HARRIMAN - Two professors at an East Tennessee community college plan to spend 73 days in an underwater laboratory in a unique educational endeavor that will also attempt to break a world record.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that beginning Friday, 63-year-old Bruce Cantrell and 25-year-old Jessica Fain will live in a special habitat called Jules Undersea Lodge that is 25-feet down in an ocean lagoon in Key Largo, Florida.
During their time underwater, they will interview marine science experts and others for a weekly live online broadcast called "Classroom Under the Sea." Among those who plan scuba-dive down to the laboratory is 84-year-old Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut to set foot on the moon.
"The opportunity to sit down with Buzz Aldrin makes 73 days underwater worth it," said Cantrell, a former state representative who has been teaching at Roane State Community College since 1992.
The professors hope that their underwater experiment and the weekly broadcast will help raise awareness about issues affecting the oceans and inspire young people to pursue science, technology and math careers.
In addition to the broadcast, Cantrell will teach an online college-credit biology course for his Roane State students.
Both instructors are experts in scuba diving who have spent more than 100 hours in underwater habitats and labs.
Shortly before the dive, both expressed some jitters, but Cantrell said they are well prepared.
"We worked through just about every scenario we could think of," he said. "There are only two ways we'll come out of the habitat early, either catastrophic equipment failure or a serious medical condition."
The lab is only 600 square feet, and nearly half of that is the wet room, where divers enter and exit the lagoon. Living quarters are two 10-foot-by-8-foot cylinders, and there are three windows, one in each bedroom and one in a common area.
Fain said she is concerned about not seeing the sunlight for the next 2 ½ months.
"I'm sure at some point, we'll go up very close to the surface to see what the sunshine looks like," she said.
Cantrell and Fain plan to come out of the water on Dec. 15.
The project is a joint venture with the Marine Resources Development Foundation, a nonprofit headquartered near Key Largo Undersea Park, where the lab is located.
The weekly broadcasts will happen on Thursdays and can be viewed at youtube.com/classroomunderthesea. Questions for Cantrell, Fain and their guests can be tweeted to ClassUnderSea or by using #ClassroomUndertheSea.