National Geographic : 1954 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine decided television might be a useful tool on at least one problem: that of the archeologists, who were directing the most important dig of their lives and couldn't see the excavation. Television Mirrors the Sea Floor The British Thomson-Houston Company generously offered to cooperate by lending a television camera, cables, monitors, and expert technicians. The Marseille Chamber of Com merce joined in the venture, together with our new French Office of Undersea Research. Dr. Pierre Dratz, of the National Center for Sci entific Research, built a unique wide-angle lens corrected for underwater use, and the watertight caisson (page 14) was built by Andre Laban, able young engineer of the new research office, and myself. I should make clear that we were not trying to broadcast pictures but to experiment with placing an industrial TV camera in an in accessible or dangerous place to transmit pic tures by cable to a monitor, where technicians could watch the process. We located receivers in my quarters on the Calypso (page 17) and in the divers' ready room, so that 20 viewers might be accommodated. We employed the French TV system, in which there are 819 lines on the receiver, almost twice the number used in U. S. com mercial television. Cables leading from the ship to the camera were buoyed at regular intervals to remove their weight, and we de signed the camera housing to carry just enough air to render the unit weightless under water. In the air it weighed 200 pounds. Yves Girault, a splendid diver and general secretary of the French Office of Undersea Research, handled the camera on the first test, a submersion of 65 feet, using natural light. We saw myriads of little jellyfish and a sad, monotonous bottom-a rather ordinary undersea view but exciting to us. Our television worked. World's Brightest Underwater Bulbs The next test was made within the wreck at Grand Congloue, and was witnessed by a party of Marseille notables and engineers from the various outfits that had worked on the project. Jean Delmas, our diving equipment chief, was the cameraman, and we had two additional devices on the camera. One of these was a pair of reflectors hold ing the most powerful diver's electric-light bulbs available, 6,000-watt overvolted Maz das (page 15). Turned on in the air, they would melt and explode in 30 seconds. They can be used only under water, which is the best cooling system. The bulbs cost $90 each and are good for one hour. Our second gadget was unveiled after the lights had glimmered down into the blue and the audience was watching beautiful gorgonian fans passing by the cameraman on his descent. Chignard, electronics engineer of the Chamber of Commerce, took a hand mike and said, "Delmas! Delmas, what are you doing? Correct your focus." A hundred feet down, Delmas heard this as the voice of Poseidon, for there was a loud speaker in the camera case. The watchers on the ship saw the images grow sharper. Delmas had adjusted his focus. He pro ceeded to show us Canoe digging with the suction pipe. The audience took turns saying hello to Canoe, who waved at us from the pit in the ship mound 140 feet down. He could not, of course, answer us, but when we asked him, "Show us that nice dish there at your left knee," he would hold it up. It is im possible to smile while gripping the breath ing tube in your teeth, but we had the im pression of Canoe's ample grin. Delmas then showed us the anchor of the argosy in the recess where it was snagged as the ship sank 22 centuries ago. TV Gives Archeologists Undersea Eyes At first the divers were uncomfortable at being televised; then they accepted it as a reassuring presence, through which they were watched by friends. It gave them a feeling of safety. For the archeologists, the new window on the sea was a revelation. They found them selves employing the newest electronic sci ence in one of man's old studies. Staid specialists, they could sit in warmth and dry comfort and watch an underwater workshop. Their minds were clear. They could con sult each other and direct the work by tele phone. We had had several misunderstandings be tween the specialists and the divers before television. When, for instance, the divers had spoken of the lead plating on the under side of the main deck, the experts said that was a mistake-the plating could only be on the upper surface. The divers got angry. Afterwards they enjoyed turning the TV camera on exhibits of lead plating under the deck.