Beebe and the Bathysphere Sep 23, '17

In the 1930s, William Beebe and Otis Barton used a large steel ball called the Bathysphere to set a submarine depth record that would stand for 30 years.

I recently learned of an initial failed test for their Bathysphere project, one that could have easily killed anyone in the sub as well as people on the surface. They sent the Bathysphere down to a depth of 3,000 feet - unmanned. When they pulled it back up, they could tell something was wrong. There was a small stream of water spraying out from inside it. What happened next was actually captured on video, but I encourage you to read the text description before watching, as it explains some of the things that are happening.

Beebe wrote:

"It was apparent that something was very wrong, and as the bathysphere swung clear I saw a needle of water shooting across the face of the port window. Weighing much more than she should have, she came over the side and was lowered to the deck.

Looking through one of the good windows I could see that she was almost full of water. There were curious ripples on the top of the water, and I knew that the space above was filled with air, but such air as no human being could tolerate for a moment.

Unceasingly the thin stream of water and air drove obliquely across the outer face of the quartz. I began to unscrew the giant wingbolt in the center of the door and after the first few turns, a strange high singing came forth, then a fine mist, steam -like in consistency, shot out, a needle of steam, then another and another.

This warned me that I should have sensed when I looked through the window that the contents of the bathysphere were under terrific pressure. I cleared the deck in front of the door of everyone, staff and crew. One motion picture camera was placed on the upper deck and a second one close to, but well to one side of the bathysphere.

Carefully, little by little, two of us turned the brass handles, soaked with the spray, and I listened as the high, musical tone of impatient confined elements gradually descended the scale, a quarter tone or less at each slight turn. Realizing what might happen; we leaned back as far as possible from the line of fire.

Suddenly without the slightest warning, the bolt was torn from our hands and the mass of heavy metal shot across the deck like a shell from a gun. The trajectory was almost straight and the brass bolt hurtled into the steel winch thirty feet across the deck and sheared a half-inch notch gouged out by the harder metal. This was followed by a solid cylinder of water, which slackened after a while to a cataract, pouring out of the hole in the door, some air mingled with the water looking like hot steam. Instead of compressed air shooting through ice-cold water.

If I had been in the way, I would have been decapitated. "
Excerpt taken from Half Mile Down by William Beebe. I came across it while searching for information about water pressure at various depths.

I also found out that Amazon has it for sale:
(affiliate link)

From that text, I was able to track down a video of the incident from 1934:

This additional video of the expedition goes more in depth on the discoveries and how they relate to modern oceanographic science:

The depth record of Beebe and Barton (3,028 feet, or over 1,300 pounds of pressure per square inch) lasted until the 1960s when the Alvin research sub opened new horizons in undersea exploration.

The fact that they very well could have been smushed into a gooey paste at any moment is a solid argument for Remote exploration of the sea, don't you think? But, we owe much of what we can do with ROVs to their bravery and determination. True explorers, in every sense.

Published: September 23, 2017