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This date in science: A record-setting dive into the deepest ocean

Jacques Piccard (above in photo) and Donald Walsh were aboard the deep sea vehicle Trieste when it made its record-setting dive in 1960.

January, 23, 1960. On this date, the submersible vehicle Trieste made a record-setting dive to the deepest surveyed part of the ocean. Trieste was a bathyscaphe“deep boat” – owned by the U.S. Navy. It was a free-diving, self-propelled deep-sea submersible, and it dove – with two crew members aboard – into the Marianas Trench east of the Philippines, whose deepest portion is called the Challenger Deep. It took nine hours to descend 6.83 miles (10,911 meters) to the deepest ocean. Afterwards, nobody returned to Challenger Deep for 52 years, until Titanic director James Cameron descended successfully on March 26, 2012.

Cameron plans to turn his solo diving experience into a 3-D feature film.

Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard designed the Trieste and built it in Italy. His son, Jacques Piccard (who was also a Swiss scientist) and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh were on board for the record-setting dive to Challenger Deep.

Trieste was central to Project Nekton, which was the codename for a series of dives in the Pacific. Trieste had been modified to dive far deeper than any vehicle before it. After two checkout dives, the first dive into an ocean abyss reached a record of 18,150 feet (5,532 meters) on November 15, 1959. The series also included a record deep dive to near the bottom of the Nero Deep in the Marianas Trench at 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and finally culminated with a trip to the bottom of the Challenger Deep at 35,797 feet (10,911 meters) on January 23, 1960.

Trieste is now exhibited at the Navy Museum in Washington.

The Bathyscaphe Trieste is hoisted out of the water in a tropical port, circa 1958-59, soon after her purchase by the Navy. Photo via U.S. Naval Historical Center
A blueprint of the Bathyscaphe Trieste. Image credit: U.S. Navy

Bottom line: On January, 23, 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste made a record-setting dive to the deepest surveyed part of the ocean, known as Challenger Deep.

January 23, 2014

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