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Scientists Prepare To Explore Uncharted Indian Ocean

The mission’s principal scientist, Lucy Woodall of Oxford University, said the researchers expect to discover dozens of new species.

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Indian Ocean
In this image taken from drone video, the Ocean Zephyr is docked in Bremerhaven, Germany, Wednesday Jan. 23, 2019. VOA

Scientists prepared Thursday to embark on an unprecedented, years-long mission to explore the Indian Ocean and document changes taking place beneath the waves that could affect billions of people in the surrounding region over the coming decades.

The ambitious expedition will delve into one of the last major unexplored frontiers on the planet, a vast body of water that’s already feeling the effects of global warming. Understanding the Indian Ocean’s ecosystem is important not just for the species that live in it, but also for an estimated 2.5 billion people at home in the region — from East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South and Southeast Asia.

The Nekton Mission, supported by over 40 organizations, will conduct further dives in other parts of the Indian Ocean over three years. The research will contribute to a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean planned for late 2021.

The Ocean Zephyr is preparing to leave Bremerhaven, Germany, on the first leg of trip. Researchers will spend seven weeks surveying underwater life, map the sea floor and drop sensors to depths of up to 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) in the seas around the Seychelles.

Indian ocean
FILE – An undated and unplaced handout photo obtained from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Dec. 3, 2015, shows Havila Harmony, one of three ships scouring the southern Indian Ocean for the remains of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. (VOA)

Little is known about the watery world below depths of 30 meters (100 feet), which scientists from Britain and the Seychelles will be exploring with two crewed submarines and a remotely operated submersible in March and April.

Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles’ ambassador to the United Nations, said such research is vital to helping the island nation understand its vast ocean territory.

While the country’s 115 islands together add up to just 455 square kilometers (176 sq. miles) of land — about the same as San Antonio, Texas — its exclusive economic zone stretches to 1.4 million square kilometers (540 million square miles) of sea, an area almost the size of Alaska.

Jumeau said the Seychelles aims to become a leader in the development of a “blue economy” that draws on the resources of the ocean. The archipelago relies on fishing and tourism, but has lately also been exploring the possibility of extracting oil and gas from beneath the sea floor.

“Key to this is knowing not only what you have in the ocean around you, but where it is and what is its value,” he said. “It is only when you know this that you can properly decide what to exploit and what to protect and leave untouched.”

Indian ocean
Gunner Richard Brown (L) of Transit Security Element looks through binoculars as he stands on lookout with other crew members aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Perth as they continue to search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 10, 2014. 

“Research expeditions such as the Nekton Mission are therefore vital to help us fill those gaps and better know our ocean space and marine resources to make wise decisions in planning the future of our blue economy,” Jumeau added.

The island nation of fewer than 100,000 people is already feeling the effects of climate change, with rising water temperatures bleaching its coral reefs.

“Our ocean is undergoing rapid ecological transformation by human activities,” said Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York, England, who is a trustee of the mission.

“Seychelles are a critical beacon and bellwether for marine conservation in the Indian Ocean and globally,” he said.

Also Read: Communication of Coral Eating Starfish can save Coral Reefs: Scientists

The mission’s principal scientist, Lucy Woodall of Oxford University, said the researchers expect to discover dozens of new species, from corals and sponges to larger creatures like types of dog-sharks.

The Associated Press is accompanying the expedition and will provide live underwater video from the dives, using new optical transmission technology to send footage from the submarines to the ship and from there, by satellite, to the world. (VOA)

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SpaceX Plans To Send NASA Astronauts To Space in Q2 This Year

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff

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NASA
It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point. Pixabay

After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year.

This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, the US space agency said in a statement on Sunday.

With this test now complete, the next big flight of the Crew Dragon will have people on board: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

“We’re highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1, most likely at the end of February but no later than March. And we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” said Musk after the successful uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon capsule’s in-flight launch escape capabilities.

Musk said that if all goes well, the first crewed flight on the Crew Dragon could take place in the second quarter of this year.

“This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 am just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect,” said Musk. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”

NASA
After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year. Wikimedia Commons

Prior to the flight test, teams completed launch day procedures for the first crewed flight test, from suit-up to launch pad operations. The joint teams now will begin the full data reviews that need to be completed prior to NASA astronauts flying the system during SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. “The past few days have been an incredible experience for us,” said astronaut Doug Hurley.

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“Today, we watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do. It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon,” he said in the NASA statement. (IANS)