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Famous aquanaut plans undersea human habitat

Donna Coutts, September 9, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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An illustration of how Proteus could look, as designed by Yves Béhar and fuseproject. Picture: fuseproject media_cameraAn illustration of how Proteus could look, as designed by Yves Béhar and fuseproject. Picture: fuseproject


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A world-famous aquanaut* is planning to build an undersea version of the International Space Station.

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the great aquanaut and oceanographer* Jacques Cousteau, is trying to raise money to build Proteus, an underwater laboratory and living space for scientists to help us discover new marine species and better understand oceans and climate change.

Seiko media_cameraFabien Cousteau at Fitzroy Island, an island off the coast of Queensland, south of Cairns. Picture: Chris Pavlich

Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) was a former French naval officer, ocean explorer, inventor, scientist, filmmaker, photographer, author and conservationist.

During World War II, with engineer Emile Gagnan, he invented the Aqua-Lung — which we now call scuba, Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus — which has two hoses and two bottles of compressed air. This invention meant Mr Cousteau and his crew could explore the ocean more thoroughly than humans ever had before.

He travelled the world on ships (the most famous was called Calypso), making pioneering underwater nature documentaries.

What he learned about oceans led him to work towards protecting them. In the 1960s he helped stop the French government from dumping nuclear waste in the ocean and in the 1980s he helped restrict commercial whaling.

He also created a series of underwater habitats for humans, which meant scientists could live under the ocean for weeks at a time.

In 1963, he lived for 30 days in an underwater laboratory in the Red Sea.

French popular ocean explorer and film-maker Jacques Yves Cousteau in undated file photo. P/L media_cameraFrench ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.

Fabien Cousteau grew up exploring the oceans on his grandfather’s ships. Like his grandfather, he’s now an aquanaut, conservationist and documentary filmmaker.

In 2014 he lived for 31 days aboard the Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory, which is 19m underwater 14.5km off the coast of Florida, US. He and his team did scientific research (he has been quoted many times as saying they did three years’ worth of experiments in 31 days!), filmed their activities and held virtual classroom sessions with students around the world. The mission was called Mission 31.

After understanding how much work could be done in just 31 days, Mr Cousteau now wants to build a permanent underwater habitat called Proteus.

The name Proteus comes from Greek mythology, in which Proteus was a god of rivers and oceans.

Plans for Proteus are for it to cover an area of just over 371 sqm, or about twice the size of an average house in Australia (186 sqm). That would make it three or four times the size of any other previous underwater human habitats.

According to fuseproject, the company that has designed Proteus, it would be based on a spiral shape, with legs anchoring it to the sea floor off the coast of Curaçao in the Caribbean, 18m underwater. It would be made up of pods and a central docking station, which the designers call a “moon pool” and Jacques Cousteau called a “liquid door”, for submarines to attach to for transfer of people and supplies.

Proteus artist's illustration with logo media_cameraAn illustration of how Proteus could look, as designed by Yves Béhar and fuseproject. Picture: fuseproject

One of the challenges will be to get it underwater, because a hollow structure filled with air will float.

Proteus could hold 12 people at a time for 30 days with room for work, exercise, sleeping and living. Just like on the International Space Station, there are practical problems with living in an environment new to humans.

There needs to be UV light, for instance, to help keep the inhabitants healthy, and a way to grow and cook food.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr Cousteau is trying to raise $186 million to build and operate Proteus for the first three years.


  • aquanaut: a person who swims underwater using an aqualung, or scuba gear
  • oceanographer: ocean scientist


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  1. What did Jacques Cousteau invent?
  2. What will the “moon pool” be for?
  3. How big is the average Australian house?
  4. How many people could live in Proteus and for how long?
  5. How much money is Mr Cousteau trying to raise?


1. Create an Advertisement 
It’s your job to find the perfect family to move into and live in Proteus. What types of people do you think should live there? What skills should they have? What kinds of personalities or personal qualities would they have? What jobs would they have to do? Write an advertisement that clearly states the types of people you want and a description of the jobs or roles that are needed.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension 
One of the challenges of the Proteus project is to get the structure underwater, because a hollow structure filled with air will float. How do you think this problem could be solved? 

 Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Design and Technologies, Science

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you live underwater in Proteus?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in environment