Why Hoopla Is Unlikely for the 50th of SEALAB II


Fifty years ago, some historic stuff was happening off the coast of Southern California during a sea-floor mission that was like a corollary to the moon landing, with its own brand of small steps for man and giant leaps for mankind.

The steps, and the leaps, were taken by divers who lived for days at a time in a cylindrical shelter called SEALAB II, a 200-ton prototype that was about the size of a city bus and looked something like a customized railway tank car. At the end of August 1965, this underwater version of a space station was set up on the seabed about a mile offshore from La Jolla, near San Diego, California.

I’m pointing this out because as much as we Americans love to celebrate anniversaries, this humble blog post may be the only thing you read or hear about the golden anniversary of the longest and most successful of the U.S. Navy’s three SEALAB experiments, which ushered in a sea change (sorry!) in deep diving and manned underwater activities.

Why so little fanfare?

It’s a good question. For all its game-changing significance, SEALAB II – like SEALAB I, its immediate predecessor – often seemed relegated to an Orwellian-style Memory Hole, as if it were some sort of military secret. It wasn’t meant to be, but neither was the Navy a Madison Avenue master of advertising. And funding for SEALAB was a drop in the bucket of space program expenditures, so the modest tab for SEALAB – your tax dollars at work! – was less of a catalyst for media scrutiny and public interest.

Also missing was the underlying Cold War drama that infused the space race. The SEALAB rivals were mostly friendly, like France’s legendary Jacques Cousteau and the American —> Read More