About SEALAB

“A thrilling, true-life adventure that transports the reader to a place as foreboding, exciting, and dangerous as outer space…”
 Robert Kurson, author of the best-selling Shadow Divers

“…as captivating as an adventure novel.” — Parade

“…brings this long-shuttered program back to life.”  — Discover

“…combines the work of a diligent investigative reporter with that of a feature writer who loves a good sea story.” Naval History

Sealab is the underwater Right Stuff: the true story of how a gutsy team of U.S. Navy divers and scientists set out to prove that you could build the marine equivalent of a space station—and they forever changed man’s relationship to the sea. Their quest would ultimately do for deep-sea diving what breaking the sound barrier had done for flight.

Sealab the well-received nonfiction book, originally published by Simon & Schuster in 2012, became the basis of the PBS documentary that premiered in February 2019 on the renowned “American Experience” series; it’s now streaming and available on DVD. The hour-long program by the accomplished crew at Insignia Films breathes new life into the story with its stunning pastiche of graphics, images, and rare archival footage.

Anyone who’s read the book will recognize the history that’s deftly recounted in the film: While NASA was trying to put a man on the moon, the U.S. Navy launched a series of daring experiments to prove that divers could live and work from a sea-floor base. When the first underwater “habitat” called Sealab was tested in the early 1960s, conventional dives had strict depth limits and lasted for only minutes, not the hours and even days that the visionaries behind Sealab wanted to achieve—for purposes of exploration, scientific research, industry, recovering sunken submarines and aircraft. All of this and perhaps more would be possible, if only the harrowing physical and physiological barriers could be broken.

The unlikely father of Sealab, George Bond, was a colorful and charismatic former country doctor who joined the Navy later in life and became obsessed with these unanswered questions: How long can a diver stay underwater? How deep can a diver go?

Sealab never received the attention it deserved, yet the program inspired explorers like Jacques Cousteau, broke age-old depth barriers, and revolutionized deep-sea diving by demonstrating that living on the seabed was not science fiction. Today divers on commercial oil rigs and Navy divers engaged in classified missions rely on methods pioneered during Sealab.

Sealab: America’s Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor is a genuine story of heroism and discovery: men unafraid to test the limits of physical endurance to conquer a hostile undersea frontier. It is also a story of frustration and a government unwilling to invest in exploring “inner space” with anything like the money and resources poured into outer space.

Ben Hellwarth, a veteran journalist and consultant on the PBS film, interviewed many surviving participants from the three Sealab ventures and conducted extensive documentary research to write the first comprehensive account of one of the most important yet least appreciated technological triumphs of all time. His compelling narrative—“as captivating as an adventure novel,” in the words of Parade magazine—covers the story from its scrappy origins in Dr. Bond’s Navy laboratory, through nail-biting close calls, historic advances, the like-minded efforts of Cousteau and others, and the mysterious tragedy that brought about the end of Sealab—or at least appeared to. By then, a few months shy of the first moon landing, a new era in diving and manned undersea operations had already begun.