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Fabien Cousteau honors grandfather Jacques with test of underwater colony in Mission 31

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Fabien Cousteau, grandson of legendary undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is coming back to land after a month under the ocean surface. The 46-year-old explorer was born in Paris, France, and educated at Boston University.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau is credited with development of the world's first ocean floor habitats capable of supporting life over the long term. He also led explorers in the first-ever attempt to live under water.

Mission 31 was designed as a tribute to the original Continental Shelf Station Project (Conshelf) headed by the elder Cousteau fifty years ago. This original mission placed explorers in housing shaped like a starfish, more than 30 feet under the surface of the Red Sea. There, the inhabitants lived for a week at time, as they carried out experiments. The researchers were routinely monitored in an effort to ascertain whether humans could live in such enclosures. Conshelf 2 was a 30-day mission, featured in the 1964 documentary World Without Sun. 

Mission 31 took place in waters off the Florida Keys. Fabien Cousteau and his team of researchers spent the month of June in the Aquarius Reef Base. This vessel is roughly the size of a school bus, housed more than 60 feet beneath the surface of the water. 

"Fabien and his team of aquanauts... pay tribute to his grandfather's Conshelf Two mission by expanding the Cousteau legacy by one full day for a total of 31 days," said Mission 31 planners.

The underwater facility allows researchers, as well as their film crew, easy diving access to these depths without the need to return to a ship. Near the facility lies a vast coral reef, the center of much of the researcher's attention. 

They are scheduled to come back to land at Islamorada, Florida on 2 July. Decompression for return to the surface is a 16-hour-long process, necessary to prevent Cousteau and his team from suffering from decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends. This condition is caused when rapid depressurization causes gases dissolved in body fluids to come out of solution, forming bubbles. These can travel anywhere in the body, and cause symptoms from joint pain to paralysis and death. 

"Fabien Cousteau's expedition will break new barriers in ocean exploration and shed a unique light on the possibility of living underwater... Can you imagine living in [an] underwater city with an anemone garden and having actual sharks for neighbors?" stated in Mission 31 website.

Underwater colonies may be one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to Fabien Cousteau and the Mission 31 team.

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