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A hungry heart to regulate their breathing
August 14, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

In July 1969, just two days prior to the launch of Apollo 11, six intrepid aquanauts climbed into a submarine built in the mountains of Switzerland, slipped beneath the waves near Palm Beach, Florida, and switched off their motors. Thirty-one days later, they surfaced about 300 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia, having drifted 1444 miles in the Grumman/Piccard research submersible PX-15 Ben Franklin.

Popular Mechanics provided advance notice, giving the Ben Franklin's upcoming mission their usual lush illustrations and exuberant technical prose. With the national mania surrounding the first manned moon landing in full flower, the project failed to capture the attention of the public, but NASA's other cooperative mission of July 1969 left a legacy of information that proved invaluable in planning Skylab and the International Space Station, as well as proposed longer manned space missions. After running aground in 1971, the Ben Franklin was sold into private hands and sat rusting and forgotten in a boatyard until 1999, when it was recovered, restored, and put on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, which also provides a detailed page on the submarine, including an excellent virtual tour.

The captain's log is a particularly charming piece of history—embellished with hand-drawn artwork growing more whimsical with each entry, it brings a wry and very human wit to the captain's depth and distance charts.
posted by sonascope (31 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Guess what colour it was.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:38 AM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ha! Those drawings are a crack up.. especially of the scientist and the fish looking at each other sadly through the thick glass...
posted by ReeMonster at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2011


Yellow
posted by sammyo at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2011


You know the artist composed the entire thing around the giant squid.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 AM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The carbon monoxide level was up to 20 ppm. We ran the contaminant removal system for 1 hour. The mission was getting to be quite routine now with plenty of sleep for everyone.

*heh* I know that's really not a lot of CO, but followed immediately by "plenty of sleep for everyone" it all sounds a bit ominous.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


The carbon monoxide level was up to 20 ppm. We ran the contaminant removal system for 1 hour. The mission was getting to be quite routine now with plenty of sleep for everyone.

I was cheerfully informed at the Berlin nuclear bomb shelter museum that the plan was to keep the oxygen levels low and the Co2 levels slightly elevated to keep everyone drowsy and docile. The 3-tiered stacked cots were called Cinderella Beds.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


the plan was to keep the oxygen levels low and the Co2 levels slightly elevated

That's a lot safer overall than having elevated CO levels. CO2 can be released by your hemoglobin. CO grabs on and never lets go.
posted by hippybear at 9:52 AM on August 14, 2011


Also, the handwriting in those journals is an instant time-marker, that very standardize block print taught to every single engineer and draughtsman of the era.
posted by The Whelk at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's just so peculiar that this was built in Switzerland and then moved all the way to Florida to be launched, and now resides in Canada, and was a NASA project.

And was captained by Pic[c]ard. And boldly went....

It's like some kind of bad science fiction story, only it's real.

And those log illustrations are great. Fantastic post. Thanks so much!
posted by hippybear at 10:03 AM on August 14, 2011


And was captained by Pic[c]ard. And boldly went....

The whole Piccard family is like something out of a Jules Verne story, by the way.
posted by atrazine at 10:05 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow--you mean they missed the moon landing? Where's their sense of adventure?
posted by buzzv at 10:07 AM on August 14, 2011


Actually, Jean Luc Picard gets his name from Auguste and Jean Philip Piccard. Auguste Piccard was the father of Jacques Piccard who led the Ben Franklin mission.
posted by atrazine at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I wonder if the Star Trek mythology has them actually being Jean Luc's ancestors.
posted by hippybear at 10:11 AM on August 14, 2011


There's a picture of scifi author Peter Watts standing next to the "rusting and forgotten" version of the Ben Franklin at the bottom of his bio page. Very cool to learn the whole backstory of the mission; it would be interesting to know how much it influenced the Rifters trilogy.
posted by Chichibio at 10:27 AM on August 14, 2011


Very cool post; led me to this amazing submersible, the Bathyscaphe Trieste, which though built in 1960 was able to dive deeper than any other manned submersible we have managed since. This monster went down 10,902 meters, or about 6 3/4 miles underwater.

I love the sphere at the bottom and its resemblance to the gondola balloons the inventor also pioneered.
posted by misha at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that what happened is that Neil Armstrong stole their thunder.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2011


Let me tell you about my boat.
posted by curious nu at 10:47 AM on August 14, 2011


I would just like to say that this is not the first cool thing I've seen on at the Vancouver Maritime Museum website. (The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's is also great.)

Nice post, thanks.
posted by absalom at 10:51 AM on August 14, 2011


At 2055 hours we released a SAS ball with urine and feces samples in it. The ball was retrieved immediately by PRIVATEER. Surprise for someone if it wasn't retrieved.
posted by thecjm at 10:54 AM on August 14, 2011


The whole Piccard family is like something out of a Jules Verne story, by the way.

Or Tintin...
posted by Skeptic at 11:10 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great. Thanks for bringing it out of the past!
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:22 AM on August 14, 2011


Cool!
posted by aquanaut at 11:36 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is wonderfully whimsical log-book art.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:13 PM on August 14, 2011


Looking at the popular science poster, I was very impressed by the design.

Especially that they had the fore-thought to install the vehicle with a "transparent quartz tube". I'm sure many a mission has failed due to the absence of such a vital piece of equipment ... :)
posted by kaemaril at 2:20 PM on August 14, 2011


Thanks sonascope, I didn't know it was in Vancouver, I'm so going to see this on my next visit home.

China is going after the seabed in a big way too.
posted by arcticseal at 5:27 PM on August 14, 2011


Tektite Revisited: NASA, aquanauts, anechoic chambers, and the problems of modern living.
posted by homunculus at 6:37 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you so much for showing me old Popular Mechanics on Google Books. That's a solid week's worth of wonderful reading.
posted by aaronbeekay at 6:57 PM on August 14, 2011


What an amazing thing. I thought it was a clever fiction at first. Thanks for posting.
posted by joannemullen at 11:06 PM on August 14, 2011


Astronauts. Submarine. Science. Captain's Log. Adventure. Whimsy.

I am so hard right now.
posted by troll at 3:07 AM on August 15, 2011


Someone needs to do an illustrated Captain's Log by Jean Luc in the style of these entries.
posted by hippybear at 9:14 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great post title, btw! Freezing in their spam tin, indeed.
posted by bitmage at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2011


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