Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Piece of History in the Family

Radioman Oliver Wendell Wiggins... dad.
At the teletype machine at Naval Station Guam.
  My dad served in the U.S. Navy as a radioman. Back in 1960 he was stationed at Guam and on January 23, 1960 he became a small part of oceanographic history when as part of his job he relayed via teletype (teletype is an electromechanical typewriter used to send and receive typed messages from point to point - essentially a telegram) the story which was unfolding in the Marianas Trench off of Guam. I had heard him talk of it a time or two but in going through some stored papers today I came across his copy of the actual teletype story. The event involved Dr. Andreas Rechnitzer who, along with Dr. Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, descended in the bathyscaphe “Trieste” into the deepest part of the ocean - the Marianas Trench.
  I’ve always loved everything about the ocean and as I read this folded paper about one of the most historic submersible feats in history I was captivated, not to mention proud that my father was there. So, I am sharing here with you the account as written, without the obligatory telegram breaks and punctuations though. I hope you enjoy.
  Dr. Andreas Rechnitzer who is the scientist in charge of the Navy’s deep-sea diving sphere, “Trieste,” that broke the world record Sunday, had some interesting tales to relate after having submerged to the bottom of the sea during a scientific dive.
  Dr. Rechnitzer was accompanied by Dr. Jacques Piccard when they shattered the depth record of 13400 feet by descending to the unprecedented depth of 18600 feet.
  “It was indeed a great sensation coming face to face with the bottom of the ocean,” said the senior scientist after his historic adventure.
  Heavy seas and inclement weather postponed the dive for two days and finally on Sunday morning at 1000 (10:00 am) the two scientists commenced their historic journey.
  “We left the attending vessels bobbing on the rough surface as we descended untethered and on our own into the eerie calm below,” said Doctor Rechnitzer.
  With one lone pilot fish following them curiously for their first few feet, the blimp-shaped vessel settled slowly into the deep marianas trench at an average of one mile per hour.
  “At the surface the sun-lit water appeared as an electrifying blue through the eight inch thick plastic windows,” stated Dr. Rechnitzer.
  After a thousand feet the sea darkened to midnight black, but at 1500 feet, the phenomenon of bioluminescence gave the illusion of a starry night.
  “Numerous tiny greenish white lights surrounded us,” said the senior scientist.
  At 6000 ft the quantity of living underwater lights dwindled and once again it was black.
  On the bottom for only ten minutes he observed no fish, only shrimp and numerous small holes of burrowing animals, according to Dr. Rechnitzer.
  At exactly 3 1/3 miles from the surface, Dr. Rechnitzer had the first glimpse by man of the ocean floor in the Marianas Trench, almost a full mile deeper than man has ever gone.
  “Dropping ballast to slow our descent for landing on the bottom, created billows of underwater dust which temporarily obscured details of the sea floor,” said Dr. Rechnitzer.
  A biting temperature of 42 degrees inside of the sphere was the major physical discomfort endured by the two men despite the fact that they were confined 5 and 1/2 hours in a space equal to that of normal household refrigerator. The 36 degree temperature outside, had penetrated the thick walls of the bathyscaph by the time they reached the bottom. It was particularly annoying to the pair of scientists who were wet from the waist down from boarding the vessel in rough water.
  The ascent was just as smooth as the descent. They appeared on the surface after 5 and 1/2 hours at nearly the origin of the dive, indicating that there was relatively little deep wake current.
  This phase of the Navys global long-term oceanographic and marine research program to explore the deep ocean has been in the planning for two years. The bathyscaph, Trieste was purchased by the Navy in 1958, from Professor Auguste Piccard.
  The tests are being conducted under the joint sponsorship of Naval Electronics Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research. Some of the underwater data being sought includes more knowledge of sunlight penetration, underwater visibility, natural underwater sounds, transmission of man-made sounds, water currents, water temperatures, sea floor configurations, and the effect of deep water pressures on various mechanical devices.
  As Dr. Rechnitzer put it, “We probably know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the bottom of the Ocean.” This series of dives and exploration will undoubtedly bring to light many mysteries yet unknown to mankind. 
Bathyscaph "Trieste" after its historic journey to the ocean depths
January 23, 1960

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