USF scientist joins NASA's 4-woman deep sea research crew

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A University of South Florida researcher will become part of the first four-woman crew to work in an underwater mission with NASA.

Csilla Ari D’Agostino is getting ready to spend 10 days underwater off the coast of the Florida Keys as an aquanaut.

“Since I was a kid, I just loved the oceans and the marine life,” said Ari D’Agostino, a research assistant professor of psychology at USF. “I kind of always wished that I could spend more time there with them.”

That wish is coming true on June 10 when Ari D’Agostino will dive 62 feet underwater to the Aquarius Reef Base in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation or NEEMO 23 mission to simulate space exploration.

“I’m just fascinated by the opportunity to be able to stay underwater and run all these experiments,” said Ari D’Agostino, who is a dive master.

Two years ago, her husband was the aquanaut with NEEMO 22, and Ari D’Agostino stayed above to help in the background.

“I never even thought that I would be selected for the next crew, so I'm very excited and honored,” said Ari D’Agostino. She spent weeks of training with NASA for the mission.

While underwater, she will test equipment NASA plans to send into space and study the body’s physical and mental changes for future space missions. Such extreme conditions even dictate what she packs.

“It can get cold because sometimes we are going to be out basically walking on the sea floor for four or five hours, so of course we pack warmer clothes,” said Ari D’Agostino.

Ari D’Agostino will walk the bottom of the sea with another scientist, a NASA astronaut, and European astronaut, an exciting opportunity with who she calls inspiring and accomplished women.

“I’m sure this is going to be a top experience of my career,” said Ari D’Agostino.

When it’s time for the crew to return to the surface, the process takes 18 hours in order to readjust the pressure to the body, she said. It only takes minutes to dive and swim to the base.

Ari D’Agostino leaves Wednesday for the mission and will spend time on the mission from June 10 to June 19.