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NASA scientists have high hopes for vehicles

Apr 16, 2014

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Scientists from the North American Space Agency said they have "high hopes" for the remotely operated underwater vehicles built by Nanaimo's Seamor Marine Ltd. as they search for life in the universe.

A team of scientists from NASA's Ames Research Centre and Vancouver's Nuytco Research Ltd., a world leader in the development and operation of undersea technology, is in Nanaimo this week conducting tests of Seamor's ROV technology in the Nanaimo harbour.

The team, which is working in conjunction with researchers from Seamor and the Nanaimo Port Authority, is testing the equipment in the area where the Rivtow Lion was sunk many years ago to form an artificial reef off the northwest end of Newcastle Island.

NASA team leader Darlene Lim said the tests in the Nanaimo harbour are the "dress rehearsal" for phase three of the ongoing research to explain the origin of freshwater microbialites in Pavilion Lake and adjacent Kelly's Lake, located in the province's interior.

Fossil microbialites represent some of the earliest remnants of life on Earth, and were common from approximately 2.5 billion to 540 million years ago.

Lim said the research has "direct applications" for looking for life on other worlds because it allows scientists to learn how to operate robotics in alien and extreme environments.

She said NASA has determined that Seamor's ROVs are "very maneuverable and efficient" for the work required, and the technicians from Seamor that are working with the NASA team have proven themselves to be "highly professional."

"The role of the ROV is to help with that exploration and make it easier for us to do our work," Lim said while aboard the NPA's Osprey on Tuesday morning along with the research team who were busy calibrating the equipment on Seamor's ROV while it scanned the ocean floor.

"We're really pleased to partner with Seamor on this project and we anticipate that we may be working with the company well into the future for this kind of research.

"We're super-lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Seamor's team and the robotics that they have developed and we're looking forward to using this equipment in Pavilion Lake in June."

Once Seamor's ROVs are transported to Pavilion Lake, the NASA scientists intend to attach their own sensory and tracking devices to the equipment for the test trials to begin.

The labour and the equipment for the project is being donated by Seamor.

Terry Knight, a spokesman for Seamor Marine, that the company sees the chance to work with NASA as a "great opportunity for us to get our name out there."

"We're just a small company at this stage, but we're working in a broad international and competitive marketplace and working with NASA will certainly help us," he said.

RBarron(at) 250-729-4234 © Nanaimo Daily News

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