Astronaut Turned Aquanaut (02:02)
Scott Carpenter was the second American to orbit Earth. In 1964, he embarked on a mission into the depths of the ocean to learn if it was possible for human habitation. Tragedy consigned this groundbreaking work to the shadows.
Pioneering Researcher (04:13)
George Bond studied the effects of diving on the human body. In 1959, he set up an experiment to determine whether it was possible to escape from a submarine submerged at 322 feet. He envisioned a day when man would live below the waves.
Deep Submersion (03:59)
A series of breakthroughs allowed humans to descend deeper into the ocean, including William Beebe’s bathysphere and nuclear submarines. Water pressure and the use of compressed air requires divers to ascend gradually to avoid the bends.
Genesis Experiments (05:07)
Bond was determined to adapt his divers to the pressure of the ocean depths. In 1962, he and his team constructed a chamber that simulated deep sea pressure. Through experimentation, Bond developed the concept of saturation diving.
Birth of Sealab (05:36)
Bond’s work with divers became a higher priority for the Navy following the sinking of an atomic submarine in 1962. His team created an aquatic habitat from discarded mine sweeping floats. Scott Carpenter and four other men volunteered to live inside.
Living Undersea (04:17)
The aquanauts occupied Sealab I, which rested 192 feet below the ocean’s surface. The mission was cut short due to a hurricane. It was considered a success, but it raised many questions.
Ocean Conditions (08:09)
Sealab II received a much larger budget. Bond recruited three teams of aquanauts that would take turns on the bottom of the ocean for 15 days. Conditions were harsher than before and Carpenter was stung by a scorpion fish.
Groundbreaking Exploration (03:24)
Jacques Cousteau used some of Bond’s pioneering techniques to put six divers on the floor of the Mediterranean, almost 330 feet below the surface. In 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first men to orbit the moon.
Underwater Tragedy (09:35)
Sealab III was a roomier version of its predecessor, in which five teams were expected to spend a total of almost two months at a depth of 600 feet. Problems began with helium leaks and culminated in the death of aquanaut Berry Cannon.
Sealab Terminated (01:58)
The Navy suspended the program and launched an investigation into Cannon’s death. A Navy Board of Investigation asked questions and criticized some of the decisions that were made. The program was shut down by the end of 1970.
Program Legacy (03:34)
Sealab seemed like an abject failure to the American public, but the Navy’s architects saw a top-secret role for the program. Some of the Sealab divers became covert operatives serving on board the U.S.S. Halibut. Saturation diving gained popularity around the world.
Credits: Sealab (01:11)
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