Andrew Case posted last week on Transterrestrial Musings about the upcoming retirement of the deep-diving submersible ALVIN. A new, deeper-diving sub will replace the 40-year-old veteran of 4,000 dives.
This is sort of sad. I’m excited that a new sub that can go down farther (6,500 meters versus 4,000) is going to come online, but I don’t think there has ever been an underwater machine like the ALVIN.
My introduction to the sub came as a kid reading old back-issues of Popular Mechanics magazine. In 1968 an accident during a launch left the ALVIN sitting on the bottom, 5,000 down. It was almost a year before the ALUMINAUT (which I always saw as a rival to the ALVIN) was on the scene and managed to get a T-bar into the pressure sphere. A ship on the surface winched the ALVIN to the surface, and it was refurbished. For an idea of just how long this little guy has been around, check out some of the other items on the cover of the PM mag that documented the recovery (click for bigger version).
Here is the Woods Hole Oceanagraphic Institute’s ALVIN page. Along with pages on the history, dive stats, and dive-by-dive log, there’s a cool page that shows the current location of the ALVIN (currently in the Bay of Alaska for something or other). Very good stuff.
The new sub is currently scheduled to launch in 2008. According to the Palm Beach Post story I linked to above, it doesn’t have a name yet. I think it needs to be ALVIN 2. Really.
And go check out Andrew Case’s post. He compares the work of the ALVIN over the years to the need for a manned space program and also relates a great story about the testing of the ALVIN’s pressure spheres.