September 19, 1957 – Bathyscaphe Treiste Reaches Record Depth

Bathyscaphe Trieste


On September 19, 1957, a curious creature containing iron pellets, gasoline, oxygen, and two humanoids visited the aquatic denizens of the deep, two miles below the gentle waves and warm breezes of the Mediterranean Sea.  The mysterious mechanical interloper was the bathyscaphe Trieste, a deep-submergence vehicle originally conceived, designed, and constructed by Swiss physicist and inventor August Piccard, on a successful voyage to set a new diving depth record.  Piccard coined the term “bathyscaphe” from two Greek words: “bathos”, meaning “deep”; and “scaphos”, meaning “ship”.  The bathyscaphe consisted of a float chamber filled with gasoline for buoyancy (gasoline is less dense than water, and naturally wants to rise to the water’s surface) and a pressure chamber for two crew members.  Piccard’s first bathyscaphe, the FNRS-2 had been constructed in 1947.  Using what he learned from his early explorations, Piccard then designed the Trieste, which was built in 1952 in the town of Trieste, Italy, with the support of many local individuals, companies and institutions.

Between 1953 and October of 1957, the Trieste completed 48 dives in the Mediterranean.  Its success attracted the interest of the United States Office of Naval Research, which purchased the Trieste and assigned it to the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego, California.

Trieste Diagram by Ralph Sutherland

The Trieste’s float chambers were more than 50 feet long and contained 22,500 gallons of gasoline.  Water ballast tanks were added at each end of the float section.  The crew’s pressure chamber was slightly over 7 feet long and contained completely independent life-support systems, including a rebreather system with oxygen tanks and a carbon dioxide scrubber.  The bathyscaphe was battery-powered and operated by the French Navy during its Mediterranean adventures.  Nine tons of magnetic iron pellets in ballast silos, and an electromagnetic control system, allowed the Trieste to descend and ascend.  Crew members observed the underwater scenery by one cone-shaped window of acrylic glass with illumination by quartz arc-light bulbs outside the ship.  Everything on the Trieste had to be designed to withstand the over 1000 atmospheres of pressure found at the extreme depths Piccard wanted to explore.

Image Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

August 19, 1957 – Dr. David Simons Sets New Altitude Record

On August 19, 1957, Air Force physician and space flight researcher Dr. David Simons reached a record altitude of 102,000 feet (over 19 miles) above the earth in a telephone-booth-sized, air-conditioned capsule suspended from a helium balloon.  Dr. Simons had conducted earlier experiments with monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, and human volunteers to investigate reactions to weightlessness and the hazards of exposure to primary cosmic radiation.  But in August of 1957, as part of the Air Force’s Man High Project, it was Simons’ turn to experience the world from a vantage point beyond 99% of the earth’s atmosphere.  Life published an article about the historic flight, “A Journey No Man Had Taken,” during which Dr. Simons conducted  25 experiments armed with cameras, a 5-inch telescope, a tape recorder, a microphone taped to his chest, and photographic cosmic ray bombardment track plates taped to his arms and chest.  He observed the moon and Venus, aurora borealis and cloud formations.  He stated that his most important finding was that with the right equipment, humans could survive at the very edge of space.

Simons took off from a deep, open-pit iron mine in Crosby, Minnesota and landed, 32 hours and 10 minutes later, in a field in South Dakota.  In his Life article, Dr. Simons described seeing a “purplish-black” sky, etched with thin bands of blue.  Thin shells of dust “hovered over the Earth like a succession of halos.”  He later wrote a book, with Don A. Schanche, about his experiences, titled “Man High.”  A sign he posted on the inside of his capsule warned, “Have all the fun you want, but don’t jump up and down.”

In the days after the “high point” of his career, as his commanding officer Col. John Paul Stapp jokingly put it, Dr. David Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He continued to conduct research, including studies on radio telemetry for in-flight medical monitoring.  After his retirement, he became fascinated with and researched pain and myofascial trigger points, co-authoring in 1983 a still-standard text on the subject.

Image Credit: Life magazine