Mission 31 – Living and Working Underwater
Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31 broke new ground in ocean exploration and also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the monumental legacy left by his grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who is credited with creating the first ocean floor habitats for humans and leading a team of ocean explorers on the first attempt to live and work underwater aboard Conshelf Two. The ambitious 30-day living experiment in the Red Sea succeeded as the first effort in saturation diving, proving that it could be done without suffering any ill effects. Mission 31 broadened the original Cousteau experiment by 1 full day, 30 more feet of saturation and broadcasted each moment on multiple channels exposing the world to the adventure, risk and mystique of what lies beneath. This was the first time a mission of this length took place in the Aquarius lab, the only underwater marine habitat and lab in the world, located 9 miles off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., and operated by Florida International University.
One of Mission 31’s goals was to bring the lessons learned from the ocean floor back to the surface in real time. The aquanauts carried out experiments researching the effects climate change and pollution have on coral reefs, developing and testing cutting-edge technologies, and engaging students around the world in STEM education lessons and live video chats via Skype in the Classroom. Through a partnership with Skype in the Classroom, Mission 31 helped bring students around the world the first virtual Exploring Oceans conference. More than 8,000 students from over 24 countries participated in more than 300 Skype in the Classroom sessions with international ocean experts and adventurers.
Three main topics were highlighted throughout Mission 31: climate change and the related challenges of ocean acidification; ocean pollution with an emphasis on the effects of plastics; and overconsumption of resources with specific focus on the decline of biodiversity. Aquarius is located 63 feet below the surface near deep coral reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Aquarius measures 43 by 20 by 16.5 feet and weighs approximately 81 tons. The habitat is able to withstand pressures up to 120 feet deep and has six bunk beds; hot water; a mini kitchen with microwave and refrigerator; air conditioning; computers; and wireless telemetry that connects to the Aquarius base on shore. Fabien Cousteau officially surfaced from Aquarius at 9:05 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, July 2, after an epic 31 days living and working in Aquarius.