The Two Weeks Habitability Tektite II Program

The Two Weeks Habitability Tektite II Program

At the bottom of the seafloor of U.S. Virgin Islands' Lameshur Bay, lies the Tektite Habitat, patiently waiting for the all-female aquanauts to splashdown into one of the most isolating, and privacy invasion two weeks missions of the 70s - Tektite II

By partly funding this program, NASA's ultimate interest in the Tektite program was to collect data on the habitability of the small crews from varied professional backgrounds living in confined spaces, an environment similar to that of a spacecraft. Their goal was to closely monitor and record behavior and psychological effects during this process for the information would help them better design and support their future mission and increase the habitability of the spacecraft.

Despite knowing the fact that their privacy was gone the moment they plunged into the sea, the five female aquanauts view Tektite II mission as a golden opportunity in exchange for underwater living and in-depth research of the coral reef ecosystems.

Tektite habitat consists of essentially two vertical steel cylinders attached to a rectangular steel base 15meters(50 feet) below the surface of the sea. The cylinders are made up of the crew's living quarters that consist of four bunk beds, refrigerator, stove, and dining facilities. A machine room, laboratory, and storeroom for scientific and diving equipment. Each compartment is wired with open microphones and equipped with wide-angle cameras that transmit them via cables to the command van by the Bay. Everything the aquanauts did or said was being silently monitored, while their behavior was recorded on IBM punch cards by a team of psychologists.

Their free time spent on leisure equipment such as cassette tape, commercial TV to personal preference kits supplied by NASA was also closely monitored.

It was no surprise that NASA was the head chef on Tektite II missions. To prove that time-saving on preparing meals would correspond in higher work output, NASA had developed frozen “convenience foods” that just needed to be heated. However, the test showed no difference. It was reported that food catered to crew personal preference not only increase the morale and performance but also mission success. Dinner time was considered a great source of relaxation by the aquanauts, the pleasure of eating and group interaction were surprising factors that allowed aquanauts to cope with isolation and boost motivation and productivity.

Though the aquanauts knew their isolation and surveillance were crucial to the broader goals of NASA’s habitability research it didn’t stop some from finding ways to cope with the situation. In the First Tektite mission, aquanaut Ed Clifton and Rick Waller planned their mischief during the shipment of Tektite from Navy Yard. They managed to hide a stash of unauthorized whiskey and wine within the scrubbers, a filter that removes carbon dioxide from the air supply. The act only came to light when the isolation process began, shocking the topside observers who had the power to do nothing but watch through the live surveillance.

Life in isolation and especially one under extreme surveillance without the comfort of modern living is no easy task, despite all these, the brave explorers had shown us nothing but incredible perseverance in being productive while staying focused on the tasks at hand.

Word by Buranee Soh

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