National Geographic


Then and Now

The first explorers to descend to the deepest part of the oceans were U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer and engineer Jacques Piccard.

They made their journey on January 23, 1960, in the Swiss-designed, Italian-built, United States Navy bathyscaphe Trieste. After a descent that took almost five hours, they reached a depth of 35,800 feet (10,912 meters) in the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep. The bathyscaphe carried no scientific equipment, and no experiments were conducted. Walsh and Piccard stayed on the bottom for 20 minutes before dumping tons of iron pellets to begin an ascent that lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes.

James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible deploys technologies unimagined in the 1960s. The craft is much lighter, using a special kind of foam to give it both buoyancy and protection from the extreme environment nearly 7 miles (11 kilometers) beneath the surface. Whereas the Trieste took nearly five hours to descend and more than three hours to ascend, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER reached the bottom in about two and a half hours and returned to the surface in 70 minutes. The 21st-century craft can explore the ocean floor for six hours or more, moving around to make photographic and 3-D video images and to collect samples with a mechanical arm.

Trieste 1960


150 tons 11.8 tons
Two pilots Single pilot
Descent: 4 hours, 48 minutes Descent: 2 hour and a half hours
Ascent: 3 hours, 15 minutes Ascent: 70 minutes
Unable to take photos 8 HD cameras, including 4 outside the sub, a manipulator arm, CTD sensor, sample box, push core samplers, suction sampler, bot
20 minutes at the bottom 3 hours at the bottom

Trieste 50th Anniversary: Geographic Honors Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Radio Interview With Don Walsh, Team Member of the Trieste

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