Jacques-Yves Cousteau is perhaps the most well-known modern scuba diver and undersea explorer. He brought the world of undersea diving within the capabilities of ordinary people by inventing (with Emile Gagnan) the aqualung in 1942. This self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) now enables divers to remain under water for an hour or more instead of minutes. Also, Cousteau helped design other diving equipment such as the two-person diving saucer.His explorations, conducted from his famous oceanic ship Calypso, were documented and earned him numerous honors and awards. Cousteau was born in1910 in St. Andre-de-Cubzak, France. He attended the Brest Naval Academy andbecame a naval gunnery officer in 1933. At the age of 47, Cousteau retired from the navy with the rank of corvette captain.
During World War II Cousteau co-invented the aqualung, a device that providespressurized air to the diver while underwater. Before the aqualung, divers had to wear heavy suits and fishbowl-like helmets that made swimming nearly impossible. But Cousteau's invention helped popularize scuba diving by providing far greater mobility for underwater exploration and leading to the development of modern scuba gear.
After the war, Cousteau involved himself in a series of projects, exploring the oceans, and designing and developing equipment for marine exploration. Hedeveloped the Calypso underwater camera, a forerunner to today's Nikonos camera. He participated in testing the bathyscaphe, a deep-diving vessel invented by Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard. In 1959, he co-invented the first exploration mini-submarine, the two person diving saucer, Soucoupe.
Diving research was another of Cousteau's many interests. Cousteau and Philippe Taillez established the Undersea Research Group at Toulon which became Europe's leading center for studying diving techniques and undersea living. Cousteau is also known for developing early underwater habitats -- the Conshelf I, II, and III -- located between 33 ft (10 m) and 330 ft (100 m) below the ocean surface, and capable of sheltering people for prolonged periods of time.Cousteau's documentary film, World Without Sun, which recorded man's first prolonged (30 days) stay in an undersea habitat, the Conshelf II, received an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1964.
Cousteau did not consider himself a scientist, but rather, a filmmaker, explorer, and environmentalist. He produced 65 films and lead over 80 expeditions.He won awards at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards for his 1956 feature film The Silent World. From the late 1950s on, he produced numerous television programs, including The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the series called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.He wrote, co-wrote, or edited 80 books about the oceans and his adventures in them. The last of these, his memoir The Man, The Octopus, and the Orchid, was published just six days after his death. In 1974, Cousteau foundedthe Cousteau Society, one of the world's largest conservation groups. He spent much of his life trying to educate the public about the importance of the marine environment, its vulnerability and beauty.