Ninety-five percent of the ocean remains unexplored, despite accounting for over 70% of the earth’s surface. Due to the ocean’s mysterious nature, some have gone as far to say humankind knows more about outer-space than aquatic life. While this is clearly unfounded, and our understanding of the universe largely underdeveloped and ever-changing, our future may well be sealed in the abyss, physically encompassing and yet evasive to even the elite of enlightened thinkers and scholars.
On a conquest to equip scientists with a vessel to facilitate advanced exploration of oceanic bodies, Jacques Rougerie conceived plans for the SeaOrbiter, which could be considered the marine equivalent of a space-station. The vessel is designed to allow its crew, known as aquanauts, to live comfortably on-board for years at a time while completing long-term missions.
In total, SeaOrbiter will comprise 58 meters in length. The vessel’s upper accommodation decks reach 27 meters above the waterline, the remaining 31 meters descending into the depths below; harboring, among other things, training platforms and departing pits for divers.
Early drafts of the SeaOrbiter’s anatomy depict a near-atomic ‘sea-craft’, with a body that curves like a blade. It has retained throughout its evolution a seamless silhouette, sail-like in appearance. Though its pressurized module has since developed, creating the image of a saucer-like disk impaled upon a fin, sides ushered by propellers. No matter the final shape, the body is to be built from Sealium, a marine grade material made from recycled aluminum.
Cradled within the vessel are many facilities and operations. However, it will function primarily as the following:
A Live-in Laboratory
The combination of living quarters and research facilities allow aquanauts to observe marine life 24/7, enabling them to measure and collect data in real-time. Aiding their research are an observation deck, modular laboratory, and scientific wet lab.
An Autonomous Vessel
The SeaOrbiter does not plunge, nor does it jolt between locations, rather it hovers at a meditative speed. Because the vessel is slow moving and autonomous, aquanauts can observe aquatic live without obstructing their habitats through heavy motions or noise pollution.
A Space Simulator
The vessel performs an additional role as a hyperbaric module – creating living conditions similar to those encountered by the inhabitants of a spacecraft. Such conditions include pressure, isolation, confinement, and the conducting of underwater extravehicular activities. This allows the SeaOrbiter to function as a space simulator to NASA and ESA astronauts during training. Beyond functioning as a supplement to operational protocols, this further develops the psycho- and physiological experiments conducted by each organization.
Upon completion, future missions aboard the SeaOrbiter will include the Mediterranean Program and the Atlantic Program, which will take place during the first and second years, respectively.
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