We actually arrived in Florida about a week before we went under water, to train and prepare and do all our homework. When the day came to move to the bottom of the ocean, we got in a boat together, put on regular scuba gear and swam down.
Magically in front of you, there's this big, hulking habitat on the bottom, and right next to it there's a mockup of a spaceship and a mockup of a rover. It's just as if you landed on Mars and there was already a place to live there.
It only takes two or three minutes to get down and then you come underneath it and pop your head up into what we call the wet porch. Suddenly, you're inside this bubble of air that's at the bottom of the ocean.
It's really humid and damp and everything's kind of sweating with the moisture, and rusty because it's always exposed to the salt water. You take your scuba gear off and you use a ShamWow towel because it will wipe the water off and you can ring it out.
The walls are thick but the cool thing is when you sit still, you can hear the fish eating the algae on the outside.
I'm wearing flip-flops and shorts and a T-shirt. There's no real dress code in Aquarius. This crew is six guys. It smells pretty good. There's a good air-handling system, just like on the space station.
You go to the bathroom outside with the fishes. There's no choice. We actually have a little habitat thing out there where you can stick your head up into the air and go potty in the water. You just swim out wearing a pair of shorts and it's like using an underwater outhouse.
It's six guys in a very small space, so snoring is a big issue.
The pressure goes up and down and your ears constantly pop, so earplugs aren't ideal. I sleep okay. It's kind of comforting. You're inside a bulletproof place with five people you trust doing something you think is important.
That's not a bad way to go to sleep.
The windows are really thick, probably five centimetres or more, and they glow like blue pastel because we're down far enough that the light is really diffused. It's like you're on the wrong side of an aquarium. The fish are looking in on us.
We were worried about the oil spill because the Gulf Stream comes around this way, and there are some computer models that would have some of the oil coming this way about the time that we're going to come up, around the 23rd or 24th. But we've been watching it and so far, so good. We think we're going to be all right.
I did spacewalks in orbit as well, and the main difference is the drag of the water. Everything else seems right.
We just have hot water and a microwave, so it's just prepackaged stuff to eat. Roll-up tortillas and dried food. It's like being on a camping trip. The food's okay. No sushi. We're in a sanctuary, so all the wildlife is protected.
We cannot just come up to the surface. It would kill us just like if we went outside the space station. It takes almost a full day to get back to the surface. If we just came up it would be like opening a can of Coke inside your blood system. All that gas that is pressurized in your blood would just instantly bubble out and do a lot of damage.
So what we do is over about a 17-hour period, minute by minute, we slowly drop the pressure in here.
After 18 hours we're at sea level pressure, but we're still under the ocean. So when everybody's ready, we quickly open the hatches, put on our scuba gear and swim back to the surface. We stay in Florida for a couple days afterward so they can watch for any decompression sickness and let our blood truly settle before we go on an airplane and go even higher.