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Beebe and Barton with the bathysphere Deep-Sea Machines
by Jennifer Uscher

The bathysphere—bathys is Greek for "deep"—was developed in the early 1930s by William Beebe and Otis Barton, two explorers from the New York Zoological Society. It was a 4,500-pound hollow steel ball about five feet in diameter,which was raised and lowered from a ship by a cable. Electrical connections powered its oxygen system and searchlight. Air came from oxygen tanks fitted to the interior, with trays of powdered chemicals to absorb moisture and carbon dioxide. The oxygen was kept circulating by hand-held woven palm-frond fans. In 1934, Beebe and Barton dropped 3,028 feet down into the ocean off the coast of Bermuda, relaying news of their finds by telephone cable to a ship on the surface. They recorded every animal that passed before their portholes, including fish and invertebrates never before seen. Because of the attached steel cable and winch, the bathysphere wasn't very maneuverable; it could only go straight down and straight back up again.

Trieste Bathyscaph
The bathyscaph, designed by Belgian scientist Auguste Piccard (1884-1962), was not suspended from a surface vessel but rather attached to a free-floating tank. (The tank was filled with petroleum liquid, which is lighter than water and hence buoyant.) Piccard's first bathyscaph, the FNRS-2, was referred to as the "submarine balloon" because its heavy-metal ballast, attached by electromagnets, allowed it to sink to a desired depth when engaged and rise to the surface when released. It had greater maneuverability than the bathysphere, Trieste though it did not fare well in tests. Piccard and his son Jacques later designed and built a new bathyscaph, the Trieste. In 1953, they descended in it to a depth of 10,330 feet in the Mediterranean. The Piccards sold the Trieste to the U.S. Navy in 1958. On January 23, 1960, the Trieste set a new world record of 35,800 feet when it touched bottom in the Marianas Trench near Guam. When the American submarine Thresher sank off the coast of New England in 1963, the Trieste was used to find and photograph the remains at the bottom of the sea.

Alvin Alvin
The Alvin submersible is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Considered the world's most productive submersible, it routinely makes more than 150 dives a year. It has been re-built numerous times since it was first designed in 1964. The original aluminum frame has been replaced by titanium, and the depth range has been increased from 13,124 feet to 14,764 feet. In 1966, Alvin, together with a Navy robot, retrieved a hydrogen bomb lost in the Mediterranean after the collision of an American B-52 Alvin and a refueling tanker. During preparations for a dive off Cape Cod in 1968, the steel cables used to raise and lower Alvin into the water snapped, sending it 5,065 feet to the seafloor (fortunately with no one on board). When it was retrieved 11 months later, scientists were stunned to find that the bologna sandwich contained in a plastic box in the sunken submersible was still edible.

Continue: Johnson Sea Link

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