We still use the technical breakthroughs George Bond pioneered with the Sealab program, mostly in the oil industry, setting up oil platforms. Saturation divers can go to a job site hundreds of feet below the surface and stay down there for an entire eight-hour shift.
"Unbeknownst to most people, we all owe the fuel in our tank to some extent to some saturation diver working out in the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea," says Hellwarth.
But George Bond's vision was not just industrial — it was military, civilian and scientific. He solved the problem of going deeper and staying longer, but after Sealab was canceled, it turned out that industry is where the money was. Any military application — equipping military submarines to release saturation divers as spies during the Cold War, for instance — would be highly classified, and therefore hard to document.
But there is one place on Earth where a Sealab-type facility still exists for scientific research: the Aquarius Reef Base south of the Florida Keys, that's been in operation for over 20 years. Scientists can go down there, 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface, and live anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks, running experiments on the reef.
"Dr. Bond's vision was science-related," says Hellwarth. "He thought we ought to have Sealab-like bases set up in the ocean wherever there might be something of interest to study and observe. We should get to know that environment better because there's value to spending time in the ocean, just like there was value in Jane Goodall's being able to sit and observe in the jungle. Once you're down there and can stay awhile, you really don't know what you're going to see. That's how we discover things."
Learn more about Sealab in "Papa Topside: The Sealab Chronicles of Capt. George F. Bond, USN" by Helen A. Siiteri, ed. HowStuffWorks picks related titles based on books we think you'll like. Should you choose to buy one, we'll receive a portion of the sale.