NASA Selects USF Researcher for the First Female-Dominated Crew for Underwater Mission to Simulate Space Exploration
ISLAMORADA, Fla. (May 20, 2019) - Csilla Ari D’Agostino, PhD, research assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, was selected to join NASA’s next underwater mission to study what happens when one lives underwater for an extended period of time. She’ll serve on a four-woman crew, known as aquanauts, for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation (NEEMO) 23, which simulates space exploration, especially focusing on future lunar missions.
From June 10-19th, Ari will live in the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research station that replicates space mission conditions. It’s located 62 feet below the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which is 4.5 miles off Islamorada. The aquanauts will study the potential challenges that come with living in such an extreme environment and test several emerging technologies inside the habitat and during simulated spacewalks, called extravehicular activities (EVAs).
“In response to increased workload, a stressful environment in a confined space over an extended period of time can potentially lead to health issues and psychological problems,” said Ari. “In order to monitor these changes and in the future mitigate them with different interventions, we’ll run an extensive battery of tests on the crew. Our goal is to increase the safety, physical and mental performance, as well as neuroprotection effectively in both genders during undersea and deep space exploration missions.”
The aquanauts will build on research conducted during NEEMO 22, when Ari’s husband, Dominic D’Agostino, PhD, associate professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, served as a member of an all-male crew. He will now assist with these experiments from Mission Control in Islamorada and also as a support diver. Ari served that same function for NEEMO 22, assisting aquanauts during simulated spacewalks on the ocean floor.
Eight current and former USF students from the D’Agostinos’ respective departments will also be part of NEEMO 23.
About the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida, established in 1956 and located in Tampa, is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. The USF System includes three separately accredited institutions: USF, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee. Serving more than 50,000 students, the USF System has an annual budget of $1.8 billion and an annual economic impact of $4.4 billion. USF ranks in the top 25 nationally for research expenditures among public universities, according to the National Science Foundation. In 2018, the Florida Board of Governors designated USF as a Preeminent State Research University, placing USF in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference.