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USF researchers may be first married couple in underwater NASA mission

Margie Manning



Csilla Ari D’Agostino, research assistant professor of psychology at USF (Photo courtesy of USF)

A University of South Florida researcher will join NASA’s next mission to study what happens when a person lives underwater for an extended period of time.

Csilla Ari D’Agostino, who is a research assistant professor of psychology at USF, will serve on a four-woman crew for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation 23. The underwater mission, dubbed NEEMO 23, simulates space exploration and is especially focusing on future lunar missions.

Her husband, Dominic D’Agostino, an associate professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, previously served on NEEMO 22, as part of an all-male crew. The D’Agostinos may be the first married couple to participate in the mission, according to a news release from USF.

NEEMO 23 will build on research from NEEMO 22.

From June 10 to 19, Ari D’Agostino 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.

She and the other crew members 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.

“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,” Ari D’Agostino said in the news release. “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.”

Dominic D’Agostino will help with the experiments from Mission Control in Islamorada and also as a support diver. Ari D’Agostino 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.

Here’s video from an earlier NEEMO mission, provided by USF.

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