Deepsea Challenger Leads to Historic Learning Opportunity

Story Number: NNS130612-07Release Date: 6/12/2013 2:59:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford, Communication Outreach Division Navy History and Heritage Command

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Naval History and Heritage Command's Cold War Gallery presented the submersible Deepsea Challenger to school-age children, June 10.

The Deepsea Challenger is a submarine designed by James Cameron, Academy Award-winning film director and diver, and Ron Allum, Deepsea Challenger pilot. The craft was built to explore the Marianas Trench's deepest point of "Challenger Deep". In March of 2012, Cameron, diving solo in Deepsea Challenger, replicated the U.S. Navy's Bathyscaphe Trieste's 1960 dive of nearly 11 kilometers (7 miles) into Challenger Deep.

The submarine Deepsea Challenger, with advances in technology, measures less than a third the size of the Bathyscaphe. The submarine descended in less time, was able to record footage of the dive, and was able to stay at the bottom of the trench for more than three hours - six times the amount of time logged by the original explorers.

The Deepsea Challenger was brought to the Navy Yard to be with the Trieste, which is housed in the National Museum of the United States Navy.

"We wanted them to both to be at the same place at the same time, we couldn't pass up that opportunity," said Christina Symons (PhD), geologist, Cameron's expedition.

The dive was a part of the National Geographic Deepsea Challenge expedition, which took Cameron, Allum and a team of engineers, scientists, educators, and journalists, to the greatest depths of the ocean-places where sunlight doesn't penetrate and pressure can be a thousand times what is experienced on land. After years of preparation, the team went to the Marianas Trench, a 1,500-mile-long scar at the bottom of the western Pacific Ocean.

The National Museum of the United States Navy presented the event to children of four different age groups from their "Home School at the Museum" program. "Home School at the Museum" is an annual series of classes hosted by the museum that allow children to learn about Navy history and make hands-on experiments designed to explain different scientific theories and laws as part of the NHHC's interest in promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The scientists of the expedition were really excited to speak with the children.

"We thought it would be great opportunity to make a stop and talk to people to inspire the next James Cameron and encourage science," said Symons.

The students began at NHHC's Cold War Gallery on Washington Navy Yard, by learning about some of the Navy's explorers. Karen Hill, National Museum of the United States Navy educator, presented the children with histories of African-American north pole explorer Matthew Henson, south seas explorer Charles Wilkes and Trieste co-pilot Don Walsh. She also discussed Trieste's 1960's dive and gave students some background about Deepsea Challenger.

The Deepsea Challenger took cues from the Trieste, including ballast use in such extraordinary dives.

"Mr. Walsh had little metal shot that he could release, we had 300 pounds of that on this sub," said Symons.

Symons spoke with students about the Challenger dive, showed the children the submersible, explained how it worked and answered questions about the expedition.

While the Deepsea Challenger is a much more advanced vessel than the bathyscaphe Trieste, the sphere attached to Trieste allowed for two pilots to submerge while the sphere that allowed Cameron to pilot the sub did not even leave a lot of room for the pilot.

"When he got in it, he was sitting with his knees up to his nose," said Symons. "[The sphere] was 43 inches in diameter, but he had computers, video screens and all sorts of things. So 43 inches is pretty liberal. He probably only had about 39 or 38 inches. So it was a tight squeeze."

The dive provided a lot of scientific data and specimens. Dijanna Figueroa (PhD), marine biologist, showed the students some photographs of the marine specimens Cameron saw at the ocean floor. She told them search for life on the bottom of the ocean is something that might help us understand life in our universe a little better.

"The more we learn about life on the bottom of the ocean and how it has adapted to the extreme environment, the more we can understand how life might evolve or adapt on other planets or planetary bodies like the moon of Jupiter, Europa," said Figueroa. "We think there is an ocean there, so perhaps organisms or life can actually survive down there."

Cameron became friends with Capt. Don Walsh (ret.), Trieste's co-pilot. He was there for the director's dive as well.

"He was the last hand that Jim shook before he went down, and he was the first to meet him when he came back," said Symons.

Symons was amazed by the Challenger Deep dive.

"I was sitting on the ship, and I thought 'this is the closest I will ever get to a moon landing,' said Symons. "I was pumped, jazzed, excited, a little nervous - but not much, because these guys did a lot of work on it for a long time and did a lot of testing."

For more information on the Trieste visit NHHC's website at and for information on the Deepsea Challenger submersible and expedition visit .

Christina Symons, Ph.D., speaks with students about the submersible Deepsea Challenger
130610-N-CS953-002 WASHINGTON (June 10, 2013) Christina Symons, Ph.D., speaks with students about the submersible Deepsea Challenger during National Museum of the United States Navy "Homeschool" at Navy History and Heritage Command. Deepsea Challenger dove almost seven miles into the "Challenger Deep," of the Marianas Trench. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)
June 11, 2013
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