Then & Now: Diving in the Mariana Trench

Top:, The Swiss-designed, Italian-built, U.S. Navy bathyscaphe Trieste, January 23, 1960 Bottom: James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible
Top photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie. Bottom photograph by Mark Thiessan




The first explorers to descend to the deepest part of the oceans were U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer and engineer Jacques Piccard. They made their journey on January 23, 1960, in the Swiss-designed, Italian-built, U.S. Navy bathyscaphe Trieste. After a descent that took almost five hours, they reached a depth of 35,800 feet (10,912 meters) in the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep. The bathyscaphe carried no scientific equipment, and no experiments were conducted. Walsh and Piccard stayed on the bottom for 20 minutes before dumping tons of iron pellets to begin an ascent that lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes. (Related: "Man's Deepest Dive" )




James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible deploys technologies unimagined in the 1960s. The craft is much lighter, using a special kind of foam construction to give it both buoyancy and protection from the extreme environment nearly 7 miles (11 kilometers) beneath the surface. Whereas the Trieste took nearly five hours to descend and more than three hours to ascend, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER reached the bottom in about two and a half hours and returned to the surface in 70 minutes. The 21st-century craft can explore the ocean floor for six hours or more, moving around to make photographic and 3-D video images and to collect samples with a mechanical arm.

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