Undersea exploration

Cousteau announces June 1 splashdown for Mission 31 at Key Largo’s Aquarius

 

cclark@MiamiHerald.com

After delays due in part to the government shutdown and scheduling logistics, Fabian Cousteau’s “Mission 31” now is set to splash down June 1 at Aquarius, the world’s only offshore underwater research lab still in operation.

The scientific and educational mission is scheduled to end July 2 after 31 days below the sea in the habitat, about five miles off Key Largo.

It would be the longest mission in Aquarius — and one day longer than the groundbreaking Conshelf Two mission led more than 50 years ago by one of the best-known ocean explorers of all time, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

“Mission 31 pays homage to my grandfather’s work and all aquanauts who have since followed his lead in the name of ocean exploration,” the younger Cousteau said in a statement.

Mobile communications giant Nokia Lumia is the lead sponsor of the privately funded mission, which is projected to cost about $1.3 million.

Aquarius is anchored at 63 feet, about 30 feet deeper than Conshelf Two. Thanks to modern technology, every second of Fabian Cousteau’s marine adventure will be broadcast to show the challenges and mysteries of the underwater world — in this case, a world located next to the planet’s third-largest coral reef.

The main theme of the mission is “human-ocean connection within the lens of exploration and discovery.”

Nokia Lumia is providing the aquanauts with a communication system that includes Skype, Wi-Fi and the ability to capture high-quality images, according to a Mission 31 press release.

Cousteau is partnering with Florida International University, which operates Aquarius, on science projects that include studying climate change and the related challenges of ocean acidification, ocean pollution with an emphasis on the effects of plastics, and over-consumption of resources with a specific focus on the decline of biodiversity.

Mark Patterson, professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University, has worked on several previous scientific missions at Aquarius. He will provide scientific advice.

The six aquanauts will live in tight quarters: a yellow, 81-ton, pressurized tube with 400 square feet of space. It contains six bunks, a bathroom, galley, science station, state-of-the-art communications and “wet porch,” from which the divers can enter and exit.

Over the past 20 years, Aquarius has been used for several NASA and U.S. Navy missions.

The aquanauts will spend about six to nine hours per day diving around the habitat for science experiments. Bonnet Route, Cousteau’s production team, will shoot footage for short- and long-format documentaries.

Cousteau and his team also will conduct daily Skype video calls with classrooms around the world. Teachers can access the curriculum at mission-31.com. The Weather Channel will provide live reports throughout the mission and updates on The Weather Channel App, which is free through iTunes. The mission can also be followed at facebook.com/nokia.

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