I like science so weird it resembles fiction, which is the essence of my blog, The Probe . While researching anglerfish, I ran across the Bathysphere and found it fascinating that on August 15, 1934, two men descended into depths of the ocean never before traveled.
The Short of It
The first marine biologist to penetrate the perpetual darkness of deep sea and observe and record deep sea creatures in their natural environment was William Beebe (1877-1962). He is considered one of the great naturalist of the early twentieth century. He made his descend in a huge cast-iron ball attached to a cable and set several consecutive world records for the deepest dives ever performed by a human. On his first dive, Beebe—in his Bathysphere—went 3,028 feet beneath the ocean’s surface off the coast of Bermuda.
The Long of It
The Bathysphere, which means deep sphere in Greek, was sketched on a napkin by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt while he and Beebe discussed deep sea exploration. Beebe wanted something simple and not overly mechanical.
Otis Barton (1899-1992), a Harvard graduate with a degree in engineering, who shared a passion for adventure and exploration wanted to build a deep sea vessel, but read about Beebe’s plan and design in The New York Times. He thought Beebe’s design resembled a “laundry boiler”, but worried Beebe might beat him to the realization of his dream.
Barton had enough money to construct the device, and though well off, he did not have enough money to fund his expedition. He asked to be introduced to Beebe and equated getting an audience with the then Director of the Department of Tropical Research of the New York Zoological Society to that of getting an introduction to an Indian chief, or a “potentate” and “twice as wary”.
Beebe had been inundated with crackpot designs from opportunists wishing to join him in his adventure. This delayed Barton’s attempt to facilitate a meeting with Beebe.
When they did meet, Beebe liked the simplicity of Barton’s design and the idea that it was round. Thus, the strong pressure of the deep sea dive would be equally distributed around the ball-like design.
Originally, Beebe had proposed a cylindrical vessel. Barton was leery about a cylinder design and thought it would not withstand the pressure of the depths Beebe hoped to descend.
Barton agreed to fund the construction of the Bathysphere while Beebe secured funding for other expenses. The New York Zoological Society and The National Geographic Society sponsored the first Bathysphere expedition.
I was surprised to learn that during this period in time the maximum depth a submarine could submerge was 383 feet and the sub had no windows, making it useless for Beebe’s exploration and documentation of deep sea creatures. The deepest anyone had been at the time was 525 feet wearing an armored suit.
The Bathysphere design had three windows made of fused quartz—the strongest transparent material available. Originally, only two windows were incorporated and the third became a steel plug. A 400 pound entrance hatch was bolted down before descent.
My next question after my research was: How did they get oxygen?
High pressure cylinders inside the sphere supplied oxygen. Trays of soda lime and calcium chloride, attached to the sphere’s walls, absorbed exhaled carbon dioxide and moisture.
And how do you think Beebe and Barton circulated air past these trays? With palm-leaf fans, of course.
The Bathysphere now resides at the New York Aquarium.
As a child I read Jules Vern’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and watched the movie. I was mesmerized by the thought of exploring the deepest depths of the ocean. I look at the Bathysphere and wonder if I’d have gone with Beebe and Barton had I been given the chance.
How about you, would you have traveled in the Bathysphere?
(ProbeNote: Beebe was one of the first early mentors and supporters of women scientists.)
Here is a You Tube that gives a glimpse of the Bathysphere and the Beebe/Barton expedition. It’s eight minutes. The first four minutes are devoted to the Bathysphere. On my scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 5.
The Probe Mission Statement
The Probe is a blog devoted to the exploration of the unexplainable, to finding the truth in occurrences that resemble science fiction, and to researching and reporting on topics that could be flung upon the wall of weird. New posts are featured every week.
Met my deadline on getting Book 2 of my young adult series THE OTHER KIND to my awesome editor Jamie Rasplicka. Book 1 will be released soon with Book 2 close behind. Fingers crossed.
I’m currently looking for Beta Readers. It pays $50 a book. Email me if you are interested. There’s an envelope in the upper right corner, above the social media icons, click on it and it will take you to my email. What’s a Beta Readers? Someone who reads a writer’s manuscript before it is unleashed on the world. It’s not for proofing and/or editing. I’ve already hired a professional for that. However, if a Beta Reader did find an error, they would bring it to the writer’s attention. Mainly, a Beta Reader tells the writer if the book works, if it’s enjoyable, and would they recommend it to a friend.
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