National Geographic : 1960 Aug
indicating speed of descent and ascent, had been completely demolished during the tow ing, though it rode eight feet above water level and had weathered more than 50 dives. Another instrument, a vertical current meter, was partly broken and hanging mis erably on its support. The bathyscaph looked like a victim of battle rather than an undersea laboratory about to explore the Mariana Trench-the deepest place in the oceans. Torches Mark Scene of Dive It was hardly daylight. A few dozen yards away on the water burned some flares which our escort destroyer had placed to show us the exact spot where the dive should begin. In deed, the bottom had been carefully sounded. More than 800 TNT explosions had followed one another for two days before the Chal lenger Deep was marked (map, page 228). All that work, those four days of laborious towing, the unavoidable fatigue that resulted for the crew-was it all to be lost? Should we risk months of delay because a few instru ments-important, to be sure, but not vital were lacking? "I am going to check the main electric cir cuits in the sphere," I replied to Buono. "Then, if everything is in order, we shall dive immediately." The main electric circuits control release of ballast. One of my father's basic ideas when he invented the bathyscaph was to hold the ballast-in this case mainly iron pellets-by means of electromagnets. Hence it is neces sary merely to cut the current, an operation that is always possible, in order to lighten the bathyscaph and cause it to ascend automati cally. The bathyscaph functions like a bal loon in the sea, deriving its buoyancy from lighter-than-water gasoline instead of the bal loon's lighter-than-air gas. Don Walsh joined us on the bathyscaph's deck. Lieutenant Walsh, the U. S. Navy of ficer in charge of the Trieste, had already made six dives, the latest to 24,000 feet with me two weeks previously. This dive we were making was to be deci sive for Don as well as for me: If everything went as planned, he would take over as the bathyscaph's pilot, and I, having shown the Trieste's capabilities to the utmost, would re turn to Switzerland and set to work construct ing a new machine. In the sphere the air was good-fresh and dry, thanks to the silica gel placed on board before our departure from Guam. This does 226 not mean we were comfortable. The big gaso line-filled float above our spherical cabin was the plaything of the waves, and the whole machine was rocking hard. Under these conditions the foremost desire of a cabin passenger is to penetrate as quickly as possible into the depths, which alone can shield him from the rolling waves. I hurry up the ladder onto the deck and give final instructions to Buono. "When I have closed the door," I tell him, "you may open the entrance-tube valves and proceed with normal operations. If, at the last moment, something doesn't go well, I shall turn the propellers, and you will know that we must give up the dive." This simple code is to take the place of the surface telephone, destroyed by the sea during the towing. From the cabin I can turn the propellers, located on deck in Buono's sight, and halt operations if something goes wrong-for example, in the unlikely event of water entering the cabin through an improp erly shut hatch. As soon as the bathyscaph is entirely under water, the undersea telephone will go into ac tion, and contact will be established with our friends on the surface. Definitely the sea is not calming down. It is broad daylight now. A few hundred yards away the Wandank is rolling and pitching more than ever. Having released the bathy scaph, she now seems to be at loose ends. A little farther away I see the Lewis, dis appearing entirely every few moments behind the big waves. She is the destroyer escort assigned to assist us on the surface and to watch over the area during the dive. Single Bolt Seals Bathyscaph Hatch The sky is heavy, overcast. The weather is hot and humid. We are in the tropics, and the Trieste's deck is constantly swept by the waves. The moment does not lend itself to medi tation. I go down into the cabin again, and the heavy steel hatch that will protect us from the sea is carefully closed. Indeed, a single bolt is all that is needed to close it hermeti cally. At the bottom, nearly 3,000 tons of water will see that the hatch remains closed! Through the rear porthole we see water ris ing in the entrance tube, by which we came into the cabin. During the dive, this tube must be filled with water. With compressed air we shall blow it out when we reach the surface after the dive, thus clearing the pas sage to the deck and the open air.