How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Categories: Science | Water

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was definitely a genius. First, he gave the world scuba diving, then devoted his life to the sea and brought the study of the world's oceans to a new level. But it was not enough for him to just swim in the seas and shoot marine life on camera. He wanted to change the whole world and influence the history of human civilization. In 1962, Cousteau launched an absolutely fantastic project: his team spent a total of three months living in houses on the ocean floor. It was like flying into space — so amazing and strange was the whole adventure.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Jacques-Yves Cousteau dreams of moving humanity under water

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Jacques-Yves Cousteau is an inventor, ocean explorer, and author of many excellent documentaries. During the Second World War, Cousteau participated in the French Resistance, led subversive activities and received for this the highest award of France, the Legion of Honor.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

He created his most important invention, scuba diving, in 1943, together with Emil Gagnan, specifically for marine sabotage. When the war ended, the discovery brought him quite a lot of money, so he was able to invest it in something completely crazy.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

The original ConShelf project.

In 1950, Jacques-Yves buys the decommissioned ship "Calypso" and rebuilds it as a marine laboratory. From that moment until his death in 1997, Cousteau's life turns into one great pilgrimage through the waters of the ocean. He will receive fame, honor, and three Oscars for great (no kidding) documentaries. But that's not exactly what we want to tell you. In the life of Jacques-Yves and his team, there was an episode when they were so ambitious that they took on an unthinkable and fantastic idea at that time.

ConShelf I project — the first underwater house in history

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Installing ConShelf I.

The first time to settle down and survive on the bottom of the sea was in 1962, that is, shortly after the flight of Gagarin. It is not difficult to guess that against the background of the flight into space, the idea did not receive half the attention that it deserved. Nevertheless, it was an unexpected success for everyone.

Not far from the French city of Marseille in the Mediterranean Sea, the first real "underwater house"was placed. Its dimensions were not so large: in fact, it was a metal barrel 5 meters long and 2.5 meters in diameter. The design received the unspoken nickname "Diogenes" and became a refuge for Cousteau's friends-Albert Falco (remember this name!) and Claude Wesley.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Inside the underwater house.

The oceanauts lived for a week at a depth of 10 meters. If you think that the pioneers suffered all this time in an underwater hell, then you are damn wrong. Claude and Albert had a radio, a TV, comfortable bunks, a regular breakfast, lunch and dinner, their own library, and a constant chat on the radio with their comrades on the Calypso. In addition, both of them swam for 5 hours a day near their new home, studying the sea floor and the inhabitants of the ocean, and then engaged in research work in the "Diogenes".

A week at the ocean base was enough to understand that it is possible to live under water and it is not as difficult as it seemed at first. The experiment required immediate continuation.

ConShelf II — The first underwater village

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Already in 1963, a new project was launched, which was head and shoulders superior to the previous one. If ConShelf I can be called the first underwater home, then ConShelf II was already a real underwater village. Six people and a parrot lived here permanently, and many other members of the Calypso's crew came to visit. In general, the situation was like in a normal cheerful hostel, only barracudas, jellyfish and divers swam outside the window, and for a walk "in the fresh air" you had to wear scuba gear.

The Red Sea shelf, off the coast of Sudan, was chosen for the new experiment. ConShelf II was not a single structure, but a complex of four structures. Surprisingly, in order to assemble and install everything, it took not so much effort and money: only two ships, 20 sailors and five divers.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Initially, it was supposed to be a full-fledged ocean village with incredible (at that time) locks, corridors, underwater boats and ocean observatories. In the end, we had to make everything much more modest, but even in this form, the results are simply amazing.

The main building was built in the form of a starfish with four "rays" and a large room in the center. It was placed at a depth of 10 meters, where the oceanonauts could simultaneously enjoy the sunlight and swim calmly for several hours a day, without experiencing problems with decompression.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

One of the main goals of the experiment was to find out whether scuba divers can easily descend to great depths and safely return to their underwater home. As expected, it was quite real. On the surface, deep-seaers would have died from sudden ascent and caisson disease, but underwater houses solved this problem.

A submarine hangar and a hard experiment

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

In addition to the Starfish, there was also an air hangar for the Diving Saucer, a submarine used by Cousteau's crew. Waking up in the morning at a depth of 10 meters below sea level, you could drink coffee, go on a trip to a depth of 300 meters, discover a dozen unknown species of animals, and return by lunch to eat tuna sandwiches and tell your friends about your adventures. And all this without leaving the ocean! For the 60s, such stories sounded like science fiction on the verge of insanity.

In addition, there was another important building. Despite its austerity, "Rocket" was in some ways even more interesting from the point of view of the entire project. This turret was located at a depth of 30 meters and was made in order to find out exactly how scuba divers will endure extremely difficult conditions of underwater work and life.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Unlike the Starfish ,it was more of a punishment cell than a house: extremely small space, constant stuffiness and high pressure, an experimental mixture of helium, nitrogen and oxygen instead of air, darkness and sharks all around. In general, everything to test yourself in a real stressful situation. The only thing that pleased the two volunteers who lived here for a week was that the helium in the mixture made their voices squeaky and funny, and the team members often called the Rocket just to chat and laugh heartily together.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

This experiment was also successful, and everyone in it showed themselves perfectly: both the "Rocket", and the scuba divers, and the breathing mixture. The first thing the two subjects did when they came back after a terrifying week and the dangers of decompression was to smoke a full pipe of tobacco and finally get some sleep.

The simple life of simple guys at the bottom of the ocean

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Jacques-Yves Cousteau smokes at the bottom of the ocean and thinks about how to move more people here from the land.

Unlike the first astronauts, the first aquanauts did not experience any particular difficulties in their work. That is, of course, to live at the bottom of the ocean for a month and work for several hours a day in scuba diving is not the most trivial task. But even the composition of the team suggests that it was easier to cope with this mission than with the duties of an astronaut. The permanent residents of the underwater houses were: a biologist, a teacher, a cook, a sports coach, a customs officer and an engineer.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team tried to create not only tolerable, but also very comfortable conditions for the discoverers. The daily diet of the underwater settlers consisted of fresh seafood and vegetables, as well as canned food and pastries. And even more: they chose their menu by calling the chef via video link on Calypso!

Ventilation with the help of pipes allowed to maintain such a comfortable microclimate that the residents of the "Starfish" did nothing but smoke pipes and cigarettes, not forgetting to drink wine sometimes. The oceanauts were regularly visited by a hairdresser, and they used artificial sun baths every day to avoid losing their tan and suffering from a lack of ultraviolet radiation.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

An aquanaut swims around an underwater house with a scooter.

The aquanauts entertained themselves with conversations, reading books, playing chess, and watching the ocean. In order to warn residents about problems with the respiratory mixture, a parrot was placed in the "Starfish", which also survived the adventure well, although it sometimes coughed heavily. However, it is possible that this is due to tobacco smoke. Within a month, the inhabitants of the underwater village even had their own favorites among the fish. So, for example, they were happy to meet and feed the affectionate barracuda, which constantly hung around the house. The fish was given the nickname Jules and began to recognize it "by sight".

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Aquanauts clean their house of algae. 

You have to do this every day. In addition, thanks to living in such conditions, some unexpected details were revealed. It turned out that due to high blood pressure (and, possibly, artificial respiratory mixture), wounds on the body overgrow literally overnight, and beards and mustaches practically stop growing. In addition, tobacco burned many times faster, and therefore smokers had to request much more cigarettes than expected.

"A World without Sun" - a triumph that Jacques-Yves Cousteau deserved

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

The ConShelf II project gave Cousteau and his team a real triumph. Not only did they draw the world's attention to a new perspective on human development, but they also won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1965. "The World without the Sun" — an hour and a half picture that Cousteau shot during the experiment, and it produced a striking effect.

Much of the information about ConShelf II and life at the bottom of the Red Sea is most easily obtained from this film. So it's worth watching even for those who don't like documentaries. Moreover, it is simply amazing: the atmosphere of life under water is fascinating, each frame is a ready-made screenshot for the desktop, and many moments want to be reviewed precisely because of how aesthetically attractive they are.

The climax of the film is the journey of Cousteau and the same Albert Falco on the "Saucer" - their small UFO-shaped submarine. They descend 300 meters into the depths of the Red Sea and, to the viewer's surprise, find landscapes and life forms that look alien at the bottom of the sea. Here, the aquanauts encounter a giant six-meter fish, with flocks of crustaceans running around like antelopes, and an orgy of crabs for several thousand people.

The ascent of Cousteau and Falco completes the entire film, and it gives a stunning effect: it seems that it is you who have just risen from the seabed after an incredible month of living in an underwater house.

ConShelf III-The collapse of hopes

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

After the success of the ConShelf II project, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was given the opportunity to continue developing and experimenting. In 1965, ConShelf III was launched, the team's third and, unfortunately, last major experiment in this field. It was even more ambitious, even more perfect, even more exciting, but still the last.

The large dome was placed at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea between Nice and Monaco at a depth of 100 meters. Six people (among them Cousteau's son, Philippe) survived for three weeks in the underwater house, which was much more autonomous than the previous ones. Along the way, the oceanonauts of the third project were engaged in a lot of experiments of a purely practical nature, which were supposed to give a lot of information for oil companies.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

ConShelf III in the section.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team have finally deteriorated relations with industry sponsors. Instead of pointing out how best to extract oil from the offshore shelves, the researchers began to draw public attention to the problems of ecology and the fragility of the balance of life in the ocean. More grants for the development of underwater settlements could not be dreamed of.

Underwater homes after Cousteau

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

The American Tektite project.

Of course, in addition to the Cousteau team, other researchers were engaged in the migration of humanity to the ocean. In total, more than a dozen similar projects were launched in the world. But all of them were not so lucky with world fame, although many had no problems with funding.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

"Ichthyander-67".

For example, the so-called "Ichthyander — 66" was launched-an amateur project, during which enthusiastic divers managed to build underwater housing, which became their home for three days. The subsequent Ichthyander 67 was much more serious — two weeks of living, a design that resembled ConShelf II, and experiments with various animals.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

Another well-known example is the three experiments of the SEALAB project, which was launched in Bermuda in 1964 and resumed in 1965 and 1969. The history of the SEALAB database itself is worthy of a separate article. Interest in underwater homes has already begun to fade, but the authors of the project were able to convince the US government that it would be extremely useful for space research. For example, it was here that the future astronaut Scott Carpenter trained, who experienced the effects of isolation and pressure drops.

SEALAB III gave scientists a lot of material for reflection and a huge experience for aquanauts. Unfortunately, it all turned out not as the organizers would have liked. From the very beginning, the project was plagued by problems, accidents occurred, and fatal failures followed one after another. It all ended with the death of one of the oceanauts, Berry Cannon, who died during an emergency repair of an underwater base for reasons that are not fully understood.

How Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team lived and worked on the ocean floor for three months

In addition to research projects for the settlement of the seabed, there is at least one hedonistic one. Jules Undersea Lodge, converted from an old underwater base — is the only currently functioning underwater hotel. For 30 years of work, it was visited by about 10 thousand people, many of whom are newlyweds who decided to diversify their honeymoon.

So it is safe to say that the first thing people did, as soon as they found themselves in an underwater dwelling, was to have sex and the issue of reproduction. It looks promising: at least, humanity will not have any problems with the settlement of the underwater cities of the future.

We can say that the construction of the hydropolises failed, never started, Jacques-Yves Cousteau is just an old man who has lost his mind, and the dreams of life at the bottom of the ocean are better left for science fiction and video games. But if you look at everything from the point of view of an optimist, projects like ConShelf and SEALAB are the first, albeit too neat steps. The same moon has not been visited by a human since 1972, but we still dream of space and are convinced that in a couple of decades we will colonize Mars. The only difference between Cousteau's utopia is that we believe in it less, although it looks, in general, even more realistic.

Keywords: Science | Water | Ocean | Life | Experiment | Underwater photography | Underwater | Bottom

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