This September, filmmaker and explorer Fabien Cousteau will descend 63 feet underwater and climb inside a habitat the size of a school bus off Key Largo. Cousteau and five fellow aquanauts will spend 31 days inside the underwater "inner space station" called the Aquarius, doing research in an effort to protect the world's oceans and pay tribute to his grandfather, French underwater pioneer Jacques Cousteau. And the entire mission will be broadcast live around the world, 24 hours a day. "There are things we know now that we didn't know back then," said Cousteau, 45, who previewed his upcoming expedition Tuesday at the Museum of Science & Industry's "Sea Monsters Revealed" exhibit. "This technology, unfortunately, wasn't around when my grandfather was here. He had to wow the world with prerecorded television programs. Today, we can live broadcast and have a conversation with students from anywhere in the world, and that's really mind-blowing."
Known simply as Mission 31, the expedition coincides with the 50th anniversary of a similar expedition by his grandfather aboard the Conshelf II, which proved that humans can live underwater for 30 days without suffering ill effects. The mission was documented in the award-winning "World Without Sun." Mission 31 will be one day longer and twice as deep as the elder Cousteau's underwater exploration. And it will be the longest mission aboard the Aquarius, which is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A third-generation explorer, Cousteau has been diving since he was 4 years old and exploring the oceans since he was a teenager. He said his love of ocean exploration was a natural progression growing up around his famous grandfather. "I don't think there was a conscious epiphany to follow in his footsteps," Cousteau said. "It was always a natural part of my life. There was no question that I loved oceans and exploration. But in my teenage years, I realized this man is more than my grandfather. He's an icon to the world, and at that point I said, that's really cool. I really want to do this." Cousteau and his fellow researchers will splashdown Sept. 30 and climb aboard the Aquarius, which is submerged in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, on Oct. 1. During their time under the sea, team members will travel the seafloor in underwater vehicles, researching the effects of climate change and pollution on sea life and the psychological impact living under the ocean has on the human body. "I have been going to gym," Cousteau said with a laugh. "But 15 days prior to splashdown, we will train on the latest technology and scuba diving equipment; we'll go through rigorous trials and prepare for any emergency that can happen." That includes hurricanes. The mission will take place during hurricane season in Florida. "Once you're down, you stay down," he said of the mission. "If there are any emergency situations, shutdown procedures take at least three days. So we're really hoping for no hurricanes. But we're preparing for anything. There's so much left to discover down there."