Captain James T. Kirk may have called space as the final frontier, but it’s actually the ocean that stands full of mystery. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.
Just like outer space, the world beneath the ocean presents a unique set of challenges to our oxygen-dependent bodies. Just like it has taken decades of technology to create the vessels that could take us safely into space, and similar vehicles are necessary if we are to be permitted to look upon the ocean’s most private corners without suffocating or being crushed by the pressure. The SeaOrbiter, a futuristic marine research vessel created by French architect Jacques Rougerie could be the self-contained ocean laboratory we’ve been searching for.
Half submarine, half sailing ship, the SeaOrbiter is designed to facilitate continuous observation of the underwater world without disrupting underwater ecosystems or polluting the ocean. For the most part, the 58 meter-tall vessel will drift be carried by ocean currents while providing permanent living quarters for a team of 18 people who will carry out observational experiments. Half of the vessel will be submerged underwater at all times. Those moving between the upper and lower portions will pass through a locked, pressurized chamber similar to those used in space craft.
Life-support systems and as-needed propulsion to avoid storms and other ships will mostly be generated from clean technologies like wind, wave, and solar power. According to CNN, a side project is underway in conjunction with the European Defense and Space Systems conglomerate, to develop a biofuel as the ship’s main power source.
Although the SeaOrbiter concept has been around for over a decade, and will cost around $43 million, sources say it’s likely to become a reality in the next few years. It recently completed its industrial design phase and construction is slated to begin in October of this year. “All technical issues are resolved, all the modeling is done,” says Ariel Fuchs, education and media director of the SeaOrbiter project. “We gathered institutional and industrial support five or six years ago and it’s been a real institutional and financial project for the last two years.”