LA JOLLA, California, October 12 -- The United States has just ended a 45-day experiment which has proved that men live and work, beneath the sea.
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Background: LA JOLLA, California, October 12 -- The United States has just ended a 45-day experiment which has proved that men live and work, beneath the sea.
The last of three aquanaut teams, which spent 15 days each in a cigar-shaped steel cylinder, Sealab-2, 205 feet below the Pacific Ocean off the cost of California, was brought to the surface on Sunday.
"A smooth ride," said team leader Bob Sheats by telephone as a winch lifted him and nine fellow aquanauts from the ocean floor.
Technicians joined a pressurised transfer capsule carrying the aquanauts to a large decompression chamber on the deck of the escort ship Berkone.
The aquanauts were to spent 30 to 36 hours in the chamber while its pressure was gradually reduced to that of sea level.
"Sealab-2 has proved that man can work successfully for extended periods of time at depths under high pressure at the bottom of the ocean," a project spokesman said. "This is basically what we set out to prove."
Although each of Sealab's three successive 10-man teams stayed down for 15 days, two men, Carpenter and Sonnenburg, stayed below 30 days.
Navy Lieutenant Commander M. Scott Carpenter, who flew a three-orbit space mission as an astronaut, remained below the first 30 days. Lieutenant Robert Sonnenburg, a Medical Corps doctor, was a member of both the first and third teams.
The aquanauts who came up on Sunday spent part of their time below testing new salvage procedures with potential application in the field of aircraft and ship recovery. Their experiment included trying to make a sunken airplanes fuselage buoyant by filling it with a foam from a high-pressure hose.
President Johnson telephoned congratulations to Commander Carpenter when he emerged after his 30 days below on September 26.
"You have convinced me and all the nation that whether you are going up or down you have the skill to a fine job," the President said.
On the first day Commander Carpenter was below he exchanged greetings with astronauts Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad as the Gemini-5 astronauts flew by more than 100 miles above earth during their record-breaking eight-day space flight. The undersea-to-space conversation was on August 28, the day before the Gemini-5 pilots landed.
Sealab-2, the 57-foot home on the ocean floor for the aquanauts, rested on the continental shelf about 3,000 feet offshore. Pressure inside Sealab required a breathing mixture of 85 per cent helium, 11 per cent nitrogen, and four per cent oxygen. The long-term breathing of normal air at such pressure could have been deadly.
The aquanauts adjusted to the gas mixture quite easily, though the helium affected the vocal cords so that their voices were high-pitched. An electronic speech unscrambler made clear communications with the surface possible.
During the day the aquanauts left Sealab-2 with aqualungs and rubber diving suits to work in the ocean. They ate and slept in Sealab, entering through an airlock.
The two broad aspects of the Sealab experiment were tests of the man's ability to function and work beneath the ocean and to gather data on the physiological and psychological effects of the environment on the aquanauts.
Physiological observations involved taking up to 45 blood samples a day, repeated electrocardiograms and brain wave readings, plus a constant collection of urine samples.
The analysis of the results of the experiments will take some time, but a project spokesman said that the men apparently "did very well."
The impact of Sealab-2 and similar experiments scheduled later this year could be great. The underwater continental shelves are believed to contain rich resources. For the long term, the project is a small but successful beginning toward the time when men may live and farm the oceans from permanent underwater stations.