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Under the Sea: 5 Underwater Human Habitats

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While man was flying into outer space in the 1960s, he was also diving into an underwater world that was almost as mysterious. Futurists foresaw a day when entire communities of "aquanauts," a person who stays underwater for more than 24 hours, would live and work under the ocean for months on end without resurfacing. While that vision has yet to pass, there have been, and continue to be, quite a few artificial deep sea habitats that man has used to dip his toe into the waters around us.

Conshelf

It should come as no surprise that the man responsible for popularizing oceanography in the mid-20th century, Jacques Cousteau, is also the same man who created the first underwater habitats. While Cousteau constructed three Conshelf (short for Continental Shelf) habitats between 1962 and 1965, it was Conshelf II, in June 1963, that would become his most famous.

A team of five men and a parrot, which was delivered to the station inside an empty pressure cooker, stayed for 30 days at a depth of 33ft., surrounded by beautiful coral reefs in the Red Sea. They lived inside the futuristic "Starfish House," a large complex with four arms that radiated from a central hub. The building offered fairly comfortable living, with gourmet food, electricity, air conditioning, fresh water, fresh air, a telephone, and a television feed, all supplied from a support ship on the surface. The team even had their very own flying saucer-shaped submarine for exploring their new deep sea neighborhood.

By Cousteau's design, life on Conshelf II appeared idyllic. The men sang songs, smoked cigarettes, and had quite a bit of fun, while also doing a lot of work out on the ocean floor. Near the end of their stay, Cousteau and his wife visited the Starfish House to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary, complete with champagne that wouldn't bubble under such extreme atmospheric pressure. As he always did, Cousteau filmed this expedition, and his documentary World Without Sun went on to earn the explorer a second Academy Award. (Before you look, it's not available on DVD or YouTube, unfortunately.)

SEALAB

The U.S. Navy conducted their own underwater experiments with three SEALAB missions between 1965 and 1969. SEALAB I kicked off in July 1965 for a planned 21 day excursion 192ft. underwater off the coast of Bermuda. However, the plug was pulled after only 11 days when a hurricane developed in the Atlantic Ocean.

SEALAB II was deployed off the coast of California in 1966 at a depth of 205ft. The horizontal steel cylinder was accidentally placed at an angle on the sea floor, so it gained the nickname, "The Tiltin' Hilton." Three 10-man crews stayed underwater for 15 days at a time, though one diver, Scott Carpenter, a former Mercury astronaut, would stay for 30 days to simulate a long-term space mission. During that time, Carpenter also made history when, from 200ft. below sea level, he talked on the radio with Gordon Cooper, a Gemini V astronaut who was in orbit 230 miles above the earth.

As part of their mission, the men worked with Tuffy, a specially trained porpoise that not only ferried supplies from the surface support ships, but could also be used as an emergency rescue animal. Tuffy would respond to an audible signal sent out by an endangered diver, who would then attach himself to a harness worn by the porpoise, and then Tuffy would tow the man back to base. Luckily, Tuffy's abilities were only tested, but never needed.

In 1969, SEALAB III was deployed at a depth of 600ft. off the coast of California. Unfortunately, there were quite a few suspicious events surrounding the mission. Almost immediately after the project began, the habitat began to leak. When divers were sent to fix it, sadly, one man died due to faulty equipment, and the project was shut down. Then, as the six SEALAB aquanauts were decompressing on the deck of the support ship, there were reportedly numerous attempts to sabotage their air supply. Had an armed guard not been placed at the chamber, it's very likely the project would have ended in even more tragedy. Although there were no further missions, many in the military have credited the technology and techniques pioneered by SEALAB for making several covert underwater operations possible during the Cold War.

Tektite II

A tektite is a small meteorite that survives the fiery entrance through the earth's atmosphere and usually plunges into the ocean. This connection between space and the sea seemed fitting when developing the name for a series of underwater missions carried out in 1969 and 1970 that were sponsored in part by NASA and the U.S. Navy. The Tektite habitat, consisting of two steel cylinders sitting on end, each 12ft. in diameter and 9ft. high, was moored 50 feet below the surface. Amenities included built-in bunk beds, a sink, a stove, a refrigerator, a radio, and a TV set.

The most famous of these missions was Tektite II's Mission 6, made up of an all-female research team led by Dr. Sylvia Earle. At the time, it wasn't prudent for men and women to work in such close proximity for extended periods, so at first, women weren't permitted on Tektite. But when several women applied for the project, there were enough to warrant their own separate mission.

After Mission 6 resurfaced, they became instant celebrities. They enjoyed a ticker tape parade in Chicago, were invited to address Congress, and First Lady Pat Nixon had them over for lunch at the White House. Despite their achievements, they were still called names like "the aquababes" by the press. While they may not have gained the respect of everyone at the time, they helped pave the way for women in the field of marine science, as well as NASA's space program.

Jules' Undersea Lodge

So you don't think you could handle a few weeks underwater? How about a single night, then? The Jules' Undersea Lodge, the world's first underwater hotel, started life as La Chalupa, the primary underwater habitat for the Puerto Rico International Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL) program that operated from 1971 until 1976. When it was decommissioned, it was refurbished, and has been operating in 30ft. of water in Key Largo, Florida, since 1985.

All guests must be SCUBA certified because, to get to the hotel, you have to dive there. Once they've arrived, guests can watch a DVD, talk on the phone, listen to the radio, cook a meal, or sit and watch the underwater world through multiple 42" diameter windows. Included in the overnight package is a gourmet dinner by a "mer-chef," who dives down to the habitat to prepare the meal. They even have a special honeymoon rate, which includes getting married 30ft. underwater. Don't worry – the tux and the wedding dress are delivered via diving courier in an airtight container. But if you don't want to spend the night, they also offer three-hour trips to the lodge for lunch, where you can eat, among other items, submarine sandwiches.

If you think you'd like to "sleep with the fishes," check out their website and book your stay.

BioSUB

It's been said that necessity is the mother of all invention. And when you're going to try to survive for two weeks underwater on less money than some people spend for their cars, you can bet there are going to be some pretty inventive ideas involved. Such was the case when, in 2007, marine biologist and aspiring aquanaut Lloyd Godson entered his BioSUB project into a contest for scientists held by Australian Geographic. The amount being offered to the grand prize winner, and therefore the budget for his life-risking mission, was $40,000.

In order to complete his project, Godson first had to have a habitat, which wound up being a two-ton, 8ft. by 10ft. box made of mostly recycled steel, moored to the bottom of a gravel pit lake by 28 tons of concrete. It didn't offer much in the way of comforts, but it was sturdy and heavy enough for him to be safe for the extent of his stay. He also had to have a way to breathe, of course. To accomplish this, he used air pumps on the surface, as well as an innovative system called Biocoil inside his underwater home. The Biocoil consisted of a coiled tube filled with algae, which absorbed carbon dioxide exhaled by Godson and, in return, created oxygen for him to breathe. While most of his meals were delivered by friendly divers, the same algae in the Biocoil could also be used to grow high-protein food, which he dined on for the last few days of his adventure. In order to power his laptop and the artificial lights necessary for the algae to grow in the Biocoil, he not only had power supplied by topside solar panels, but there was also a stationary bike inside his habitat that could be used to generate more. But riding a bike can work up a sweat, so a truly innovative system called Air2Water was installed to extract water vapor from the atmosphere, filter it, and then condense it into a liquid for drinking.

While BioSUB might not have been the lap of luxury, his "SEALAB on a budget" ideas worked and impressed many in the underwater research community. In fact, he has been invited to help engineer a new deep sea habitat that will be used to send aquanauts to the ocean floor on a mission to spend 80 days underwater, smashing the previous record of 69 days. Of course he was initially asked to become one of those world-record aquanauts, but apparently his two weeks underwater was enough for him. His response to their invitation: "I like the things we have up here." I guess not everyone was born to live under the sea.

Who knows? Maybe someday we'll all spend a little time under the sea. Would you live in an underwater habitat if you had the chance?

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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