Thursday, June 22, 2006


I had a real treat this evening. The locale SNAME section had it's last technical session of the year, a visit to the US Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard, followed by light dinner and a recap of the season's technical presentations.

The museum is not open to the general public, since it is on a secure military base. But it's not like it's Area 51 - we have meetings there regularly, and so we had no trouble setting up a visit to the museum. We only had an hour to wander around, but it was great for a naval buff like myself.

Titanium pressure sphere, identical to the one installed on DSV-2 Alvin


A step back from the sphere, better showing the three small portholes and the hatch

Out in front of the museum, they have a pressure sphere identical to the one used to make the first dives to the wreck of the Titanic. It is so perfectly smooth, and almost featureless; from certain angles, it looks like a piece of abstract art. Knowing the technical specs makes it even more impressive: 1.93 inches of titanium, weighing 7500 pounds and capable of diving to 12000 feet. It replaced a steel sphere of the same size that was 1.33 inches thick, but weighed 1000 pounds more, and could only go to 6000 feet.

A model of the USS Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manilla. The real ship is currently displayed in Philadelphia

Interior of the US Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard

Model of the battleship USS Vermont

Information plate for the Vermont model

Conning tower, entry passage, and pressure sphere of the bathyscaphe Trieste

Note the propulsion pod near the bow, and the forward iron shot container

Trieste's stern, including the after shot hopper, the rudder with sacrificial manganese strips, and the after propulsion pod

Another view of her underside

Detail on the bow

Detail of the single porthole. Five inches of german steel, and a reinforced plexiglass cone, and you can go to the very bottom of the sea

Trieste's original pressure sphere

The real highlight of the evening was getting to see the bathyscaphe Trieste. I geeked out a little, and started to lecture at some length to the other engineers about the vessel. Two of the museum curators came by to shoo us out since they were closing up, and they said they would hire me as a guide for the tourists, I knew so much about her. She was built in the 1950's by Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard and his son, Jacques. She's like a balloon that goes underwater; Piccard had actually become famous studying cosmic rays by ascending in high-altitude balloons, which inspired the bathyscaphe design.

Eventually, with upgrades and support from the US Navy, the Trieste descended to the absolute bottom of the ocean, the Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench. Seven miles down. When I was in fourth grade, my friend Peter bought a copy of a book with that title, Seven Miles Down, from the middle school library book sale, and gave it to me. It cost a nickel. That book changed my life. That awakened love of exploration, and science, and the sea, that has shaped my life ever since. Because of that book I became a sailor, joined the Coast Guard, and became a naval architect. I still have it - I keep it on my bedside table.

So, getting the chance to see the boat I dreamed of as a kid was a great thrill.

Recreation of the gun deck on Constitution Posted by Picasa

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1 comment:

Kelly said...

Sounds like you had an evening you will never forget. You could hear the passion in your blog - very neat! It is alway interesting to hear about what people have kept from childhood and what those objects has led them to.