October 7, 2019  (Web Review)

Sealab

(2019) 60 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video (www.teacher.shop.pbs.org). ISBN: 978-1-5317-0927-3.

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

During the 1960s, the world was hypnotized by NASA’s exploration of space by American astronauts that eventually led to a landing on the Moon. But the decade also witnessed another journey into unknown territory that was taking place right here on the planet. The U.S. Navy launched a massive 300-ton tubular structure dubbed Sealab into oceans, an underwater habitat in which scientists and divers could conduct research on the ocean floor. Filmmaker Stephen Ives’s PBS-aired American Experience documentary recalls the three long-forgotten Sealab missions and the aquanauts who were part of this endeavor. The Navy sought to exploit the public fascination with the Apollo missions by having NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter sign on as one of the members of the second Sealab mission. Initially, the Navy seemed able to crack the problem of overcoming the dangers of underwater pressure in order to establish long-term residence for the Sealab occupants at forbidding ocean depths. But while the first two Sealab missions were considered successful, the third was plagued by problems from its inception, culminating in the death of aquanaut Berry Cannon while he was trying to repair the exterior of the craft—which resulted in the abrupt termination of the project. Combining rare archival footage and photos with insightful discussion by Navy history experts, this engaging look at an ambitious but ill-fated scientific venture is highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (P. Hall)