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The ocean landings of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were assisted by "frogmen" rescue divers. They were dropped from helicopters to assist with the recovery of the crew and capsule.

The U.S. Navy SEALs were created in 1962, during the middle of the Mercury flights. After that time, were some or all of the rescue divers for NASA flights members of the Navy SEALs?

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    $\begingroup$ Have seen mention of them being airforce en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Air_Force_Pararescue rather than Navy SEALS. Not yet an answer since do not have a reasonable source. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ There were US Navy divers before creation of the Seals. Divers trained for underwater work, The first US Navy Divers Manuals were printed in 1905. Of course heavy helmet divers with weighted shoes were not useful to assist with the recovery of the crew and capsule. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 9:09

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Before the Navy Seals there were the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). They assisted the recovery of the space capsules.

The Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) were a special-purpose force established by the United States Navy during World War II. They came to be considered more elite and tactical during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Their primary WWII function began with the reconnaissance and removal of natural or man-made obstacles on beaches prior to amphibious landings. They later were assigned to assist in the recovery of space capsules and astronauts after splash down in the Mercury and Apollo space flight programs. The United States Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams were pioneers in underwater demolition, closed-circuit diving, combat swimming, and midget submarine (dry and wet submersible) operations. Commando training was added making them the forerunner to the United States Navy SEAL program that exists today.

The Navy moved forward to establish its new special operations force and in January 1962 commissioned SEAL Team ONE in NAB Coronado and SEAL Team TWO at NAB Little Creek. UDT-11 & 12 were still active on the west coast and UDT-21 & 22 on the east coast. The SEALs quickly earned a reputation for valor and stealth in Vietnam, where they conducted clandestine raids in perilous territory. In May 1983, the remaining UDT teams were reorganized as SEAL teams. UDT 11 became SEAL Team Five and UDT 12 became Seal Delivery Vehicle Team One. UDT 21 became SEAL Team Four and UDT 22 became Seal Delivery Vehicle Team Two. A new team, SEAL Team Three was established in October 1983.

From Wikipedia.

So UDT and Navy Seals both existed between 1962 and 1983. I guess they did not want to replace a trained and experienced successful recovery team by another one without experience.

enter image description here

Note the letters UDT on the flotation collar around Mercury 7.

Image from a navy frogmen page.

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    $\begingroup$ The US has a bewildering variety of special forces. SEALs are reconnaissance teams who dive as one of their skills. UDTs were specialist divers who sometimes did reconnaissance. Looks like UDTs were merged into SEAL 1983 because of this overlap, but prior to that point would be a logical Navy organization to assign in water engineering tasks to, such as getting a flotation collar fitted and rigging lifting gear. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ It seems then that the frogmen of NASA's ocean recovery era were still part of the UDT, and would not merge with the SEALs until 1983, long after NASA stopped ocean landings. Though if NASA went back to ocean landings today, the SEALs would be the recovery divers. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ My husband was in UDT 21, which became SEAL team 4. We were stationed in Virginia. They were and are amazing men. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 15:32
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My father-in-law, Major Ron Sopata, wrote the following in 1971. He was an Air Force PJ (Parachute Jumper/Rescuer). He was on 102 combat missions in 1969-1970 where he jumped out of helicopters. Then he was stationed in Guam where he “was trained by NASA in space capsule recovery at American Somoa. Pago Pago. A flotation collar was placed around the space capsule with the Astronauts on board so that the capsule would not sink. I was on the Apollo 13 mission (when the Oxygen tank blew out). Ordinarily the Navy seals take care of the recovery because it's a normal Navy operation, but this Apollo run was a rescue mission so we parachuted in, put the collar on, and the Astronauts waited for the aircratt carrier.”

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    $\begingroup$ Surprising that the Apollo 13 recovery would be treated as a rescue instead of a recovery using a different recovery crew. Since the operation would otherwise be the same as other missions. I wonder what the rationale would have been. That would mean that the Air Force divers would have trained alongside the Navy divers during recovery training. Which that part makes more sense for backup in case of a splashdown somewhere outside of the expected recovery zone in an emergency reentry from Earth orbit. Would be nice to have some corroboration about AF divers replacing Navy divers on Apollo 13. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 22:48

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