Design proposal calls for building the world’s largest underwater habitat – a deepwater version of the International Space Station


A rendering of the Proteus underwater habitat proposed by Fabien Cousteau. Yves Béhar and the Fuse project

  • Fabien Cousteau, grandson of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, designed an underwater habitat that would be the largest and most advanced in the world.
  • The design calls for a research station named Proteus 60 feet deep in the Caribbean, near Curaçao.

  • If completed, Proteus could help scientists study the impacts of climate change and plastic pollution, among other aspects of marine biology.

  • Cousteau envisions Proteus as an underwater version of the International Space Station. Astronauts could even train there.

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Jacques Cousteau was a pioneering oceanographer and the inventor of the first scuba diving equipment. Now her grandson, Fabien Cousteau, hopes to build the world’s largest underwater habitat.

Young Cousteau recently revealed designs for Proteus: a two-story, 4,000-square-foot structure named after the Greek god of the sea. The proposal calls for an underwater research station 10 times the size of the existing Aquarius Reef Base, which lies off the Florida Keys.

For now, it’s just a concept: Cousteau is looking to raise $ 135 million to build Proteus 60 feet deep off Curaçao, in a protected area of ​​the Caribbean. He sees it as “the underwater version of the International Space Station”.

Cousteau worked with designer Yves Béhar and his company, fuse project, to sketch the proposed research station. The team hopes that if completed, Proteus could help scientists better study the impacts of climate change and plastic pollution on the world’s oceans.

“The knowledge that will be discovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live above it,” Cousteau said in a press release.

He also hopes Proteus could serve as a training ground for astronauts, helping them learn to live and work in extreme space-like environments.

An underwater version of the International Space Station

Proteus underwater habitat

The proposed underwater habitat of Proteus. Yves Béhar and the Fuse project

Cousteau, founder of the association Fabien Cousteau Océan Learning Center, has been diving since the age of 4.

After meeting Béhar in 2018, the two worked for two years to design an underwater habitat Cousteau envisioned.

The resulting proposal calls for a circular habitat with two floors connected by a curved ramp. The space would include social spaces and workspaces, research laboratories, as well as a communication studio. The pods protruding from the structure would serve as sleeping quarters and bathrooms for up to 12 occupants.

The design also includes what would be the first underwater greenhouse.

Béhar said his ideas were inspired by “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”.

“Jules Verne’s book, Watching Cousteau’s Underwater Adventures, was a key part of my imagination,” he told Smithsonian Magazine.

Proteus would be more advanced than the only other underwater habitat

Between 1962 and 1964, Jacques Cousteau built the world’s first three underwater research stations, called Conshelf I, II and III.

Since then, various other aquatic habitats have been built and then removed. Today, only one remains: the 400 square feet Aquarius Reef Base.

The base was designed to reflect life on the International Space Station – it has air conditioning, WiFi, and indoor plumbing. NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations group even sends astronauts to live there, as they can experience near-zero gravity and train to operate with limited mobility in confined space.

Likewise, Cousteau and Béhar said they hoped Proteus could also eventually serve as “a great test bed for astronauts training in space exploration, both physically and psychologically.”

Proteus underwater habitat

The underwater habitat proposed by Cousteau. Yves Béhar and the Fuse project

Fabien Cousteau spent 31 days on the Aquarius base six years ago. But he said living in the habitat was difficult given the high humidity, lack of fresh food and social isolation. The design of Proteus aims to solve these problems.

Search under the waves

Building Proteus wouldn’t be the trickiest part of Cousteau’s business – getting it to a depth of 60 feet is the hardest part.

If the construction was to be completed on land, said Béhar, then “you have to fill the structure with water, sink it and fix it to the bottom of the ocean.”

These challenges turn deep sea exploration into space exploration, Cousteau said.

“In many ways, Proteus is the moon landing of our generation,” he said in the statement.

Difficulties aside, an underwater research station like this would be a boon to scientists as it would give them the ability to collect data over longer periods of time than short-term dives allow.

“Now all of a sudden we have a house on the bottom of the sea, and we can go in the water and dive for 10 to 12 hours a day doing research, science and filming,” he said. he declared. says Smithsonian.

Proteus underwater habitat

Fabien Cousteau. Carrie Vonderhaar

An added benefit would be that researchers could collect samples for analysis inside the habitat, rather than having to transport them to the surface for study, which can cause degradation.

“The innovation cycle will be shortened by having a true underwater laboratory, rather than just a living space like previous underwater habitats,” said Mark Patterson, marine scientist and member of the Centre’s board. Cousteau, in a press release.

In particular, Cousteau hopes that Proteus can one day help researchers tackle the problem of plastic pollution and study the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems.


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