Aquarius’ most recent mission may just have been its last. The world’s only underwater laboratory could be sunk for good if Congress approves planned funding cuts–a vote that could happen as soon as next week.
Located a few miles off the Florida Keys and 60 feet from the surface, NOAA’s Aquarius Reef Base has for 25 years been a safe haven for scientists, divers, astronauts in training, and, more recently, lawmakers contemplating the base’s future.
Up to six “aquanauts” live and work for weeks at a time in the coral-caked facility that’s about the size of a school bus. There they enjoy electricity, high-speed Internet, hot water, and, of course, air–all piped in fresh from up top.
Living in a lab on the seafloor has huge advantages for scientists; it gives them the ability to dive for hours at a time without needing to decompress, and it allows them to observe marine life around the clock. Researchers at Aquarius can accomplish in weeks what would take months, or even years, for them to complete via surface dives.
It’s that in-ocean time that’s important for researchers. “For science, we really need assets to keep eyes on the sea, not just a few glimpses here and there,” oceanographer Sylvia Earle told The Washington Post.
Perhaps in this era of private space flight, and as more science in the public interest is being carried out independently, Aquarius is destined for the private sector. And who knows, with its great location, it could make a nice restaurant.
Photos and Video via NOAA