Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2021

Aquanaut Fabien Cousteau — grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau — has announced stunning plans to build the equivalent of the International Space Station (ISS)—but on the ocean floor deep below the surface.

He calls the facility “Proteus” and claims it can be a place where scientists from across the globe can work together to study and protect the ocean, something that Cousteau claims is “1,000 times more important than space exploration for — selfishly — our survival.”

The need for a place like the International Space Station is pretty obvious: rather than travel back and forth to space just to study it, astronauts have a place to stay for weeks or months.

The need for an underwater base where ocean explorers could live might not be as obvious, but it still exists due to the threat of decompression sickness. When a diver is underwater, the pressure from the ocean causes nitrogen in their lungs to dissolve into their body — the amount of nitrogen increases the longer they’re underwater and the deeper they dive. If a diver returns to the surface too quickly, this nitrogen can form bubbles in their blood that can cause the symptoms of decompression sickness, also known as the bends.

An underwater base would give researchers a way to avoid this limitation — they could live in it for weeks and then just do one very slow ascent afterward.

With the help of industrial designer Yves Béhar, Cousteau unveiled his bold ambition: a 4,000 square foot lab that could offer a team of up to 12 researchers easy access to the ocean floor. The most striking design element of their vision is a number of bubble-like protruding pods, extending from two circular structures stacked on top of each other. Each pod is envisioned to be assigned a different purpose, ranging from medical bays to laboratories and personal quarters. The team claims Proteus will also feature the world’s first underwater greenhouse, intended for growing food for whoever is stationed there.

It might sound like a crazy idea, but Cousteau has a point: space exploration gets vastly more funding than its oceanic counterpart, despite the fact that humans have only explored about five percent of the Earth’s oceans — and mapped only 20 percent. With an underwater “space station”, we would be better equipped to understand and protect the precious source of life that is the ocean.

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