tethered to 28 attendants

Charles William Beebe (1877-1962) was an adventurous man.

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“In 1925 he cruised to the Galapagos Islands. Before setting off, he bought a large copper helmet with two oblique windows at the front, and a rubber garden hose to carry air from a small car tyre hand pump to the helmet. Entranced by what he saw beneath the surface of the ocean, he discussed the notion of a deep-sea chamber with fellow naturalist Theodore Roosevelt.

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When he published plans in the New York Times, he was contacted by engineer Otis Barton who had designed and built with his own money, a large metal bathysphere at a cost of $12,000.  The bathysphere needed 28 attendants on the surface ship to tend to it and manage communications.

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A 14 inch wide hatch led to a metal cell that was only four and a half feet across. On a three hour dive, literally at the very end of their tether, Beebe and Barton reached 3,028 feet.

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J B S Haldane was another adventurous man interested in the problems encountered by early divers.

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Haldane was a keen experimenter, willing to expose himself to danger to obtain data. One experiment involving elevated levels of oxygen saturation triggered a fit which resulted in him suffering crushed vertebrae. In his decompression chamber experiments, he and his volunteers suffered perforated eardrums, but, as Haldane stated in What is Life, “the drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment.”

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Haldane’s fastest ‘dive’ was from one to seven atmospheres in 90 seconds. Rapid ascents were even more dangerous, doing so once caused one of his filled teeth to emit a high pitched scream and explode because of an air pocket that couldn’t vent fast enough.

40,000 year old tooth found here

Minor bends were commonplace. Haldane was partially paralysed in his left buttock, but considered himself fortunate that ‘it wasn’t in a more important sensory region‘. He was still diving at 71 years of age and probably would have gone on diving for longer had he not been diagnosed with a malignancy. He wrote a poem dedicated to his tumour called Cancer’s a Funny Thing:

“Tumour” skirt found here

“I wish I had the voice of Homer

To sing of rectal carcinoma,

This kills a lot more chaps, in fact,

Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked…”

“…I know that cancer often kills,

But so do cars and sleeping pills;

And it can hurt one till one sweats,

So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.

A spot of laughter, I am sure,

Often accelerates one’s cure;

So let us patients do our bit

To help the surgeons make us fit.”

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