[imagesource: Yves Béhar & fuseproject]
Underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau helped to develop one the world’s first underwater habitats in 1962.
It was a two-person habitat located roughly 33 feet below the surface of the ocean, off the coast of Marseilles in France.
He followed up that project with Conshelf II, where aquanauts lived for a month in the Red Sea at a depth of 36 feet, and then at 82 feet, for two weeks.
His grandson, Fabien Cousteau, is determined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, learning to scuba dive at a young age.
He told Forbes that he plans to continue the legacy of the underwater habitat with his own, designed to provide researchers with the opportunity to study the ocean without the limitations that come with scuba-diving.
Proteus, an underwater habitat and research station…would be one of the largest ever built. The habitat will take three years to complete, located 60 feet underwater in a marine protected area off the cost of Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean Sea.
And it will have room for up to 12 people to live underwater for weeks—possibly even months—at a time.
That’s a massive upgrade for habitats which have ranged in size in the past from that of a minivan to a school bus.
“Most of the habitats were purpose-built for one mission or set of missions,” says Fabien, who founded the New York-based non-profit organization Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center in 2016.
“They were never conceived as an International Space Station, something that’s to be deployed for a longer period of time.”
Building the habitat and operating it for its first three years will cost roughly $135 million, which Fabien is trying to raise. He has had a few interested investors, but won’t name them.
The project is named for Proteus, the Greek primordial sea god who was known to be a keeper of knowledge—and could assume different shapes. This is where the project itself gets its inspiration.
The vast majority of the oceans remain unexplored, and the habitat is designed to be modular, so it can be upgraded and expanded in a multitude of ways.
This can enable a number of research avenues, ranging from drug discovery to sustainable food production to climate change.
Proteus will also be equipped with a video production facility, capable of broadcasting from the ocean in 16K resolution.
“Today there’s this misperception that all knowledge is known,” says Northeastern professor Brian Helmuth, a scientific collaborator on the project who credits Jacques Cousteau for inspiring his career in marine biology.
“If you want to know something, you just have to look it up on the internet, going to Wikipedia. The idea that there is still so much that is unknown has been lost from the public consciousness. And that’s critical for rekindling the appetite for exploration.”
The concept for the underwater “space station” is being designed by Yves Béhar at fuseproject, which has worked on an eclectic range of projects over the years including wearables, smart bassinet, and security robots.
“I’m just a crazy person with a dream,” says Fabien Cousteau. “That sees this as being not only possible—but absolutely necessary—for our future well being, as well as a better understanding of our life support system.”
People deemed crazy have significantly changed the world for the better.
Perhaps Cousteau will join the ranks.
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