Fabien Cousteau Mission 31

Photo: DJ Roller

Just when you think reality TV can’t sink any lower, along comes Fabien Cousteau.

The grandson of original aquanaut Jacques-Yves Cousteau is producer, director and star of a miniseries airing this fall that takes place 63 feet under sea. Fabien Cousteau (below) and other researchers will live underwater for 31 days and will broadcast every second on multiple channels, exposing the world to the adventure, risk and mystique of what lies beneath. (The trip, which was scheduled to begin on Nov. 12, was recently postponed to spring 2014 because some ncessary permits were delayed by the federal shutdown.)

Fabien Cousteau head shot, Mission 31"Mission 31" is more than “Big Brother,” of course. Those living under water will conduct research on the effects of climate change on corals, sponges and sea life with scientific advice and mission support from Northeastern University's Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative. Cousteau's team will also lead human physiological and psychological experiments to determine how long humans can live without the sun and also handle the effects of long-term high pressure.

The team will also test new technology such as underwater motorcycles, autonomous robots and diving helmets.

"Mission 31," says Cousteau, builds on the legacy of his grandfather, who is credited with creating the first underwater habitats for humans. In 1963, the elder Cousteau led a team that spent 30 days aboard Conshelf Two beneath the waters of the Red Sea.

The "Mission 31" divers will stay under longer and stay deeper than that mission 50 years ago. The mission will also be viewable by the world 24/7.

Fabien Cousteau underwater motorcycle

The aquanauts will be able to get around outside Aquarius on ATV-like vehicles. (Photo: DJ Roller)

Live feeds from eight cameras — four inside the habitat, four outside — will stream via the Internet. It will also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

“You will be able to see fish swimming by,” says Fabien Cousteau. “The Aquarius is not only a habitat for the aquanauts. It has been on the bottom so long it has also become a habitat for residents outside — a variety of sea life.”

Aquarius is an underwater laboratory — the oceanic equivalent of the International Space Station. Owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA and managed by Florida International University, Aquarius is located in a sand patch adjacent to deep coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, at a depth of 63 feet.

Fabien Cousteau and Sylvia Earle

Cousteau and oceanographer Sylvia Earle inside Aquarius. (Photo: Mission 31)

The 81-ton habitat features six bunks, a shower and toilet, instant hot water, a microwave, a refrigerator and even air conditioning. “Creature comforts are pretty sparse,” jokes Cousteau.

Living below the surface — called saturation diving — allows divers to spend up to nine hours a day swimming without having to worry about getting the bends. Typically, divers can spend an hour or less at depth.

Saturation diving gives researchers more time to collect data and filmmakers more time to record footage, says Cousteau. “It’s the difference between flying over a forest in a helicopter to get a shot and living and strolling through a forest.”

Cousteau's production team Bonnets Rouges and Liquid Pictures will be shooting footage for an Imax documentary. But you won’t have to wait to see what the divers see. In addition to the live feeds, students can see each day of the mission worldwide via live Skype video calls into classrooms around the world. The Weather Channel will provide ongoing coverage including live reports throughout the mission.

Fabien Cousteau Aquarius

Photo: Kip Evans

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Photo of Fabien Cousteau inside Aquarius (top): Carrie Vonderhaar

Cousteau kin set to live underwater for 31 days
Grandson Fabien plans miniseries set 63 feet beneath the ocean surface.