Aquanauts lived in an underwater marine lab for a month

Here’s a fascinating 4.5-minute NOVA video about “aquanauts” who lived underwater as part of “Mission 31“, a project that has its own Wikipedia page. The endeavor took place from June 1 to July 2, 2014, with three members of the six-person crew replaced halfway through the endeavor.  The decompression at the end took 14 hours. It wasn’t just a stunt: 10 scientific papers came from this month of research.

The description of the lab from Wikipedia:

Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, Fabien Cousteau, organized Mission 31 as a tribute to his late grandfather. The mission had two goals — to gather scientific data and to raise funds for Aquarius, an underwater laboratory located at a depth of 63 feet (19 m) below the surface, about 9 miles (14 km) south of Key Largo. Aquarius is the world’s only operating undersea laboratory. Measuring 43 feet (13 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m), it holds up to six people. It is pressurized, air conditioned, and has wireless Internet access. A typical mission lasts 10 days, with the longest previous mission lasting 18 days. Aquarius is owned by the United States government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and run by Florida International University.

Fabien Cousteau also hoped to break his grandfather’s record for longest time spent underwater by a film crew, and draw the public’s attention to environmental issues. According to Guinness World Records, the longest time anyone has spent underwater is 69 days.


  1. Paul S
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    That is cool, I would love to be able to do that. Unfortunately, I have zero science credentials.
    I wonder if those nine hours of dive time are continuous.

  2. JezGrove
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    According to a recent Q&A after her talk at the Royal Institution earlier this month, Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, was inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s TV series. And she has plans to go to the lowest part of the Mariana Trench later this year, if everything goes to schedule!

    • Posted March 16, 2020 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Knowing there is seven miles of black water above me? Couldn’t take it.

      • JezGrove
        Posted March 16, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Me neither – but she helped launch the Hubble space telescope 350+ miles above the Earth so I’m sure she’s not too worried.

        • Posted March 16, 2020 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          That is amazing. Hard to imagine what it must be like to have such adventures.

  3. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    In the sixties, his grandpa, the larger than life Jacques-Yves Cousteau, had an experimental 10m under water ‘home’ (Conshelf II) in the Red Sea, where divers lived for up to 30 days at a time. Originally meant as a way or a base for exploiting the Ocean (it was financed by an oil company), it turned Cousteau into a conservationist (although there was a later Conshelf III at 110 meters). He made an award winning film: “Le Monde sans soleil” about it.
    Wonderful that his grandson picked up the thread nearly 60 years later, with a lot of stress on more science!

  4. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    What does that mean ‘pressurized’ at 19m under water? That would naturally be nearly 3 atmosphere. Is the pressure inside lower? And if so, how do they do that? Or do I miss something?

    • rickflick
      Posted March 16, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      The air pressure inside would have to be the same as the water pressure at depth. They must obtain that pressure in the habitat by pumping air into it like a balloon. When pressure is equalized inside and out, the diver can come and go and not have to decompress. Ascending from 3 atmospheres to 1 atmosphere at the surface has to be done gradually so as not to cause nitrogen dissolved in the body from coming out of solution and causing bubbles to form in the blood and tissues, eg. the bends.

      • davidintoronto
        Posted March 16, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Though… I believe there is one compartment within the hab where pressure is controllable – and can be gradually reduced to 1 atmosphere. This is where the 14-hour decompression takes place.

        • rickflick
          Posted March 16, 2020 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

          That makes sense. You wouldn’t want to have to hang on a rope under the ship for 14 hours. 😎

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted March 16, 2020 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I still don’t understand why they call it “pressurized’. That could only be if there were an open connection to the surface, where pumps would be needed to reach the 3atm pressure. I guess it is not based on a ‘diving bell’ model.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted March 16, 2020 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

          Of course it is connected to the surface in order to maintain the atmosphere breathable I must have been sleeping. How do they do that in space?

          • rickflick
            Posted March 16, 2020 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

            In space they use bottled air. It’s sent up in pressurized tanks in cargo craft. Under the sea there must be a connection from the surface ship that sends compressed air down a tube. My guess anyway. They may use a re-breathing air purifier to remove CO2, otherwise they’d have to continuously provide fresh air from the surface.

  5. rickflick
    Posted March 16, 2020 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    As a recreational diver, I can appreciate the unlimited bottom time. Normally you have to watch your air pressure gauge carefully. You normally get about 45 minutes, depending on depth, and you can be forced to surface just when things are getting really good. What a great experience they have in the lab!

  6. Draken
    Posted March 17, 2020 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    Ah, it was already in 2014. I thought this was a current experiment and wanted to see their faces as they came up and wanted to go to the pub for a pint.

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