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Books Science

Remembering Sealab 138

An anonymous reader writes "'Some people remember Sealab as being a classified program, but it was trying not to be,' says Ben Hellwarth, author of the new book Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor, which aims to 'bring some long overdue attention to the marine version of the space program.' In the 1960s, the media largely ignored the efforts of America's aquanauts, who revolutionized deep-sea diving and paved the way for the underwater construction work being done today on offshore oil platforms. It didn't help that the public didn't understand the challenges of saturation diving; in a comical exchange a telephone operator initially refuses to connect a call between President Johnson and Aquanaut Scott Carpenter, (who sounded like a cartoon character, thanks to the helium atmosphere in his pressurized living quarters). But in spite of being remembered as a failure, the final incarnation of Sealab did provide cover for a very successful Cold War spy program."

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Remembering Sealab

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  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @07:17PM (#38937827)

    It's time to move on. The team is now making Archer, which is fantastic.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @07:18PM (#38937839) Journal
    Arguably, deep-ish ocean has most of the same things going against it that space does, but with the additional(advantage or disadvantage depends on your opinion) that there is a much 'smoother' gradient between terrestrial work and deep-ocean work than there is between land and space.

    With a mixture of robots and things on strings, you can exploit much of the economically interesting stuff below the water surface without any long term human habitation. Where that isn't possible(certain construction projects related to drilling, some salvage work, having a fleet of nuclear submarines ready to get their second-strike on with extreme prejudice...) you do, indeed, find people. Generally very expensive ones; but available if you are suitably motivated.

    The cost of entry starts at nearly zero, pick up a fishing line at your nearest sporting goods shop, and just keeps going up, more or less smoothly(but very, very fast at the high end) for how deep you want to go and how long you want to go there. That's the kicker: For any cool undersea scheme, you can probably cook up a scheme with 90% of the benefits at much lower cost just by not going as deep or by not staying there as long. It doesn't help that many of the technologies you would need to live successfully underwater could be applied more easily and more pleasantly to existing untapped options.

    Want to live on seafood and algae, in a hamster-habitube, in a hostile environment where you can't drink the water? No problem, we have loads of coastal desert where you can desalinate to your heart's content, and won't even have to breath trimix all the time!
  • Media ignored? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @08:20PM (#38938105)

    Mainstream magazines certainly covered it. That's how I knew about it as a kid. Hit Google Books with 'sealab popular []' and select Full Version, for what ran in PopSci at the time.

    It wasn't anywhere near as big a deal as the Moon program, but it got very good coverage for a single science program. Off the top of my head I can't think of another back then that got as much other than the Moon race.

    I think it's hyperbole to say 'largely ignored'. There was a pretty good proportionate recognition. A little better than it deserved, arguably.

  • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @10:35PM (#38938543)
    You've got to be joking. It wouldn't matter even if there were oceans of high grade crude oil on the moon. Look at the Saturn V- the entire thing is one big fuel canister, with an engine on the bottom, and a little crew capsule on top. They burned that entire canister's worth of fuel just to get that tiny little Apollo module to the Moon and back. Moving a mining operation into space, and then moving fuel out of a gravity well- even a shallow one like the Moon- is going to burn far more than you could ever transport; it's a losing proposition. To move fuel economically you need something like an oil tanker or a train- a vehicle that moves vast quantities of fuel, while burning only a little bit of fuel itself. And to do that, you'd need something like a highly efficient fusion engine, or some kind of fantastic Star Trek technology. And if you had that technology, why would you need to get fuel from space?

    The same goes for pretty much any resource except maybe gold. It takes a huge amount of resources to go to space and back. The only way it's profitable is if the resources you bring back are more expensive than the resources you expend building and launching the rocket. Until that changes- until there's some radical change in launch technology that makes space travel cheaper — not by a factor of two or three, but orders of magnitude cheaper — the idea of resource extraction in space isn't even science fiction, it's fantasy.

    That's the real reason that undersea colonies and space colonies didn't happen. It's definitely technologically possible, but it's just not economically possible.

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @01:40AM (#38939303)

    Do you remember how efficiently crude oil was harvested and refined 100 years ago? I wouldn't be surprised if the early wells achieved 10% extraction of the available raw material.

    All we need to get lunar petroleum back to Earth is a space elevator pipeline, (relatively) easy to build on the moon, and if you pump it fast enough, it will get slung out the other end with more energy than you are pumping into it. Then we just have to catch it as it free falls toward Earth and give it a safe re-entry, again, Space Elevators seem like the way to go, and you can run some pretty nice generating turbines capturing the kinetic energy of the falling petroleum.

    Anyone who believes the above is serious needs to check their humor sensors... on the other hand, using space elevators to lower raw materials from orbit just might be a good way to power mass up to orbit...

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