Little Bits of History

June 5

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 5, 2017

1964: The DSV Alvin is commissioned. DSV stands for deep-submergence vehicle and while most are used by the US Navy, other vehicles can be accurately described as capable of deep submerges. There are two distinct types of DSV with one being for research, as the Alvin is, and the other used for rescues which can also be used for espionage, exploring, and surveying. Alvin belongs to the US Navy but is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). WHOI (pronounced hoo-ee) was established in 1930 as a marine research and engineering nonprofit. They are the largest independent oceanographic research institution in the world. Alvin was built by Litton Systems as a replacement for the less maneuverable bathyscaphes in use at the time.

Alvin’s design was possible in part because of the development of syntactic foam, a buoyant strong material invented in 1955 and available in the early 1960s. Alvin is 23 feet 4 inches long and 8 feet 6 inches wide with a height of 12 feet 2 inches. It can hold a crew of three, one pilot and two scientists. It can dive to 21,300 feet and has a trip length of 72 hours with the three crew. It also has two robotic arms and can be filled with mission specific equipment. The section of the vehicle holding the crew can, in an emergency, be detached and float uncontrolled to the surface. Alvin is launched from a support vessel, RV Atlantis which is also owned by the Navy and operated by WHOI.

Alvin was the first of its ship class and was built to dive to 8,010 feet. Each of the ensuing Alvin-class vehicles have been built to different specifications. Alvin has also been used by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The first test dive was done tethered and unmanned. Alvin was sent to 7,500 feet and stayed for twelve hours. The first manned test dive took place on July 20, 1965 went to a depth of 6,000 feet. On March 17, 1966 Alvin located a 1.45 megaton hydrogen bomb at a depth of 2,990 feet and raised it without incident. After several more escapades, including a swordfish attack, the Alvin was lost while being transported. The hatch was open at the time and although the three crew escaped, the craft filled with water and was lost in 4,900 feet of water about 100 miles south of Nantucket Island.

Alvin was located but it took nearly a year before she was lifted from the depths. She was towed back to WHOI and in 1973 the pressure hull was replaced, this time with a newer titanium hull, giving Alvin an even greater depth range. Her most famous explorations were among the ruins of HMS Titanic. During the dives a remotely operated vehicle, Jason Jr., was able to venture closer to the wreckage and take amazing pictures. Alvin has seen a few overhauls which extended the lifetime use of the DSV and she was still in operation as of 2016.

But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean. – H. P. Lovecraft

Every time you dive, you hope you’ll see something new – some new species. Sometimes the ocean gives you a gift, sometimes it doesn’t. – James Cameron

Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean. – Christopher Reeve

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean. – Arthur C. Clarke


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