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Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor [Hardcover]

Ben Hellwarth

Price: 16.98 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Sealab "Sealab" tells the story of how the U.S. Navy program tried to develop the marine equivalent of the space station--and why the Navy pulled the plug. Hellwarth has interviewed surviving members of the three Sealab experiments in addition to conducting archival research to tell this first comprehensive story about the Sealab program. Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well-written, very comprehensive account 9 Feb 2012
By C.C.J. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a very good book for several reasons:
- The writing style is excellent. The author tells a story with a good balance between the personalities, the challenges, and the science/physiology of underwater habitats. The story-telling is first-class. There are some larger-than-life personalities involved like Jacques Cousteau and astronaut Scott Carpenter, and this history is set in an interesting environment of exploration and competition.
- The detail is amazing. The author leaves no stone unturned, and covers every aspect from the design of the habitats to the medical science of saturation diving and decompression. The book covers every step in the process of bringing the idea of underwater living to reality, including all of the pressure chamber tests conducted prior to the first Sealab deployment.

Overall: I gave this rating 4-stars because it is so detailed, so exhaustive, that it will probably only satisfy readers with a very strong interest in underwater habitats. There are a lot of non-fiction books out there that take a subject and make it available to the average reader. "Sealab" is too detailed and its coverage of the subject too thorough to qualify as a book to capture the interest of an average reader. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends what you're looking for. I thought the account got bogged down by the details, but other readers may object to a broader survey of events that are just not covered in other works.

NOTE: I put a lot of effort in capturing the strengths and weaknesses of this book as I perceived them and I welcome comments and feedback on this review.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten History 30 Jan 2012
By Alan Dorfman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anyone who has ever watched Star Trek has heard the narration proclaiming outer space to be the "Final Frontier." It might be a great sound bite for the times but even while astronauts were circling the planet and landing on the moon and as the famous "space race" with the Russians was in full throttle there was another frontier waiting to be explored. This was Earth's inner space, otherwise known as our oceans. Ben Hellwarth's new book "Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest To Live And Work On The Ocean Floor" is the compelling true story of America's attempt at dominion over the seas.

In the early 1960s, Navy Doctor George Bond authored a proposal to explore and make a presence on the ocean floor. He felt it would not only be beneficial to the Navy in terms of military and rescue acumen but there would also be spin-offs into civilian life, much like the ongoing space program led to Teflon and Tang, as well as "endeavors such as mineral mining, marine biology, and marine archaeology" (although it would be oil drilling that would be the greatest beneficiary). As the author says about Dr. Bond, he "believed that undersea exploration would bring the next generation of antibiotics, and that massive supplies of fresh water that boiled up from the continental shelf could be tapped. He believed, too, that the very survival of the human species depended on our ability to take up residence on the seabed and learn to harvest the ocean's edible protein."

Even though the concept of living on the ocean floor goes at least as far back as Jules Verne, Dr. Bonds' "Proposal for Underwater Research" with his exploration and exploitation ideas was rejected by the Navy. A former country doctor used to working on his own, Dr. Bond ignored the official rejection and began sub rosa experiments on the ability of animals (and ultimately man) to adapt to and work in the increased pressure under the ocean, recruiting a small team of like-minded scientists and divers. "Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest To Live And Work On The Ocean Floor" is the story of how Dr. Bond and his ever-changing cast of co-workers went from humble, unapproved experiments - often paid for out of their own pockets - to an always underfunded, often jury-rigged, project which ultimately would change the world while not necessarily turning out the way it's principals imagined.

And it's a great story and a wonderful read. There are heroes and villains, triumphs and tragedies, lives, deaths and near-deaths, joy and sorrow, blame and fault-finding, fascinating characters including a former astronaut, surprising outcomes with a dose of international espionage to boot.

Chock-full of facts from government documents (though certain details of the project remain classified) and drawn from author Hellwarth's personal interviews with many of the remaining living individuals involved in the Sealab projects, "Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest To Live And Work On The Ocean Floor" is an incredibly detailed history, crisply written and abundantly footnoted. The writer makes all the arcane details (and there are many) understandable and gives the reader the feeling of being present as the events occur, a major success for Mr. Hellwarth. It also made me wonder about not only how different our understanding of the effects and extent of climate change might have been had the Sealab program had not been discontinued but also whether America should once again take on this challenge of living and working on the seafloor. The benefits haven't changed but a half century's worth of technological improvements have occurred that could make the further exploration of the ocean a wise investment in the Earth's future.

Fascinating and exceptionally readable, Ben Hellwarth's "Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest To Live And Work On The Ocean Floor" is well worth your time and effort.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sunken Treasure 28 Feb 2012
By JB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a terrific story about a barely noticed but remarkable undertaking: the Navy's attempt to create useful habitats for divers farther and farther down under the ocean surface. The author does a fantastic job of describing how the program started, who conceived it, how it evolved, what milestones were reached, what obstacles it faced, who partook in the events, and its ultimate fate. Interesting histories of the diving technology that preceded and post-dated the experiments are woven throughout. It's especially impressive how the complicated science involved in 'saturation diving' is explained in easy to understand terminology. I can't imagine the amount of work that went into collecting the years of data, and then reducing it all down and presenting it in a way that reads like a novel. From page one we meet an extremely interesting cast of characters; there is always someone to pull for. Although this is ostensibly an account of a series of underwater experiments it is really a story about personalities, ambition, and achievement. 'Sealab' is quite an accomplishment: a work of non-fiction that is truly informative but written with all requisite suspense, surprise, tragedy and triumph attendant to classic adventure stories -- highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me the "chills" 25 April 2012
By Peter J. Wedel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Maybe being an avid scuba diver makes this book more entertaining to me than the average person, but I would highly recommend it to anyone. I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at the exploits of the "aquanauts" who pioneered deep diving in the 60's and 70's. The book is so well written, the research impeccable, and makes you realize that 5 decades ago there were more incredible feats of human exploration going on under the sea than in space and almost no one knows about it! An incredible book!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story of travels to inner space 18 Mar 2012
By Joe Follansbee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author of this book does an excellent job of reminding Americans of an equally dangerous quest to inner space, the depths of the ocean, when astronauts were exploring outer space. Although the text could have used more quotes and anecdotes from the participants, some of the passages are vivid, particularly when the "aquanauts" pushed the boundaries, some giving their lives. Sadly, the book also reminds us that the USA has pulled back from these explorations, just as it has pulled back from the exploration of space; there's currently no way for astronauts to travel outside our atmosphere without hitching a ride from the Russians. Let's hope this pause is really just a preface to another chapter of inner space exploration.
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