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Proteus will be the next sea lab that will become the marine version of the International Space Station. It aims to provide habitat for a dozen marine researchers for at least several weeks.

They say that the ocean is a vast frontier full of possibilities for the future in its conservation, food production, and medicine. However, they remain unexplored due to the physical limits of scuba diving. For instance, humans can only dive for a few hours a day. They spend each minute at breathing compressed air underwater in which they need to ascent slower to the surface. Otherwise, they will risk having decompression sickness from nitrogen in their bloodstream.

That is where Proteus comes in. But before Proteus, there have been numerous sealabs already in operation. One of the pioneers in the sea labs is Jacques Cousteau's Conshelf 1-3. He is the grandfather of Fabien Cousteau, who will be making the Proteus.

Proteus: The Marine Version of the ISS
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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Jacques Cousteau's Conshelf 1 to 3

Jacques Cousteau built a series of small sea labs or underwater habitats in the 1960s. These habitats were used to extend his underwater research. The sea labs were also connected to a ship with a cable that provides the air and power.

The first one Cousteau built is the Conshelf 1, which means the Continental Shelf Station, which can host two people and was station 33 feet deep off Marseilles' coast in France. The next one is Conshelf 2, wherein six people spent six weeks under the Red Sea at two different depths.

The third version, Conshelf 3, is perhaps the most ambitious seal lab design of Cousteau. Conshelf 3 was nearly self-sufficient compared to its predecessors, which can accommodate six divers at a time at a depth of 336 feet near Nice's coast in France.

Cousteau partnered with a French petrochemical company to research the viability of putting humans underwater for oil drilling. It was a time before robots were made to do that task. They included a mock oil rig on the nearby ocean floor for exercises.

Over the years, more underwater habitats have come and gone since Cousteau's Conshelf series. However, these sea labs were only built for short-term and specific research projects or tasks. There has never really been a permanent habitat created for general underwater research, just as how the International Space Station (ISS) works in the space.

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Proteus: The Underwater Version of ISS

Cousteau's grandson, Fabien, believes that the time has come for a luxury lab to be established underwater to conduct research. He is currently in the process of raising $135 million to build and launch a marine version of the ISS, which will be called Proteus after the shape-shifting Greek god who can see the future only answered those who are able to capture him.

The Aquarius Reef Base, the largest existing underwater habitat built in 1986, still operates today and is about the size of a school bus. It is stationed 62 feet deep and approximately 5.5 miles off the Key Largo's coast in Florida. This serves as a simulation for NASA astronauts for the harsh environment of space.

But Proteus will be ten times the size of Aquarius at 4,000 square feet that can shelter 12 people for many weeks. It will be stationed 60 feet deep off the coast of Curaçao in the Caribbean. The site mapping is set to be completed this year and is scheduled to operate in 2023.

Proteus is designed by Fuseproject, the industrial design company of Yves Béhar'. It was created in a way that expansion will be possible in the future. Aside from having research labs, living quarters, and sleeping quarters, it will also have a video production room as well as a hydroponic greenhouse.

This futuristic sea lab will be powered by a combination of ocean thermal, solar, and wind energy delivered and internet access by a cord on the surface to support the ship.

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Check out more news and information on Oceans on Science Times.