National Geographic


Expedition Journal

Don Walsh Visits the Expedition Team

Sydney, Australia

“I expected to find pieces; I didn’t expect to find your vehicle almost operational,” said 81-year-old Don Walsh as he looked at the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, the most sophisticated deep-sea submarine ever built.

Fifty-two years ago today, Don was one of two men who climbed into the 150-ton bathyscaphe Trieste, closed the hatch, dropped through 7 miles (11 kilometers) of water to the seafloor, and returned to the surface. His record-breaking dive was to the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on the planet. The former U.S. Navy commander and pilot of the Trieste is here in Sydney for a week, and he’ll be on board with us when our team sets out toward the trench.

Don, the former dean of marine programs and professor of ocean engineering at the University of Southern California, is a longtime friend of Jim’s. For the past ten years, Jim has been briefing him on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER project. They’ve spent days discussing the physics, geology, and biology of the deep ocean and the highly complex systems needed to make a successful seven-mile (11-kilometer) dive.

Today, Jim and Don, who’s affectionately called an “ocean encyclopedia,” poured over the charts of the western Pacific and walked around the new sub, examining every component, including the one-person crew sphere, lithium-ion batteries, its mechanical arm, 3-D cameras, and an array of LED lights on the sub’s forward surface.

Don wears his claim to fame gracefully, and he’s delighted with the success of his fellow ocean explorers. At one point during the day he turned to Jim and grinned. “If you hit the bottom going fast enough,” he said, “you’ll break my record.”

Written by Dr. Joe MacInnis

Photograph by Joe MacInnis

1960 Dive
Then and Now: Trieste vs. DEEPSEA CHALLENGER
Video Interview: Don Walsh Recalls Dive

Science Partners

  • Additional major support provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Guam