Happy Birthday, M. Cousteau

June 11, 2010

It was 100 years ago today that Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born in the Gironde department of France.  He was a fascinating guy who played a major role in bringing knowledge of the sea to a wide audience.  I was a teenager when his series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, was broadcast on the ABC network, and I can remember being completely fascinated by the variety and richness of the underwater world.  It was one the things that piqued my interest in science.  Cousteau also was one of the first to bring some of the threats to the oceans’ ecosystem to public attention.

Cousteau, in his early career, was a French naval officer.  He was originally planning to be a naval aviator, but was forced to drop that program after an automobile accident.  After the Germans’ rapid invasion of France early in World War II, he turned his attention to diving, and with an engineer colleague, Emile Gagnan, invented and patented the Aqua-Lung, the first successful Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus [SCUBA].

After the war, Cousteau acquired an old US Navy minesweeper, and converted it into the research vessel Calypso, with which he carried out many oceanographic expeditions.  Films from the Calypso‘s voyages were a staple part of the TV series.

Cousteau died in June 1997 in Paris, aged 87.  There is a retrospective of short video clips celebrating some of his work at the Wired site.

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