Washington January 23, 2010 (seawaves.com) -- Fifty years ago on Jan. 23, 1960, two men set a deep-diving record, plunging their vessel, the Trieste, 35,810 feet to the deepest known point on the Earth's surface, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench.
It was a feat that many considered the ocean exploration equivalent of putting the first man on the moon, as the Trieste became the first, and only, manned vessel to reach the floor of the Challenger Deep. On Jan. 23, that historic dive is celebrated by the naval and scientific communities, in particular the Office of Naval Research, which purchased the Swiss-Italian-made bathyscaphe, or deep sea boat, in 1958 to support the Navy's new deep submergence program and submarine rescue operations.
"The 'high-risk, high-payoff' maxim is synonymous with the Office of Naval Research," said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of naval research, as he reflected on the anniversary of the Trieste dive. "That was true 50 years ago when ONR saw the potential for both scientific investigation and naval service in the Trieste. And it's true today as we continue to play a critical role in advancing scientific knowledge with a focus on the 'next big thing' for our Navy and Marine Corps warfighters."
The Trieste's nine-hour dive reinforced the importance of deep-ocean access to operational security and laid the foundation for the Navy's deep-submergence program. In 1963, the Trieste was used to locate the sunken nuclear submarine USS Thresher, and collected photos and other data from another sunken submarine, USS Scorpion. In 1980, the Trieste was retired and placed on display in the Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard.
The two men who navigated the Trieste, Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, son of Swiss physicist and the vessel's designer, Auguste Piccard, also received global recognition for the dive. Piccard passed away in November 2008. Walsh, a retired Navy captain, and other deep-sea scientists are expected to attend a series of events marking the Trieste's historic voyage. Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Geographic Society and the Navy, a private group has planned several events in April in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Trieste's achievement.