27 February 2022

Wired: “Inside the daring mission to reach the bottom of all Earth’s oceans”

The Five Deeps expedition got under way in December 2018, when Vescovo took his submersible, called Limiting Factor, to the 8,376m depths of the Atlantic Ocean’s Puerto Rico Trench. Since then he has made contact with the Antarctic Ocean’s 7,433m South Sandwich Trench, the Indian Ocean’s 7,192m Java Trench, and the Pacific Ocean’s 10,925m Mariana Trench, en route to his last stop at the top of the world.

This final Five Deeps dive is the culmination of over four years of planning. It is an odyssey that has seen Pressure Drop cover 46,262 nautical miles, employing hundreds of research scientists, expedition staff, engineers and ship’s crew at a cost of millions of dollars – a bill footed by Vescovo, who operates a private equity firm when he isn’t venturing to the Earth’s most remote places. The success of the project depends on this final dive.

As far as Triton was concerned, this initial brief was a little too simple. His original concept was a steel sphere with no windows, Lahey says. We weren’t interested in building that. For Triton, the submersible (officially designated the Triton 36,000/2) had to have commercial applications so that further models might be sold after Vescovo’s dives. For this to happen, it would need two seats (to accommodate a pilot and a scientist), a manipulator arm and, crucially, windows instead of the system of external cameras and internal screens Vescovo initially proposed. The whole point of a human-manned submersible is that it’s a visual tool, Lahey says. There’s no way you can duplicate our sense of sight. When you’re down there looking out that window, it’s like you’re hardwired to your eyeballs. You drink information in in a different way. There’s an immediacy to it, and an effectiveness. Eventually Vescovo agreed, and signed Triton up to design his one-of-a-kind machine.

Tom Ward

A fantastic and daring enterprise that nevertheless feels more like a vanity project to me. Paradoxically, the ocean floor has been explored less by humans than near-Earth space or even the Moon. But I do agree with the point that human presence is essential for extreme exploration such as the deep ocean and outer space; without it, there’s simply not the same sense of excitement and participation as when you’re sending automated probes.

The Triton Limiting Factor submersible
The Triton Limiting Factor submersible. Reeve Jolliffe and Enrico Sacchetti

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