The unique design of Aquarius allows aquanauts to live and work on the seafloor for extended periods using a special technique called saturation diving. Instead of coming to the surface after diving, scientists can return directly to the undersea laboratory dramatically increasing the time that can be spent working in the ocean depths. The undersea lab also provides more convenient, on-site access to science equipment, and computers.
The Aquarius "habitat" module is an 82-ton double-lock pressure vessel that measures approximately 14-meters long by 3-meters in diameter. Scientists live and work inside the habitat when they are not on excursions, diving outside on the reefs. Entry is through the 20 m3 wet porch, which contains an open moon pool, dive equipment storage areas, and hot water heater and shower. The Aquarius module has two main compartments. The 14-m3 entry lock contains bench space for computers and experiments, power equipment, life support controls, small viewports and bathroom facilities. The largest living space, however, is the 40-m3 main lock, which includes sleeping facilies for the six-person crew, computer work stations, two large viewports, and kitchen facilities that include a microwave, instant hot water dispenser, refrigerator, sink, dining and work areas. The main lock also contains life support controls, so both the entry and main locks can be independently pressurized.
Several similarities exist between the International Space Station (ISS) and Aquarius. The Aquarius habitat is remarkably similar in size to the space stations modules, and mission operations are coordinated remotely via a mission control center located nine miles (12 km) away in Key Largo. In addition, space walking techniques, performed under the guidance of the mission control center, are employed under water.
With this in mind, several mission objectives were planned for NEEMO 5. These were to:
1. Perform mission planning and oversight role, in conjunction with the principal investigators (PIs) and SST;
2. Develop operations facilitating PI interaction;
3. Determine practical communication system capability when the extravehicular activity (EVA) crew was operating at a significant distance from the habitat;
4. Perform EVA Mission Control role for the Waterlab construction task;
5. Provide generic EVA Mission Control support; track dive data and tank pressures from aquanauts during EVAs;
6. Model Aquarius site grid into 3D bathymetrical map;
7. Observe habitat and life support buoy "telemetry" transmitted via the life support buoy;
8. Perform internal ExPOC objectives, such as evaluating advanced software tools;
9. As with all analog site operations, perform standard operational evaluation of ExPOC facility and processes;
10. Exercise teambuilding skills;
11. Practice leadership, teamwork, and self-care;
12. Experience and cope with living conditions similar to those on the ISS;
13. Respond to the challenges of achieving operational group objectives by maintaining their productivity and motivation while managing interpersonal issues that arise from an isolated environment.
In addition to these objectives, several life sciences experiments were performed during the NEEMO 5 mission. These were Actiwatch, Bacterial Detection, In-suit Doppler, Physiological Monitoring, Clinical Nutritional Assessment, Otoacoustic Emissions, Portable Ultrasound, Habitability Assessment, Magic Windows, STARx, Latent Viral Shedding, and Wound Healing.