Space Station Astronaut Calls Undersea Lab
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (left), an Expedition 15 flight engineer aboard the International Space Station, speaks to the underwater crew of NEEMO 12 aboard Aquarius during a May 17, 2007 video call.
Credit: NASA TV.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams made a unique ship-to-ship phone call from the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday to check in with six aquanauts living at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Williams, an ISS Expedition 15 flight engineer, called a NASA crew of divers, doctors and astronauts working aboard the Aquarius undersea laboratory, where a series of robotic surgery tests and spacesuit mobility experiments are underway.

?You guys are in one of the prettiest parts of the world,? Williams told the Aquarius crew from her perch 220 miles (354 kilometers) above Earth.

Commanded by veteran shuttle astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, the Aquarius crew is completing two weeks of underwater living under NASA?s Extreme Environment Mission Operations 12 (NEEMO 12) expedition. Aquarius sits more than 62 feet (18 meters) underwater off the coast of Key Largo, Florida.

?We are doing great,? Stefanyshyn-Piper told Williams, adding that her crew will return to the Earth?s surface early Friday.

NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, flight surgeon Josef Schmid and Tim Broderick, a gastrointestinal surgeon from the University of Cincinnati, are serving aboard Aquarius with Stefanyshyn-Piper. Professional divers James Talacek and Dominic Landucci, of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington that operates Aquarius for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, complete the NEEMO 12 crew.

The aquanauts took a familiar face to the ocean floor with them in the shape of the flat image of a Jack Russell terrier named Gorby, the beloved dog of Williams.

?That?s awesome, thank you so much for taking Gorby with you,? Williams told the Aquarius crew. ?It?s really cool to see him.?

Williams has lived aboard the ISS for more than five months and is due to return in mid-June during NASA?s STS-117 shuttle mission to the orbital laboratory. She is also a former Aquarius aquanaut and spent seven days underwater during NASA?s NEEMO 2 mission in May 2002.

?I think NEEMO was, for me, a great precursor for coming up here,? Williams told the Aquarius crew of the ISS. ?It?s very much a great parallel and I think it?s a great warm up for anybody coming up to live on the space station.?