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Atmospheric Diving | The Human Element

This morning I woke up with seemingly less energy than I went to bed with. A mix of long days, followed by wrangling up two little monsters before bedtime, then doing a second shift before bed in trying to stay at least one step ahead as I always like to do – for seemingly months...

This morning I woke up with seemingly less energy than I went to bed with. A mix of long days, followed by wrangling up two little monsters before bedtime, then doing a second shift before bed in trying to stay at least one step ahead as I always like to do – for seemingly months on end now – is finally catching up to me. This week in particular was lined with the added stress of having to play out some politics.

Everyone around me sees the exhaustion, and the stress that ends up compounded with being tired. The recurring questions I get are, ‘Is it worth it?’ and; ‘Why bother?’.

This is when people make it or break it. Fortunately, I’ve been here before, voluntarily and willingly per usual, and have learned how to combat the demons that can tip the scales. Preparing for any and every mission has its struggles, and working through that is ultimately where success comes from – that is ‘the human element’ in exploration.

Exosuit ADS (J.F. White Contracting Company) and Falcon ‘DeepReef’ ROV (City University of New York) rendering depicting work on this summer’s forthcoming Stephen J. Barlow Expedition. Artwork by Tyler Thursby, Ocean Opportunity Inc.

In the case of this recent push to introduce the Exosuit ADS to the scientific community, I am far from alone. In fact, it’s been the culmination of exhaustive and relentless effort and vision by countless individuals for perhaps a decade or more, perhaps arguably even for centuries when the concept of atmospheric diving was really born.

So why are things different? From my perspective, it’s a matter of alignment. In diving, while the community if full or ‘characters’, there is no room for ‘personality and publicity’. Each character is united by an organic interpersonal relationship with water – as we all are – but with a heightened appreciation for this life aquatic, and a genuine interest in engaging others in that watery world we all live in.

Short of any major mishaps at this point, we’re less than one month away from kicking off the dock on the Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition – the Exosuit’s first scientific mission – which is a cooperative program between the J.F. White Contracting Company, Yale University’s John B. Pierce Laboratory, and the American Museum of Natural History. This mission will explore the bluewater/mesopelagic environment to study bioluminescence and groundtruth advanced imaging technology that may bolster critical new research in biomedical imaging and neuroscience. This work will take place at Atlantis Canyon, about 100 miles off of the Rhode Island Coast, ‘the Ocean State’.

This mission doubles as a scientific sea trial, if you will, for the Exosuit, and more importantly for the incredible team that has come together to make this field event possible. That human element is at play from every direction – it’s the people representing each of these cooperative companies and institutions that have been grinding it out for the greater good of science, and for all of us in carrying our interpersonal relationship with a new frontier just one more step forward.

Exosuit pilot deployed during an Antikythera Mission training and proficiency dive at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

On the very near horizon is a second Exosuit scientific mission to the Greek site of Antikythera, where a cross-disciplinary team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, and the J.F. White Contracting Company will investigate the infamous Bronze Age archaeology site at depths that have not been readily surveyed during previous missions. The site is most well known for the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism, a two thousand plus year old ‘computer’ that stands alone in history as a remarkable artifact of human ingenuity and innovation. What else the wreck site holds is a mystery that will only be solved with its continued exploration. Preparations for this mission are now interspersed with the Barlow Expedition, and the energy that is snowballing here at Woods Hole has been truly powerful to experience.

Mustering up the energy to draft this brief Blog post amidst the trials and tribulations of mission preparations came from combating those demons yet again; it’s time to see it all through to bring forward that human element just one more time…

Well wishes pouring in to the mission team from teachers and students around the world.
Well wishes pouring in to the mission team from teachers and students around the world. Student artwork image provided by Anne Krauss, Cobbles Elementary School, Penfield, NY.

The reason we dive, and are proud to be divers, is that we believe humans are forever needed to ‘get our hands dirty and feet wet’ to conduct meaningful work.  Human reaction to surprise/change, spatial/situational awareness, and physical interconnectivity with the world we live in and want to better understand is at the root of our very existence. Human’s innate sense of self – curiosities, motives, and ambitions – are derivatives of human nature, and ultimately require direct human involvement. The true benefit of human interaction with/within the work environment is the utility of a degree of dexterity and manipulation that is keyed to the above reactions. That is where our efforts must be placed in the human exploration of new frontiers. And lastly, to evolve into the future, the work must reach and inspire future generations.

This work we’re now deeply entrenched within puts this perspective first – that being the diver [the human element] is at the center of problem solving, and ultimately making progress.

People inspire people, period.

For more on this project, visit:

This Blog mini-series chronicles the author’s journey through depth, time, and space with the latest generation Atmospheric Diving System (ADS) Exosuit, designed and constructed by Dr. Phil Nuytten of Nuytco Research Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first production suit is owned and operated by the Diving Division at the J. F. White Contracting Company located in Massachusetts – who has generously reached out to the science community to afford new opportunities for discovery with this technology.

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Meet the Author

Michael Lombardi
Michael is a subaquatic entrepreneur, literary artist, environmental advocate, and explorer who strives to create a body of work to improve humans' personal experience with, and within, the ocean through unique applications and development of diving technology.