2010 Updates: See the Tektite Exhibit in Second Life at The Abyss Observatory; the Tektite Underwater Habitat Museum; Project Tektite 40th Anniversary Reunion in Lameshur Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands, November 6, 2010. (end date)
Project Tektite 40th Anniversary Reunion at the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station (VIERS) on February 15, 2009 (begin date)
Project Tektite was an oceanographic research project conducted in 1969-1970 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The fall and winter of 2007 seem to be dedicated to searching for information about my life and activities 40 years ago. One of the events in my life as a young man that has influenced my professional and personal life, was my participation in 1970 in the Tektite II project. I have reconnected with one of my colleagues in Tektite, Kenny Meyer, and in my cerfing the web for more information, I found this excellent photo on Flickr.com, taken by aquanaut Ed Clifton, whom I have never met. Further research actually found a description of the beginnings of the project in 1969, from a personal view, by the photographer of this photo and aquanaut who was involved in Tektite from the beginning. Tektite Habitat Uploaded by Tom Clifton
An Evening on a Tropical Beach by Ed Clifton (Tektite I & II)
“The night of February 14, 1969, I sat alone on the south shore of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, listening to the waves lapping against a beach of coral rubble. The sky was brilliantly lit with stars, and a light, warm breeze touched my face. Introspection claimed me, for I was on the brink of trading my familiar sun and starlit world for an alien undersea environment. The following afternoon, three marine biologists and I would splash down to a seafloor habitat where we would spend the next 60 days as aquanauts in the Tektite Man-in-the-Sea Project.
“I was not, I must admit, a seasoned diver. I had become certified with scuba two years earlier and had since made a few tentative dives in the southern Oregon surf zone, where we had hoped to employ underwater observation in our research of nearshore sedimentology. I suppose I had, all told, a total of 25 dives under my belt. My primary qualification for being a tektite diver was probably my willingness to commit 60 days of my life to being the first geologist-aquanaut.
“As I sat in the darkness, I could hear a steel band and shouts of revelry in the distance. The Navy Seabees, who had carved a base camp out of the jungle and who were providing logistical support for the project, were justifiably celebrating Splashdown Eve. I wondered what part of my subaerial existence I would miss most over the next two months. Would it be the stars? The feeling of a breeze on my face? The underwater world seemed dark and forbidding. What did it hold? How was all this going to work?
“As I mused, listening to the lap of the waves and the sound of distant partying, I became aware that there were other sounds in the night: splashes and the popping sound of feeding fish. The sea was alive! Suddenly my introspection dissolved into eagerness to explore this world in a way privileged to very few others. I sat there for a while longer listening to the sound of life in the sea and then returned to the party.
“The Tektite Project proved to be a wonderful, rewarding experience. I returned to the Oregon coast the following summer and we put scuba to full use in the first comprehensive study of a high-energy surf zone. I was also an eager participant a year later in the Tektite 2 experiment, which gained me an additional 20 days of undersea habitation.
“And what was it that I most missed while living underwater (other than wife and family, of course!)? It was something I had always taken for granted—the healing warmth of the sun.”
H. Edward Clifton, GSA Senior Fellow
Scientist Aquanaut, Tektite I and Tektite II, 1969/70
Comments on Flickr, 2007
Everett: One of the connections is that part of the research done on Tektite was for NASA to study the effects of close confinement for an extended time. Since the aquanauts were living at 45 feet in saturation diving, they could not come to the surface without 24 hours of decompression. I was on the team of observers who monitored the 5 ‘naut team via CCTV, tracking their every activity and videotaping special interactions. Quite fascinating. There were dozens of rumors, jokes, fish stories that came out of the sometimes mind numbing duty.
Ed Clifton: Yes, this does bring back memories! And what I said about that evening on the beach is absolutely true. And so is Tom’s note about the origin of the name of the project. According to Brent Thompson, the GE project manager for designing the habitat, the project didn’t originally have a name. While looking for an existing design in the GE archives, he found plans for a space station that had been developed some years before within the GE Space Division.
Although it provided the basis for the undersea habitat, no one at GE could recall its origins. Shortly thereafter, Brent was leafing through a dictionary looking for something when he chanced upon the word tektite: “an object of uncertain origin from space that comes to rest on the sea floor”, and said, “That’s what this is! It’s a tektite!” The name did, as WW’s dad indicates, provide a good link of the space-ocean interests and it stuck.
I also want to apologize to … for any discomfiture arising from disparaging comments that I or my fellow aquanauts might have made during our dive about the “shrinklets” who were watching us continuously from the surface. I can only hope that they relieved some of the mind-numbing duty he mentions.
Everett: Thank you so much for the response and the the further clarification of Tektite history. No, as one of the later ‘shrinklets’, I have no problem with any or all comments made about the observers on your mission or us late comers of Tektite II, during or after any of those times. I have accumulated some more of the images and articles from Tektite I and II in my photo gallery, Tektite2. I feel the project has never been given the attention it deserves, and while I celebrate Dr. Earle and her accomplishments, it is unfortunate that more attention has not been paid to the other research done during your mission and the missions in 1970.