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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on EArth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about Sealab II. Thirty-five years ago, 10 aquanauts took up residence in a research vessel fixed 205 feet beneath the ocean waves off La Jolla, California.


(Music up and under: "I'd like to be under the sea in an octopus's garden in the shade...")

CURWOOD: Back in the 1960s Americans were entranced by the first space voyages and the race to the moon. But exploration was beginning on another new frontier as well: the world at the bottom of the sea. Thirty-five years ago this week the first crew of ten aquanauts took up residence in Sealab II, a craft anchored 205 feet beneath the waves off La Jolla, California. The all-male crews lived on the ocean floor for ten-day shifts, studying things like underwater weather, visibility, and creatures on the ocean floor. They tested new salvage and rescue techniques, and even worked with a porpoise called Tuffy, who acted as a letter carrier. The aquanauts also examined themselves, testing how their strength, reasoning, and sensing capabilities were affected by the demanding underwater conditions. Once an aquanaut's stint was over, it took more than 30 hours of decompression before he could safely return to the surface without fear of the bends. Forty-five days after they moved into Sealab II, the last aquanauts dismantled the vessel and headed for dry land. But not before making a special long-distance phone call. They placed a call to their fellow explorers in Gemini V, in orbit 100 miles above Earth's surface. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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