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John Bouvier Illuminates the Depths of Sea & Space

The Southampton Town councilman speaks about his life with NASA and deep sea exploration.

Westhampton resident and Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier has some serious credentials beyond local policymaker. The former NASA engineer and saturation diver, who has developed technologies for deep-sea and space exploration, will discuss his fascinating life and career, from his time at the bottom of the ocean to efforts helping astronauts in orbit, during a special talk sponsored by Montauk Observatory and Stony Brook University’s Department of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences. The event will take place at the Stony Brook Southampton campus next Friday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m.

John Bouvier
John Bouvier

During his storied life, Bouvier worked for NASA and other private governmental organizations on projects including engineering and robotics, deep-water diving, astronaut training, and the recovery of a famous space capsule at sea. His upcoming lecture, From Deep Sea to Space, will cover the man’s wide breadth of expertise on a variety of topics, such as the technology aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and how he taught astronauts to use it; implementation of deep-sea divers, submersibles and robotics for Department of Defense and Office of Naval Research projects; and how he used his talents in the private sector for offshore oil drilling and much more.

Among his most memorable missions, Bouvier played a role in recovering Liberty Bell 7, a Mercury space capsule piloted by astronaut Gus Grissom, who became the second American to reach space in 1961, just 10 weeks after Alan Shepard’s momentous first flight.

Liberty Bell 7 landing in 1961
Liberty Bell 7 landing in 1961, Photo: NASA

The capsule took on water upon splashdown and nearly drowned Grissom before recovery helicopters had to cut it loose, allowing the heavy craft to sink some 16,000 feet to the ocean floor. Liberty Bell 7 remained there, lost and corroding beneath the Atlantic Ocean for 38 years, until Bouvier’s team—led by space shuttle Challenger and RMS Titanic salvager Curt Newport—recovered it in 1999.

This historic moment is just one of many compelling anecdotes from Bouvier’s years opening the impenetrable domains of space and the abyssal ocean to exploration and a blossoming universe of possibilities.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the world who have had their feet in both of these industries,” Bouvier points out, explaining the crux of his lecture, which he describes as “sort of like a TED Talk.”

Despite their differences, Bouvier says there’s quite a lot of “crossover and drift” between the depths of sea and space. Both, of course, require technological marvels to keep humans alive and machines functioning within them, especially as man continues to test the limits of time and distance.

Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft recovered
Liberty Bell 7 recovered, Photo: NASA

Attendees of next week’s lecture should expect to hear about Bouvier’s vital contributions to engineering the ISS, as part of the ISS Support Division in Washington, DC; and to the FTS (Flight Telerobotic Servicer), JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) and MSS (Mobile Servicing System) as Lead Robotics Engineer for NASA Robotics. He also took part in the Naval Weapons Laboratory and worked with the Flight Test Group for the Grumman Corporation.

His vast knowledge of undersea exploration and equipment proved a valuable asset in developing systems for robotics and human survival in orbit aboard the ISS and for the Hubble space telescope. Needless to say, men and women like Bouvier are making NASA’s missions and directives possible in a very tangible way.

And yet, with all his achievements, Bouvier now finds himself in the role of Southampton Town Councilman. “I’d been considering it for a long time,” he says, noting that he finally went for it in 2015 after Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman asked him to run.

The seasoned scuba diver had noticed ongoing deterioration of local waterways and he believed bringing his science background to the Town Board could help them something about it. “The bay bottom is completely different than I remember it,” he adds. “That sort of set things in motion.”

Now, with his term about to end, Bouvier must decide if he’ll run again. “A lot of the things we’re doing are making an impact,” he says.

Deep Rover submersible
Deep Rover submersible, Courtesy John Bouvier

Bouvier, who is the cousin and godson of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and spent time with John F. Kennedy, and with the Edies at Grey Gardens in East Hampton, isn’t likely to talk about politics or his famous family during his lecture, but he says these talks should be conversational. In other words, Bouvier plans to go where the audience’s interest leads. “It’s a really broad subject,” he says.

In addition to speaking about his numerous endeavors, Bouvier will present dozens of photographs and graphics to illustrate and illuminate the finer points and memories from a lifetime of important work.

Bouvier’s “From Deep Sea to Space” lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1 in Chancellors Hall, Stony Brook Southampton, 239 Montauk Highway, Southampton. Learn more at montaukobservatory.com.

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