Project Tektite I
Seafloor Program: February 15 to April 15, 1969
In November 1966, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsored a one-day meeting to discuss problems associated with human isolation and confinement in future space missions. James W. Miller, Office of Naval Research was asked to speak at this meeting to discuss psychological problems associated with living in the sea and whether these same problems might arise during extended space missions.
As a result of this presentation, a series of meetings between the U.S. Navy and NASA was held to develop a rationale for validating the hypothesis that psychological data obtained in undersea programs could be used to predict and understand problems associated with behavior and effectiveness of space crews. By December 1967, the Navy and NASA were considering an undersea space station program and several proposals subsequently were submitted to the Office of Naval Research. A proposal from the General Electric Company to build an undersea habitat was selected. Construction funds were to be provided by General Electric in return for government support for the operation of the system once it became seaworthy. Other supporting agencies included the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, University of the Virgin Islands and the Government of the Virgin Islands.
The combined efforts of NASA, the Navy and General Electric formed the nucleus of the Tektite I program. Denzil Pauli and James W. Miller, then employed by the Office of Naval Research were named as program director and deputy program director, respectively. It was essential that a meaningful scientific program be conducted on the seafloor to provide NASA with a realistic assessment of crew behavior. In response to this need, the Department of Interior provided the necessary personnel and marine scientific expertise to conduct a seafloor program.
The purpose of Tektite I was threefold:
1) The U.S. Navy was interested in further studies of diving
physiology, the behavior of small crews in isolated conditions
and ocean technology;
2) NASA’s interests were centered around small-crew behavior with respect to long-duration space missions; and
3) The Department of Interior was interested in the use of conduct scientific work on the bottom of the sea. More specifically, the goal of the Interior Department was to extend bottom time and depth in a safe and cost-effective manner and Tektite I was to be the first long-term use of a nitrogen-oxygen breathing mixture in the open sea.
DATES AND LOCATION
Tektite I took place from February 15 to April 15, 1969, in Greater Lameshur Bay on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The duration of the seafloor program was to be 60 days, equivalent to space missions planned for the future and by far the longest saturation dive to date.
Generally the marine science missions were completed, although alternate programs were inserted due to various equipment difficulties. Tektite I aquanauts spent 432 man-hours in the water during the 60-day mission. The overall daily average was about two hours per man. Toward the end, the aquanauts were spending as many as five hours per day in the water.
Tektite Underwater Habitat Museum
Web page text edited and revised with permission from James W. Miller and Ian G. Koblick’s book: Living and Working in the Sea, 1995.