Without doubt one of the best-remembered events of the last century will be that moment, in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and uttered that memorable phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a remarkable testament to human ingenuity, and a feat that paved the way for the exploration of worlds beyond our own.
In 1943, an equally significant – but less well-publicised – event took place near Paris. Lacking Armstrong’s stirring oratory, Emile Gagnan, co-designer of the Aqualung, cried out in relief, “Mon Dieu, Jacques! I thought you had drowned!” as Jacques Cousteau emerged unharmed from the Marne River.
It’s now 70 years since the pair perfected their SCUBA diving regulator; a device that heralded new opportunities in mankind’s attempts to freely explore the 71 per-cent of our planet that’s hidden by water. But despite diving’s growing popularity, we’ve progressed very little in our exploration of "inner space". While we’ve splashed around at the ocean’s edge, mankind’s attention has still remained focussed on the stars.
And while engineers and physicists have mastered the technical difficulties of sending men on a 384,000 km journey to the moon, none of them have fathomed out ways to put even an exceptionally well-equipped diver to depths much beyond 400 metres.
Imagine, then, what diving might have achieved had Cousteau and Gagnan’s pioneering effort received unlimited funding and government backing? Or had, in 1959, somebody of the stature of a President Kennedy, broadcast to the world, “We choose to go to the sea-floor, not because it is easy, but because it is hard"?
It took vision, commitment and money to get man to the moon. Just think what – given that same level of support – diving might accomplish within a few short decades?