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By David Rooney on

Seven Miles Down, Fifty Years Ago

Stories From The Stores is six months old this week. Woo-hoo!

I’ve been looking over some of my posts. What strikes me most (apart from the appalling puns and gratuitous puppies) is that I’ve failed to say anything about transport beneath the sea. This is all the more remiss given that one of my best friends is a retired nuclear submariner.

Let me make amends. Fifty years ago, on 23 January 1960, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh dived to the bottom of the Marianas Trench (in the Pacific Ocean) in a bathyscaphe (meaning ‘deep boat’) named ‘Trieste’. Here’s a model on show in our Docks & Diving display:

Model of the bathyscaphe 'Trieste' (Science Museum / Science & Society)

The Marianas Trench is seven miles down, making it the greatest known depth in all the oceans. Down there, the pressure on Trieste was eight tons per square inch. The cast-steel cabin weighed 12 tons and the walls were about 3.5 inches thick.

Attached to the bathyscaphe was a Rolex wristwatch, modified to cope with the crushing pressure. It kept ticking throughout the voyage, and we’ve a replica on show in our newly-refurbished Measuring Time gallery:

Modified Rolex 'Oyster' wristwatch, 1960 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Seven miles down! Does that not blow your mind? We’ve colonised land, we’ve walked in space and we’ve set foot on the Moon, yet there’s a wilderness on Earth we’ve barely seen. The deep seas are truly a different world. I’ll have more to say about submarine transport another time…

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