Thursday, 3 February 2011


Apparently what we have here is an alternative to seasteading based on the idea that if you think global warming is a problem, then just wait to see what happens once the oceans start dying. Founder of the project, Dennis Chamberland, proclaims that anyone can become an aquanaut, and given an interest in maintaining a common future, he argues, we would do well to establish colonies under the sea that can monitor changes to its ecosystem. This suggests to me that the project is also some remove from Robert Ballard's ideology, which I have critically reviewed in a previous post.

Another way of looking at it, at least in theory, is as an affirmative response to William Gibson's question, "can the future be a place?" I offer this qualification though as I'm always worried about the naive idealism that usually shapes these projects, which are keen to announce their green credentials, but less forthcoming about how it will be paid for, and what restrictions that might place on "universal access." Chamberland speaks optimistically in terms of realizing his dream within a decade, but right now it is obviously premature to pass too many judgments. If anyone is to do it though, a quick glance at his bio suggests he is well qualified in many key respects:

Chamberland joined NASA as a bioengineer in the mid ’80s, just as the manned space program was starting to thunder forward. But rather than looking up to the stars, he began looking down – deep down.

As a developer of the agency’s Advanced Space Life Support Systems, which monitors the safety for all off-planet habitation pursuits, Chamberland soon became a lead proponent of research on an idea being floated by NASA at the time: using the sea as a testbed for space exploration. Before long, this homegrown explorer would become one of the country’s leading proponents of undersea habitation, and an advocate for what he calls the “space-ocean analog.”

An aquanaut and Mission Commander on seven NASA underwater missions, Chamberland has also pursued landmark research in bioengineering and become a prolific writer of science books and sci-fi novels.

But it was his work for NASA that resulted in his harvesting of the first agricultural crop in a manned habitat on the sea floor, and led to his designing and construction of the Scott Carpenter Space Analog Station, a two man undersea habitat off Key Largo. The little permanent submarine has been visited by a range of curious futurist explorers, including James Cameron and TV producer Rod Roddenberry, Jr.

Chamberland’s next goal, he explains in this episode of Motherboard: colonizing the sea. To move humans to an underwater “Aquatica,” as he calls the habitable regions of the ocean, he launched the Atlantica Expeditions, which are attempting to build the first underwater settlement for permanent human colonization.

This isn’t a toe-dip, or a glossy sci-architectural lark. Starting with the premise that nearly three quarters of our planet’s largest biome have long remained invisible – and are increasingly endangered – the Atlantica project seeks “a human colony whose primary purpose it is to monitor and protect this most essential of all the earth’s biomes. Soon, beneath the sea, families will live and work. Children will go to school. A new generation of children will be born there – the first citizens of a new ocean civilization whose most important purpose will be to continuously monitor and protect the global ocean environment.”

Set to commence by next year, the first expedition will be initiated by the submersion of the Leviathan, a small underwater habitat that can house up to four people. He’s not only certain that colonization of the Earth’s oceans is imminent: he’s making it happen.

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