(Credit: NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary) For some time now, humanity has been saying we know more about the surface of the moon than the floor of the ocean . While space exploration attracts headlines and eye-popping budgets, understanding the depths of our own planet often garners less interest. But, along a coral reef off the coast of Florida, a one-of-a-kind underwater lab is facilitating ocean research while also preparing generations of astronauts. The Aquarius Reef Base , now known as FIU Aquarius, was built in 1986. Originally deployed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the sea lab surfaced after damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989, then moved to Florida in 1993 following repairs. After being operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for some time, Florida International University (FIU) now owns and runs the facility. By using saturation diving techniques, Aquarius’ aquanauts adjust to life below 62 feet of water. They stay at depth for days or weeks, allowing them to perform lengthy excursions that would be impossible for divers descending from and returning to the surface. Aquarius’ voluminous research has included insights into the intricate ecosystems of coral reefs and humanity’s impact on them. The extreme […]

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