National Geographic : 2009 Jul
Overhauling Alvin It illuminated the Titanic, discovered hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, even located a lost hydrogen bomb. Now Alvin is ready for a new adventure: a major makeover. After 45 years and 4,500 dives, America's hardest working, deepest descending submersible is slated for its biggest overhaul since 1973. According to Anthony Tarantino of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which operates the Navy-owned vessel, the upgrades will occur in two phases over several years, as funding permits. Those changes (above) will let the nimble, small-truck-size sub, which transports a pilot and two scientists, do more things better---like dive four miles instead of 2.8, and survey 99 percent of the ocean bottom versus 63. So don't think of it as a midlife crisis; consider it Alvin 2.0, retrofitted for 21st-century exploration. ---Jeremy Berlin ART: DON FOLEY. PHOTO: DAN FORNARI, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION The deep-sea submersible Alvin, built in 1964, was named after Woods Hole engineer and geophysicist Allyn Vine. TECHNOLOGY ALVIN UPDATES The famed submersible is getting a makeover. Air tanks Camera Video and Lighting High-definition cameras and LED lights will provide better images. Thruster A forward lateral one will make turning sharper, movement easier. Batteries Lithium-ion will replace lead-acid, enabling Alvin to stay on the bottom 8 hours instead of 6. Manipulators On swivels, the "arms" will be stowed so they do not block the view. Sample Basket A stronger version will bear bigger loads. Personnel Sphere An 18 percent expansion will offer more room for equipment, passengers.