'Aquanauts' to Begin Month-Long Underwater Mission

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A month-long research mission on the ocean floor, led by Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is slated to begin this weekend. Fabien Cousteau and a team of "aquanauts" will spend a record 31 days living and working underwater as part of the expedition, dubbed Mission 31.

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Cousteau and his team are expected to splash down on Sunday (June 1), at around 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). The researchers will live aboard Aquarius Reef Base, a seafloor habitat located roughly 63 feet (19 meters) underwater in the Florida Keys.

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Throughout Mission 31, the aquanauts will test new technologies and examine the effects of climate change on corals, sponges and other sea life. The expedition is also designed to spark interest in ocean exploration, providing a window into "the adventure, risk and mystique of what lies beneath," Mission 31 planners have said. [9 Craziest Ocean Voyages]

"The overarching theme for Mission 31 is the human-ocean connection within the lens of exploration and discovery," Cousteau said in a statement.

The aquanauts will spend roughly six to nine hours each day diving and performing experiments outside the Aquarius habitat. The entire underwater expedition will be webcast live for the public, and film crews will also compile footage throughout the month-long excursion for a future Mission 31 documentary, Cousteau has said.

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Additionally, during their time underwater, the aquanauts will investigate the physiological and psychological impacts of long-term saturation diving, and the effects of living in prolonged confinement.

Mission 31 will pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of Jacques Cousteau's famous Continental Ice Shelf Station Two (Conshelf Two) expedition in 1963. During that mission, the trailblazing oceanographer lived in an underwater habitat located 30 feet (9 m) beneath the Red Sea for 30 days.

Fabien Cousteau and his team are expected to surpass the milestone set by the Conshelf Two mission by one full day. If successful, Mission 31 will be the longest that researchers have lived aboard the Aquarius habitat, the expedition's planners have said.

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Aquarius Reef Base is the only underwater habitat in the world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration owns the facility, and Florida International University manages it.

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