American Experience’s "Sealab" Moves to February 12 | ThinkTV

American Experience’s "Sealab" Moves to February 12

Posted by Kellie May on

Due to the broadcast of the PBS NewsHour coverage of the State of the Union Address, American Experience: Sealab has been moved to February 12. It will air at 9pm on CET and ThinkTV16. This documentary tells the mostly forgotten story of the U.S. Navy’s daring program that tested the limits of human endurance, revolutionized the way humans explored the ocean and laid the groundwork for undersea military missions to come.

In the spring of 1964, Scott Carpenter — already famous for being the second American to orbit the earth — was preparing for a new mission, not into space as an astronaut but into the sea as one of the Navy’s newly-minted “aquanauts.” Divers who attempted to chart the ocean’s depths faced barriers that had thwarted humans for centuries:  near total blackness, bone-jarring cold and intense pressure that could disorient the mind and crush the body. Aboard Sealab, Carpenter and his fellow explorers would attempt to break through those barriers – going deeper and staying underwater longer than anyone had done before. 

The challenge was to counteract the danger from the effects of atmospheric pressure underwater which compresses air – the further a diver descends, the more the air molecules in his lungs become concentrated. Under the increasing pressure, the air molecules are absorbed into the blood and tissues, but too much oxygen becomes toxic and causes convulsions; too much nitrogen causes a woozy fog that can be deadly. Equally dangerous are the problems compressed air can create as the diver resurfaces: ascending too quickly releases the gas as bubbles, causing the crippling and often fatal cramps known as “the bends.” Sealab would pioneer what is known as “saturation diving,” which would allow divers to remain undersea — and emerge unscathed — for more extended periods of time.

An audacious feat of engineering — a pressurized underwater habitat, complete with science labs and living quarters — Sealab aimed to prove that humans were capable of spending days or even months at a stretch living and working on the ocean floor.  Their daring exploits were beginning to capture the nation’s attention, but a deadly tragedy would prematurely end their pioneering work. 

Watch the first chapter of the film below!