An Unmatched Journey To Mysterious Ocean Depths In 1960, Don Walsh was one of two men who descended to the deepest point in all the world's oceans — nearly seven miles below the surface in the Mariana Trench. In 50 years, no person has repeated the feat. Walsh was honored in Washington this week for his service by the Navy, the Smithsonian and the National Geographic Society.
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An Unmatched Journey To Mysterious Ocean Depths

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An Unmatched Journey To Mysterious Ocean Depths

An Unmatched Journey To Mysterious Ocean Depths

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GUY RAZ, Host:

Welcome and congratulations to you.

DON WALSH: Thank you. It's good to be here and help tell the story.

RAZ: Now, before I ask you about the dive, tell me how you got involved in the project at all.

WALSH: So, I put my hand up, and I didn't have to put it up very far because there was only one volunteer.

RAZ: So, it looked like a kind of a capsule with a huge bladder above it. You describe it as the size of a Greyhound bus.

WALSH: Yeah. Actually, to really simplify it for your listeners, it's nothing more than a balloon. And if you take that whole notion of a balloon and put it in the ocean, you have to have a lighter-than-water substance so it'll float. Oil floats on water, doesn't it?

RAZ: Right.

WALSH: So, we fill this balloon with 35,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. And suspended beneath it was the cabin to protect the fragile humans and that's all there was to it.

RAZ: So tell me about that day, January 23rd, 1960, the day that the Trieste was sent down seven miles beneath the ocean surface.

WALSH: 7:30 in the morning, we began the dive and took us about five hours and some change to get to the sea floor.

RAZ: You were in this tiny pressurized vessel. Was there much to see or was it pitch black?

WALSH: Well, it's pitch black after about, let's say, 500 feet. And in the deep sea, beyond the penetration of sunlight, there's a lot of bioluminescence. These organisms are emitting light. And the feeling as you went pass through these colonies of organisms was like when you were in the house looking out the window and it's snowing and the lights reflecting off the snowflakes coming down.

RAZ: Oh, yeah.

WALSH: But in our case, the snowflakes, if you were coming up, 'cause we're passing down through these animals.

RAZ: Were you nervous at any point? I mean, we're talking about 200,000 tons of pressure exerted on this capsule. I mean, were you ever nervous that it might just collapse (unintelligible)?

WALSH: Well, the thing is, Guy, if it did collapse, it would be instantaneous. You wouldn't even be aware of it. As we approached the bottom, we pretty well knew what the water depth was. And when we got to about 35,000 feet, I turned on the fathometer, which would allow us to get a trace or a printout on a chart that shows you the bottom coming up. And at 35,000 - no bottom; 36,000 feet - no bottom; 37,000 - no bottom. What's going on? Did we find a new place? At 37,800 feet, we finally landed on the bottom.

RAZ: Tell me, Don Walsh, why do you think there wasn't more sort of hoopla made of your dive in 1960? I mean, it has been compared to the moon landing.

WALSH: Yeah. With apologies to Tom Wolf, we had the right stuff but the wrong direction, I guess. But that bothered me over all those years. Not me personally, but why wasn't that used as a springboard to move us into the ocean depths to do more? This is one world record that a person should take no pride in holding for half a century, because that means people weren't out there exploring our oceans.

RAZ: Don Walsh, thank you so much.

WALSH: Thank you for having me.

RAZ: And to see pictures of Don Walsh and the 1960 Trieste Bathyscaphe mission, visit our website,

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