That’s right, future. Not historical this time. Manned undersea projects aren’t relegated to the past! If anything improving technology and increasing interest in taking advantage of oceanic resources is leading to the rebirth of this long neglected dream.
Hydronaut is a Czech project, privately funded for the most part with the goal of establishing a three man habitat at the bottom of a flooded quarry. It will be used for sea/space analogue training that will benefit European Space Agency plans for near future manned missions to the Moon.
To that end, it’s structurally similar to expected designs for future lunar landers. On sea/space analogue training missions, aquanauts pretending to be astronauts will operate out of the Hydronaut H03 “Deep Lap” habitat as if it were a lander on the lunar surface.
Project Hydronaut has been under development since 2012 (you can see an incomplete version above). When finished, it will be 6 meters tall, 4.6 meters wide, and weight 35 tons. The section of the structure that the aquanauts live inside of has an internal volume of 20 cubic meters. The interior width is 2.2 meters, the interior length is 4.6 meters. It will be a snug, cozy fit for three people.
Deep Lab is just phase 1 of their plans (despite being designated H03). It’s a prototype they hope will demonstrate the value of manned undersea infrastructure for astronaut training to the ESA, which may then supply the funding needed for phases 2 and 3.
Phase 2 is Deep Home, a larger version of the habitat with dramatically more interior living space. It has a cupola modeled after the one on the ISS which would afford stunning views of the underwater environment, and the water’s surface rippling gently overhead.
You can see a virtual tour of the Deep Home habitat above. If built, it would compare very favorably to the habitable volume of the previous largest habitat ever built, Conshelf 3. Like the smaller Deep Lab, it has twin ballast tanks so it can raise and lower itself on demand.
Phase 3 is Deep Farm, a dedicated botanical/agricultural habitat for the purpose of studying the cultivation of edible plants in a hyperbaric environment with different breathing gas mixtures. This will serve as an analogue for the Martian or Lunar greenhouses that will raise the crops future astronauts will subsist on.
Until then, we have the Hydronaut Deep Lab habitat completion and deployment to look forward to. It won’t actually be the first Czech undersea habitat, there was one in the 1970s I may yet cover in a future article, but it’s the most promising because it represents the first new movement back towards manned undersea habitation in many decades.
The (incomplete) interior, seen above, is comparable in terms of living space to the NOAA’s first habitat Hydrolab which I covered here. It will benefit from much more advanced technology however.
I was in contact with the Hydronaut team some time ago about the possibility of collaborating on a multigenerational study of mice living full time under hyperbaric conditions, with a view to finding out if humans could reproduce without any birth defects in an ambient pressure undersea colony.
Nothing came of it, but with Hydronaut Deep Lab so close to completion perhaps I should shoot them another line and see if there’s room in their mission schedule for a mouse study. There are applications for colonization of the Moon or Mars as well, since there are various potential advantages to keeping the interior of a colony at a pressure different from Earth at sea level, and using different gases in your breathing mixture.
Anyway that’s all there is to report for the time being. It’s exciting to see a new man in the sea project after all this time, and of course I wish them all the best. But more than that, I hope it will inspire more projects of this nature with more funding behind them. Phases 2 and 3 of the Hydronaut crew’s larger scheme would be a good start.