An aquanaut is any individual who remains underwater, exposed to the ambient pressure, long enough to come into equilibrium with his or her breathing media. Usually this is done in an underwater habitat on the seafloor for a period equal to or greater than 24 continuous hours without returning to the surface. The term is often restricted to scientists and academics, though there were a group of military aquanauts during the SEALAB program. Commercial Divers in similar circumstances are referred to as Saturation Divers. An aquanaut is distinct from a submariner, in that a submariner is confined to a moving underwater vehicle such as a submarine that holds the water pressure out. Aquanaut derives from the Latin word aqua ("water") plus the Greek nautes ("sailor"), by analogy to the similar construction "astronaut".
The first human aquanaut was Robert Sténuit, who lived on board a tiny one-man cylinder at 200 feet (61 m) for 24 hours in September 1962 off Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. Military aquanauts include Robert Sheats, author Robin Cook, and astronauts Scott Carpenter and Alan Shepard. Civilian aquanaut Berry L. Cannon died of carbon dioxide poisoning during the U.S. Navy's SEALAB III project.
Scientific aquanauts include Sylvia Earle, Joseph B. MacInnis, Harold "Wes" Pratt (on whom the character Matt "Winch" Hooper in Jaws was based), Dick Rutkowski, Phil Nuytten, and about 700 others, including the crew members (many of them astronauts) of NASA's NEEMO missions at the Aquarius underwater laboratory.
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