The Man in the Sea Museum to Celebrate 60th Anniversary

7

By Steve Mulholland, Executive Director, Man in the Sea Museum

The Man in the Sea Museum will be celebrating the 60th Anniversary of SEALAB in Panama City Beach, Florida July 19 and 20, 2024, and will sponsor events honoring their historic efforts. This will be a national celebration. The Man in the Sea Museum is working with SEALAB veterans across the country to coordinate their participation and deliver support where needed. This recognition includes the engineers, logistics experts, photographers, support personnel, and family members who were vital in making SEALAB a success. The events include a Hero’s Banquette for the Aquanauts on July 19 and a town celebration at the Museum on July 20.

Man In The Sea Sealab I Being Lowered 1964In July 1964, a brave group of pioneers led by Captain George F. Bond set out to test the limits of physical endurance and conquer a hostile undersea frontier. They achieved the world’s first-ever open ocean Saturation dive. The success of SEALAB was a pivotal event for diving and advanced man’s continued undersea exploration. SEALAB also introduced the world to the U.S. Navy Aquanauts. These American heroes set the foundations for all future deep diving capabilities used by military and commercial divers across the globe today.

Following the successful SEALAB I experiment, the crew of the Navy’s newly designated “Man-in-the-Sea Program” set their sights on a brand new, much more sophisticated habitat that would be used for the SEALAB II experiment in 1965 and SEALAB Ill experiment in 1969. The planned experiments would conduct further research that started with the SEALAB I experiment. In the meantime, SEALAB I came back to the Mine Defense Laboratory in Panama City. Senior Engineer Bill Culpepper, who also engineered SEALAB II, found a great use for the SEALAB I habitat. It went through several modifications, including a new conning tower (so larger equipment could be lowered into the habitat rather than going through the smaller hatch in the underside) and a black and white paint scheme.

Man In The Sea Sealab I Team 1964SEALAB I would become a major component of the STEP (Submerged Test Engineering Platform) Program. It was lowered to its new home about two miles off the coast of Panama City in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Navy’s Stage Il Research Platform. During its time in the STEP Program, SEALAB I became an underwater laboratory for a series of equipment and procedures testing to be used in the forthcoming SEALAB III experiment and future Man-in-the-Sea projects.

Located in Panama City Beach, the Man in the Sea Museum has had the privilege of maintaining SEALAB I on site. The museum was started by a group of SEALAB Aquanauts back in the early ‘80s after they retrieved SEALAB I from the Gulf of Mexico where it had been sitting in 60 feet of water for about 10 years. The Navy had conducted equipment testing on it, but for the most part it had just been rusting away in place. These Aquanauts still had the pull to get the Navy to bring SEALAB I back to the surface and finally to the Man in the Sea Museum site.

For over 40 years, the Man in the Sea Museum has been a beacon of maritime history, education, and exploration in our community. Through engaging exhibits, educational programs, and preservation efforts, we strive to inspire curiosity, promote ocean conservation, and honor the pioneers of underwater exploration.

Our museum serves as a vital educational resource, welcoming students, families, and
enthusiasts alike to discover the wonders of the deep sea. From showcasing historic diving equipment to highlighting the achievements of underwater pioneers, each exhibit tells a story of adventure, innovation, and the enduring spirit of exploration.

To learn more about their 60th Anniversary event or programs and events, reach the museum at (850) 235-4101 or visit their website at https://maninthesea.org. Located at 17314 Panama City Beach Parkway. They are open to the public Wednesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.