the Depths in Trieste
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
In 1960, Swiss scientist Jacques Piccard (above in this photo) and Navy lieutenant Donald Walsh made history when they descended in the U.S. Navy bathyscaphe Trieste to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The brave divers were housed in a sphere attached to the bottom of the bathyscaphe's long buoyant tank.
The deep-diving research bathyscaphe Trieste
was first launched in 1953 near Naples, Italy, by the Swiss scientist
who designed her, Auguste Piccard. After several years of operations
in the Mediterranean, she was purchased by the U.S. Navy and
transported to San Diego, California. On October 2, 1959, Trieste
was loaded onto the freighter Santa Maria for transport
to the Mariana Islands for a series of deep-submergence operations
in the Pacific Ocean, into the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot
in the ocean identified by the British ship Challenger
II in 1851. The operations were code-named "Project
On January 23, 1960 — the day of Trieste's historic dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench — the waves were 5 to 6 feet high in the ocean when Jacques Piccard (Auguste's son), and Navy Lt. Donald Walsh boarded Trieste from a rubber raft. They were housed in the white sphere at the bottom of the vessel. Reportedly, it was so packed with equipment that there was barely room for the men to sit in.
The Department of the Navy described Trieste as "the underwater equivalent of a
lighter-than-air craft, much like a blimp operating in reverse.
It consists of a 50-foot hull, 12 feet in diameter, filled with
gasoline to make it buoyant, since gasoline is lighter than water.
Beneath this hull is suspended a sphere 6.5 feet in diameter, which
easily holds two men and scientific equipment."
weights (9 tons of iron shot) to help it descend to the deepest
point on the seafloor. The bathyscaphe's air tanks also were
flooded with seawater to help make it sink. Trieste descended
at a rate of 3 feet per
second until it reached a depth of 27,000 feet, when its operators
put on the brakes to slow its descent to half that rate.
nearly 7-mile descent to the deepest known point on Earth took
4 hours and 48 minutes. Piccard and Walsh stayed on the bottom for 20 minutes, eating
chocolate bars for sustenance, their teeth chattering
in the 45°F cold cabin. Outside the bathyscaphe, the
ocean temperature was 37.4°F. The mercury-vapor lamps on Trieste were the first to shine a light in this deep, dark place, illuminating a small,
red shrimp-like creature and proving that the deep ocean had
enough oxygen to support marine life.
a depth of nearly 7 miles, the pressure is crushing, exceeding
16,883 pounds per square inch (more than a thousand times greater
than the pressure at sea level). During
the dive, an
outer Plexiglas window cracked, which fortunately did not cause
any problems other than some anxiety for the divers! They released two tons of iron shot to begin their ascent
to the surface. The return trip took three hours and 17
minutes. When Piccard
and Walsh surfaced,
they officially entered the world record books.
press release issued later in the day by the U.S. Department
of Navy noted that "the purpose of today's dive is to
demonstrate that the United States now possesses the capability
for manned exploration of the sea down to the deepest part
of its floor." The
vessel was part of Project Nekton operations designed "to gather
scientific knowledge of sunlight penetration, underwater visibility,
transmission of manmade sounds, and marine geological studies
of the trench." The ships
USS Lewis and USS Wandank assisted Trieste on
In 1963, Trieste went to the Atlantic Ocean to search for
the lost submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593). Trieste
was taken out of service soon after completing that mission and
is now housed at the Navy Museum, at the Washington Navy Yard,
These men were among the team responsible for the Trieste's design and operation. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
|General arrangement drawing of Trieste, ca 1959. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy