the
giant stride looked to me like it was going to be a giant leap.
Les was in the water and told Lexie to step out.He counted “1, 2, 3, step!”Lexie remained frozen at the edge of the
dock.My fears seemed to be realized,
Lexie balked.Mary and I offered words
of encouragement to Lexie.In her own
time, Lexie stepped off and did the giant stride into the water.One of us was down; two more of us were left
Les told her to float on her back and relax.He then had her go over towards the steps of
the dock, where the line was tied that would lead down to the habitat.Les told Lexie to put her face down in the
water so that she could see the line.Initially
she hesitated, but then complied.
Les had Lexie grab the line and down into the murky lagoon
they went.With just Mary and I topside
now, I had a lot of anxiety as to how Lexie was doing.There was no way to see her progress, we
could only hope for the best.
In a little while, Rick came up from below on the return
trip of his shuttle run of our personal effects to the habitat.He announced that Lexie was down inside the
wet room and was having a great time.That
was a big relief.
So now the question became who would go next, Mary or me.I knew that I could overcome my fears and one
way or another; I would make it down to the habitat.With Mary, I wasn't quite so sure.After seeing her freak out during our first
pool session there was a lot of doubt in my mind that it wouldn't be
Les came up and asked who wanted to go next.Thinking it over, I told Mary that she should
go next, because if Lexie is panicking down in the lodge, she could
Lexie better than I could.Yes, it was a
lie.I knew that I could comfort Lexie
as well as Mary.I also knew in my heart
that if I went into the water and made it down to the lodge before
Mary, it was
highly probably that she would just pack up and go back to the Holiday
Mary agreed to go next.She put
on her equipment and stepped off the dock to
do the giant stride
entry into the water.She disappeared
into the pea green soup.In a few
seconds she popped up.Her mask had come
off and she looked panicked.
If you've ever seen
the look on the face of a drowning cat, that was similar to Mary's
expression.If she could have clawed her
way out of the lagoon she would have.
Les soothingly encouraged Mary to calm down.After she got her mask repositioned he told
her to relax and float on her back.Mary
complied and you visually see her body relaxing as she floated.
Les then took Mary over to the line by the steps and
repeated the process of having her look into the water to see and grab
line.Off into the murk they went.
Now I was all alone at the dock.Nobody
else was around me.Rick wasn't there.Les and Mary were someplace in the murk.Lexie, Linn, and Scott were presumably safely
inside the habitat.A lot can go through
your mind in that short little while.
My own appointment with destiny was coming soon enough.However that was not what concerned me
now.My only concern was Mary getting
down safely to the habitat. Time seemed to stand still as I waited for
sign that Mary was safely inside of the habitat.
A few bubbles appeared at the surface of the murk heading
towards the dock.It was Les, and he was
alone!Mary had made it down to and
gotten inside of the habitat.That was a
big relief for me.
Okay, now I was in the spotlight.Here
it is time to do that damn giant stride
again.Thoughts of my last experience
with this skill flashed through my brain as I remembered my weight belt
off.I saw Mary's panicked image as she
came up from her plunge with her mask ajar.
Les did a good thing though, he reminded us to hold onto the
mask and regulator with one hand and hold onto our weight belt with the
hand as we stepped off.
There was no count down for me.I
blotted the fear out of my mind.Lexie and
Mary had succeeded in this; I would
at least have to try.I stepped off and
plunged into the murk.I don't know how
far down my head went below the surface, but all I could see was pea
soup.No worries about the bottom being
far away here.It could have been a mile
deep and you never would have known it.
Apparently my breathing rate was pretty high.Les told me to calm down and breathe deeply.
I was sucking down a lot of air.It was
probably similar to the way I was sucking air when I first started
back at our first pool dive training session.
Getting used to floating in the murk, Les asked me to fin
over to his position.I did so and he
took control of my BC.He was checking
my buoyancy and adjusted my weight for neutral buoyancy.
I don't recall Les instructing me to look in the water to
see the line.At this point, I was
relaxed enough to just get it done.Lest
told me that when I came to the end of the line attached to a leg of
habitat to make sure that I ducked as I went under and up into the moon
pool.There were plenty of barnacles on
the habitat and hitting your head on them would not have been a good
Down into the darkness we went.Visibility
was not more than a foot or
two.I was calm at this point.I was in the water with my equipment.I felt confident.Once
I'm in the water with my equipment I actually
feel pretty good.It was the getting in
with the giant stride that gave me the most concern.
I swallowed on the way down a couple of times to
equalize.We were descending 30 feet
deep, 5 fathoms.Les signaled to me to
ask if I was Okay.I responded back with
the Okay signal.This was actually fun,
following this line in the murk.
Faster than I expected to, we reached the end of the line at
one of the legs of the habitat.I ducked
down as instructed and came up inside of the moon pool.Seated on the edge of the pool with towels
wrapped around them were Scott, Linn, Lexie, and Mary.We made it!
Linn asked to look up for a photo.I
did so, but kept my mask on and put my
snorkel in my mouth.I was instructed by
first dive instructor Dennis that anytime you are in the water, if you
regulator is not in your mouth, your snorkel should be.Like a good soldier I was following orders.
Les told me that I really didn't need the snorkel as all I needed to do
stand up in the moon pool.
Thinking it over, he was right, so I relinquished my safety
blanket.I removed my BC, my weight
belt, and my fins.I hoped out of
moon pool into the wet room of the habitat. 30 feet under the sea I was
of the world!It was a feeling of
exhilaration for me to be there.Not
only was I there, but I was there with my wife and granddaughter, and
of us were there with Mercury Astronaut and Sealab II Commander Scott
I will never know what it feels like to summit Mount
Everest, but I imagine the feeling must be similar to what
feeling inside of that habitat.You just
want time to stop so that you can bask in the glow of success.
Les instructed me to shed my wet suit and hop in the shower
to rinse off.I did so and then was
handed a towel to dry off with and a T-shirt to wear.Likewise Les removed his equipment and rinsed
off from being in the pea green soup.
The wet room was much smaller than it appeared in
photos.Once again the illusion created
by a wide angle camera lens came into play.The
ceiling in the wet room seemed to be about 5
feet high.The width of the room seemed to
be about 8
feet across and the length seemed to be about 12 feet long.The floor was covered with a non-slip rubber
mat.There was a bench to store
equipment under and hooks on the walls to hang up the wet suits.The moon pool at one end of the room and
which was the sole entry point for the habitat appeared to be about 3
across and 5 feet long.
The first order of business was for a safety tour of the
facilities.Les instructed us in the
methods of communication.We not only
had an intercom, we had a regular telephone, a marine band radio, and a
sonophone.I was highly unlikely that we
would ever get to a point where we were out of communication.In addition to the communication lines
available, there was a closed circuit television camera that monitored
around the moon pool.
Our call sign was “Hotel”, and Les's call sign up in mission
control would be “Topside”.I think we
just all wanted to party at this point, but diligently listed to Les
mandatory safety briefing.
Les then took us on a tour of the facility, showing us the
common room as well as the bedrooms.At
one point I was alone with Scott in a room and I thanked him for this
experience.I told him that without him,
I never would have had the motivation to do this.It
was a long way from the corn fields of Nebraska.Scott smiled.You
could tell he was having a great time being back
in his element.
We retired to the common living area.At
one end was a kitchen where our mer-chef
Les began madly preparing our feast.Les
you see was a jack of all trades on this mission.He
was not only mission director, guide, and
instructor, but he was also our chef.
The menu selection was steak or lobster.Mary, Lexie, and I chose the lobster, while
Scott and Linn chose the steak.
As we waited for the meal to be prepared, I had way too much
energy to sit down.The subject of our
scuba training came up and it didn't take much to begin telling the
our pool sessions.Scott listened
intently as I recounted the saga in minute detail.He understood what a sense of accomplishment
it was for all of us to address our fears and to over come them.
I took some photos of us in the living area while we waited
for our meal.The topics of conversation
were varied, but everyone was having a great time.At one point Scott was resting his head
against the carpeted bulkhead with his eyes closed.Les asked Scott if he was Okay.Scott replied, oh yes, I am just enjoying the
conversation.It was great to see Scott
in such a zone of contentment.
I had a few things brought down that I wanted Scott to
while we were under the sea in the habitat.I
couldn't think of any better autograph for my
collection that to have
the Sealab II commander who lived under the sea to sign a leather bound
Press edition of Jules Verne’s 20’000 Leagues Under The Sea.The book was also most appropriate since this
habitat is now called the Jules Verne Lodge. Scott
signed the book and added the notation
He asked me if I knew what that meant.I told him that I did not know what it
meant.Scott said that it was an old
diver's term that stood for 26 Feet Sea Water, indicating our depth.
I also asked Scott to
sign a Sealab photo for me and to sign one to Lexie.I hated to impose about the autographs, but I
knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wanted a
remember it by.
I then showed Scott, that I had brought down a paperback
copy of his novel, “Deep Flight” to read during our stay under the sea.He took that and signed it too.I didn't intend for him to sign that but was
pleased when he did.
To our amazement in the Holiday Inn gift shop, Mary found a
CD with the song “Yellowbird” on it.We
played this on the DVD player during our dinner preparations. Mary
Scott to sign the CD cover, to which he gladly complied.
Les had the dinner prepared and Lexie sat next to Scott,
while I sat next to Lexie and Mary and Linn sat together at another
It was a fine dinner.I had to
force myself to take stock of my
surroundings.Here I was eating dinner
with my family and
Astro/Aquanaut Scott Carpenter.This was
no ordinary dinner, but it was happening 26 feet under the surface of
ocean.No one on the planet was having a
better dinner than I was having that evening.
The time really slipped away from us.We
had descended down to the habitat at
around .By now, it was nearing .The pea
green soup outside of the windows of our habitat now turned to pitch
Linn started to become somewhat concerned because she had
never been on a night dive before.Scott
noticed this and became concerned for Linn, looking after her like a
looks after their child.He discussed
the situation with Les.
With a touch of sadness we watched as Linn, Scott, and Les
donned their dive equipment for the return trip to topside.Scott was trying to put his BC on and was
having some difficulty reaching his around back into the arm hole.Scott was having shoulder problems and it was
just too awkward for him to reach.Les,
noticed this and undid the snaps so that Scott could just slide into
You could tell that Scott was very frustrated.Here was a proud man and veteran of many
adventures and here he felt helpless due to his age.You could tell by the expression on his face
and the tone in his voice.
I personally felt horrible seeing this.It reminded me of my own frail parents and
the frustration that I would occasionally see in them as they aged.Les also picked up on that and said something
to the effect of “No worries Scott, we've all got it coming.”
Scott, Linn, and Les posed in the moon pool for a farewell
photo.We watched as they disappeared
under the habitat to follow then line back up to the dock.
So now, the three of us were alone.We
marveled at where we were.Before we could
get too lonely though, Les
was back, he had returned to take a briefcase full of trash back
topside.Much like a space station, trash
is a major
issue in such confined living environments.
Before he departed for the final time that night, Les told
us that he would take us out in the morning to run us through some of
water certification skills the next morning.That
sounded like a good plan. Our EVA was scheduled.
Les also asked us what we wanted for breakfast the next
morning.He offered to cook for us
again.I told him that wasn't necessary,
that we would be fine with the cereal and other foods that were
Les noticed a prawn had hopped up on a ledge in the moon
It was apparently
trying to escape some fish that were attracted to the light
from the wet room which shined into the water.To the distress of the prawn, Les picked it
up and tossed it back into the water of the pool.In
a flash a foot long fish swooped up in the
water and had prawn sushi for dinner.
Mary, Lexie, and I retired to our bedrooms.We broke out some of the DVDs that we had
brought down to watch.The first video
that we watched was “The Little Mermaid”.Watching
this in an undersea habitat seemed very
appropriate.We even cooked a bag of
microwave popcorn to
watch the movie with.
We had such a good time.Here
we were essentially isolated from the rest of
the world. There were
no worries under the sea.My high
pressure job from which I escaped was but a distant memory.I was spending quality time with my wife and
Reluctantly we turned off the TV to go to sleep.We were still full of excitement but knew
that we had a full day ahead of us with our open water certification
The story of Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Expedition 1
continues. Follow the ASF EXP
1 C link for the last part of the