Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

SOUTH African scientist Dr Noel du Toit has a rare opportunity to spend eight days undersea exploring the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Du Toit is expected to take the plunge on Tuesday to live and do research along the sea bed as part of a Nasa exercise to simulate future deep space missions.

Known as Nasa Extreme Environment Mission Operations project 21, the mission involves studying human and robotic interaction as three to four astronauts from Nasa‚ the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and other subject matter experts are sent to live underwater for up to three weeks.

"I will be performing science tasks ranging from DNA sequencing to coral sampling‚ as well as human-robot interaction tasks.

"My stay will include five ‘space walks’ and a multitude of habitat-based science tasks and human physiology studies.

"This unique opportunity will result in me becoming one of less than 800 people around the world who have lived underwater like this‚" Du Toit said in a statement released by Stellenbosch University.

Du Toit‚ who currently works as a research assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey‚ California‚ grew up outside of Pretoria on a rose farm‚ completed his degree in mechanical engineering at Stellenbosch University and went to the US in 2003 to attend a graduate school. He obtained a masters’ degree from MIT in 2005 and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 2010.

"I have always been particularly interested in the ocean‚ and maritime robotics are the perfect way for me to utilise my technical training to contribute to society in a direct and meaningful way by providing increasingly capable technologies and tools to explore our oceans‚" he said.

He added that South African students needed to seize opportunities and believe that the impossible was possible.

"There are many opportunities for graduate work in the States and beyond‚ and though that may not be an appropriate path for everyone‚ my sense is that the students in SA do not pursue those opportunities because they are unaware or simply do not believe it possible.

"My advice is: pursue your dreams‚ because you will never know if you do not try‚" he said.