The Happiness Quotient

Deeper Than Everest (By a MILE) - Legendary Explorer and Oceanographer Don Walsh, the Historic Dive of the Trieste and Future of Exploration

July 04, 2023 Thom Pollard
The Happiness Quotient
Deeper Than Everest (By a MILE) - Legendary Explorer and Oceanographer Don Walsh, the Historic Dive of the Trieste and Future of Exploration
Show Notes Transcript

My guest today was the FIRST to reach the DEEPEST point of the ocean, known as Challenger Deep. In 1960 US Navy lieutenant Don Walsh and  Swiss oceanographer and explorer Jacques Piccard piloted the bathyscaphe Trieste 35,797 ft BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE SEA, when it
became the first crewed vessel to reach the bottom  the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in Earth's seabed.

My conversation with Don Walsh could not have predicted that such a disaster as the Titan submersible would have taken place. Eerily, Don and I discussed the logistics of preparing a vessel to dive to such depths, the safeguards, the rigorous testing.

Please stick around the the poll question near the end.


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Thom Pollard:

As a little kid I used to dream of being on the Lewis and Clark expedition which in 1804, and 1805 explored the newly purchased western regions of the United States going up the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. I was also fascinated by the explorers who endeavored to be the first like a months and in the race to the north and south poles in 1909 and 1911. Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound in 1947, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Of course, first to stand on top of Mount Everest in 1953. And as a little kid absolutely indelibly imprinted into my mind at school watching Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon in 1969, followed by Buzz Aldrin. My guest today was one of those firsts one of the great explorers of our time, he reached the deepest point in the ocean known as Challenger Deep in 1960. US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer and explorer Jacque Picard piloted, the bathyscaphe tree asked 35,797 feet below the surface of the ocean when it became the first manned vessel to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the Earth's seabed given the recent news of the Triton submersible disaster and the public's voracious appetite for news about not only what went wrong on the submersible disaster, but how a maverick explorer if you will, like stocked in rush could get away with skirting so many rules, if you will regulations and still command a ticket price of$250,000 for the opportunity to become a mission specialist to take it to the bottom of the sea to visit the wreck of the Titanic that the Titanic is still claiming victims 111 years after she first sank is actually a mind boggling intermingling of time and space, a continuation of a completely avoidable disaster that has forever captivated the minds of millions of people, including filmmaker James Cameron, who not only created the blockbuster film, Titanic, but himself has visited the wreck 37 times, many of them in a submersible that he designed my conversation with the one and only Don Walsh from his home in Oregon. Well, it was two years ago, and at the time, there is no conceivable way we could have predicted the disaster on the Titan submersible. And fittingly ironically, it seems that our entire conversation is so pertinent to everything that took place on the submersible, a perfect conversation for the times we're living in. Now, in this day and age where all sorts of extreme tourism tickets are for sale. Case in point over 470 people paid sometimes over$100,000 for the chance to be guided up Mount Everest on fixed lines. And this year, 17 people died on the mountain extreme tourism is indeed a dangerous game. And what about the people who paid $55 million for the opportunity to go into space with SpaceX for $55 million? I think I'd probably rather wear a Bozo the Clown outfit. These are just the most hideous things I've ever seen. It's like, come on. All right, my opinion about what those spacesuits look like has no bearing on this conversation. Later in the video, I'm going to ask a question that I hope you'll stick around to answer and it is pertaining to the Everest mystery channel and my conversation with Don Walsh. Tom Walsh is my guest today. He is an explorer and adventurer, a diver an engineer, historian, journalist researcher, you'd think that Don Walsh might have been happy with the accomplishments of 1960 Going to the bottom of the ocean, but for him that was just the beginning. In 1975, he retired from the Navy to become a professor of Ocean Engineering at the University of Southern California, where he founded the Institute of Marine and Coastal Studies. He left USC in 1984. He's authored over 200 Ocean Related Publications spoken about his work in over 1700 public programs he's visited over 120 countries has been on over 160 cruises, where he has given lectures about his exploration and also his oceanographic knowledge of the polar regions and beyond. There is a mountain named for him and Antarctica, where he has visited over 40 times in 2001. He received the Explorers Club metal In 2010, he was awarded the National Geographic society's highest award, the Hubbard medal. Oh, and he has been to the site of the Titanic, here is my conversation with the inspiring and ever engaging Don Walsh from his home in southwestern Oregon. You know, only a few people get the distinction of being the first to, if you will, one of the poles, you know, whether it's Everest, North Pole, South power pole, the deepest. And you have that distinction, you know, what's it like to go down that deep, when one small malfunction would be? You know, I can't even imagine the ending how quick it would be.

Don Walsh:

Oh, alright, start that you remind me of something that one of the big takeouts for me and ever since nightshift, some recognition with the diving work 62 years ago, was the people I meet along the way, you also you have access to a lot of different people. Not that they're seeking you out. But to get co mingle with them, you're at the same head table. Because you have a program and Walter Cronkite sitting next to him at dinner. He's got something else he's supposed to be doing. But you there's a certain normalized factor of people who have attained something. So you don't have to do the one up stop. They know who you are, you know who they are. That's off the table he just visiting. And I find it very end. It's not small talk. So I'm just really serious, like the future of exploration, stuff like that, or whatever the communal interest is, sometimes it's totally unexpected, like when I was in St. Petersburg, ending up having lunch with Gorbachev, which is six people. You know, I got up that morning, Joan. And I did and were invited to lunch by another couple on our ship. She was a former Prime Minister of Norway during the Cold War. And Gorbachev knew that she was coming to St. Petersburg. So he says, come have lunch, we'll talk and in bring another couple. Well, she didn't reveal that to us. And so we get to the restaurant at The Astoria Hotel in St. Petersburg, which is the fanciest This is our astera. It's the best in Petersburg, and the table set for six. And Joan, talk to you and who is this? I mean, who's come as I don't know if Dr. Brundtland has some valid right and her husband invited us to we know this way somebody else local. And so pretty soon for guys walk in the door. You know, we used to characterize them in the commercial diving world as having size 38 collar and a size two hat. You know, and they're all kind of their hands in the waistband and they park themselves in the forecourt because it's the main dining room. Wow. I thought How far is it to get under the table if the boat start flying? And then in comes garbage check with his translator, Pavel. And I said many years unwatched, my name is Dawn walls. That was the last thing I said for two hours, which is your order to gather? Economy a speech is not in my particular backpack. And just surprised, and, you know, he shook her hand, but she didn't say anything. We all sat down and for two hours, eat a little delivered us oil equate to his old Cold War, buddy, Dr. Brundtland, Norway, what could I have done better? What will they put on my tombstone? How can you turn off seven years of Stalinism by just one president of a Soviet Union. And it was pages of history. It was wonderful. So after the lunch, Joan and I go back out on the street, thought we'd have a little walk around downtown. And she turns to me, she said, you should know how to take a girl on a lunch date. That's an example of the network. Oh, we're gonna have lunch. It's all because I'm going to bid on that ship expedition ship if I hadn't been there as a lecture. But I wasn't lecturing to that particular cruise Dr. Brundtland and relieved me. She was talking about the Cold War in the Baltic Sea. So we just had to show up for meals, kind of No, no to encourage tourism in Russia. This all comes one thing kind of knocks onto another it's amazing. I don't ask for any of it just happens.

Thom Pollard:

Truly the most lasting and meaningful aspect of it all are the human relationships that are built along the way that without it, I might as well just stay right here in my house I it the people, the cultures, and the individual relationships that are formed when you go through a hardship i can imagine what it must have been was shock Picard after you know, I mean that you are that's the essence of exploration for me is that people who you become friends with well and

Don Walsh:

cars to the three Picard siblings. I'm Uncle Don, what the thing I guess I wanted to mention, that didn't bring it up. And make it clear is that after I did the deepest dive, I was 28 years old, I realized that the same position that the guy that made the touchdown that won the big game, in university in college, and he sort of die after that, rest, your life didn't count. And I really didn't want to be in that situation. So I, you know, when I'm going down the polar regions, I never talk about diving stuff. It's not related, it's not relevant. Your relevance is to where the ship is what you're going to see what we're doing. And I'm an oceanographer. So my PhD is in oceanography. So I can talk on oceanography without talking about Triest. And so I in those venues, I never talked about tres. But what I'm doing underwater stuff, those venues, I never talked about the polar regions, but I have these sort of two parallel live streams.

Thom Pollard:

But when you were down, going down into that, it it it might as well have been going to the moon. And I can't imagine that you didn't before you actually submerge, knowing you're going there that like this could be like your and I know you had talked about this could be the end. I mean, we could we could not. That's a chance we don't make it. But you had two brains, two smart, young, highly functioning people in there, which I believe you said one time, that was probably the best working, you know, kind of machine we could put in the tree asked right to ensure that things come off smoothly. But were you aware of that? Or did you just as as a Navy man as well? Did you just click into performance mode and put all worry or fears aside? Well,

Don Walsh:

one way is, you know, when you're training to do something, or getting ready to do something, we have what you'd call a skill luck ratio. And you always want to keep skill, well beyond 50%. But there's always going to be a need for that look to in there. Yeah. So we have we practice a long time. You know, first of all, I came to trust as a qualified submarine officer, that means I earn my dolphins same as wings in the Aviators. And so I did submarines for a couple of years to that point. They're pretty complicated things. And all the systems in submerging ship noncentral even though the ones we were driving around in we've been actually built during World War Two upgraded since then. But basically, basic systems, the engines, the electricity, the compressed air, all of that were legacy systems. So I came into something that sort of had two moving parts batha Scaff, because just an underwater balloon, a one part of the balloon, it's filled with lighter than substance, petroleum, and got pain relief, that balloon is a cabin for the people. That's it. And I'm not simplifying, it was different, but not complex. So we had to learn the differences. So I spent a lot of time climbing all over my boiler suit, inside the tank and around all the fittings and systems and so on. And it wasn't that complicated, that we took when we took it out to the island of Guam, to state for the deepest dive. We lit up about six months before the dive itself. And we did successively deeper test dives, starting the Harborwalk layer feet, and we just moved offshore, each dive a little deeper. And we would, you know, give it the smoke test, what's working, what's not working, what we like what features we'd like to add, and just the general feel the noises, normal noises, the background, if you will, the thing. And so we did 14 test dives. And in fact I think a week before our deepest dive we dove to 24,000 feet and all systems are going well. So we decided we're ready for the deepest dive so we were pretty much experience and operating thing and what the good noises were and and things that we and heard before, then we could give them our full attention. Like test pilots, you know that the treehouse was purchased by the US Navy's Office of Naval Research. It was purchased to be a platform for oceanographers for scientists. And what what the Navy wanted us to do first was to test it out as thoroughly, thoroughly as we could, before it was handed over to the scientists. Because the scientists don't like adventure. That's a place you can go. It's a safe known platform proven out. And yeah, focus on Israel. And so the whole thematic of our dives program in Guam, emphasize routine that week, but excuse me, we've got to test it out first before we hand it over to you. And it's just like a new airplane, even even a 737 comes out of the Boeing factory, it gets a pretty rigorous flight test program. It just roll out of the factory, Everett, Washington and go straight over to SeaTac and load passengers for Atlanta. Yeah, it gets tested for a period of time, maybe 10 or 12 days. very elaborate system checks, even though it's the 13,007 37 ever built. They treat it like the first time those are test pilots. Yeah, that's an analogue to talk in our we're doing, we're not scientists. Yeah. People say, Well, you didn't do any research. No, we didn't. We're just trying to make sure the damn thing is reliable, safe and useful. And we're two engineers. That was our job. Not to set a record. In fact, I was. I was specifically ordered by the Chief of Naval Operations, who is the number one Admiral in the Navy. And he already Burke those days was highly revered. In the Navy. Personally, because I was in his office, he said, Walsh, there'll be no publicity. I said, Yes, sir. He said, if, if you're successful, there'll be publicity. You're not successful. We're not gonna say anything. And that's that. So people say, Well, maybe we went out to set our weekend. That's it's incident to our primary mission. When my job to set a record, my job was to end shocks to prove out the system before we handed it over to the the scientists. But yeah, we kept it low key. And the other thing was, if you look at any of the Contemporary Photography at that time, I myself and Larry Shoemaker, Lieutenant Shoemaker, who was my assistant, are always a uniform, not parade uniform, working Navy uniform cap, khaki shirt and trousers, dolphins, and rank insignia. We didn't need that. We've been much more comfortable in shorts and a T shirt because, you know, in Guam, you're always getting wet, you fall off the top of the bath scarf into the arbor it's 89 degrees. So you just climb back out and go back to work. It was noticed there were more comfortable ways for us, but the idea was to provide comfort for them wherever time they look is guys are uniform. I mandated that I told Larry we've got to do this every time a cameras pointed as you guys see to US Navy officers. And it's because it is an Old Navy program. We designed the program we paid for we own the bath of staff. We modified it a hugely before we could use it for the bonfires. So this little bit of strategy and tactic service. We had were permitted not to say anything, we're not permitted to say anything. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don't know. I have put National Geographic got wind of it. And Life magazine got wind of it. And the London Daily Mail. So yeah, it when people say you scared or afraid? No, not really, we test it so much. We know you're in your game. But you know, being afraid just saps your your mental acuity. That's not good, then you're gonna say we're really paying attention to training and repetition. We knew what to do. We knew what normal was and abnormal. And if it came, we know how to take care of it. Or try

Thom Pollard:

to so done the the future of of ocean exploration or the President actually I should say is that the need? It appears that the need for a human being to actually be in one of these vehicles for lack lack of a better word is probably not really, I don't even think they do that anymore, do they? Or is it don't they send remote vehicles down now to do research or

Don Walsh:

you know this, what you're saying is is quite correct, but income Please. I do believe that unmanned systems can be far superior to manned systems where you're doing dumb science. I don't mean dumb, as stupid, but dumb where it doesn't require the presence of a human, for example, mapping large tracts of sea floor in high precision. You have to have a vehicle down there. You can do it from a surface ship very well. But I think there's also going to be some room for manned submersibles. I Roger Revelle, who was one of the great oceanographers of the 20th century, who was married to Ellen Scripps, of Scripps Institution, and got his he was one of the first PhDs out of Scripps in the late 30s. And I asked him the question, I said, Roger, why, why man, Space Programs diddling with this perpetually, why not send a monkey up or, or sending up a drone type thing, automated. And he looked at me said it didn't cause he says, because you can't surprise an instrument. And I thought, well, that's a lot of wisdom, their human brain as capability of adjusting whatever you're doing at the moment, you're capable of surprised and figured out what to do next. And I guess Jim Cameron was even moreso saying Gemini or some kind of event, we were jointly talking about our experiences. And some in the question period, somebody asked him, why man, and he said, Well, what kid wants to grow up to be a robot? And so on wisdom? Look at People Magazine, what half century now we buy that damn thing as well as to what other people are doing.

Thom Pollard:

You're listening to my conversation with legendary explorer and oceanographer Don Walsh, who in 1960, along with Swiss oceanographer and explorer Jacques Picard piloted the bathyscaphe tree just 35,797 feet below the surface of the sea, when it became the first crewed vessel to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the Earth's seabed.

Don Walsh:

After 62 years, you can imagine how many times I've been asked, we ever scared? How deep did you get to see? What was it like, tell me about the tree asked, Why don't you begin with your shoe size when you're growing up? A lot of writers you know, they want me to write the goddamn dictate the story for them and put their byline on? Well, as a writer who earns money doing this, I don't like to write other people's stories. As a writer, you can understand that. And, and so few of them have taken the time to do their background and the real pros come prepared. You can tell when you're talking to him. And the real rookies, who apparently never got their degree from journalism school, just want to have an audience and, and want me to dictate the story to them. So they can turn around, put their name on it. I detect that and very resistant, because that wrote that narrative for that very reason. Those are all the questions I've been asked over six decades, and keep repeating and repeating, you know, yeah, rewind the tape, and hit the go button. So that's why I wrote that. So

Thom Pollard:

to me, that's the golden quote. There's there's no way to put it into words.

Don Walsh:

Oh, I know. I asked and Hillary wants and probably in the same genre, and he probably rolled his eyes all I didn't detect it. What did you think when you got to the top? And he said, well, that polishes the bugger off. Now how do I get down? Yeah. Neil Armstrong moment?

Thom Pollard:

Yeah. And well, that might explain a little bit why Neil Armstrong was not one known to attend many events where people might mock him for to so they could touch the man who first stepped foot on the moon. It you know, you can only do a first once in the world. And you know, the top of Everest and the North Pole, the South Pole break the speed of sound, the bottom of the ocean. And, and so, young explorers looking for a way to spend whatever might be a future expedition in a meaningful way given especially the state of the planet and the depletion of the oceans. What's left, what's left for the future.

Don Walsh:

Well, that's a that's a robust theme. A Explorers Club in Amman explorer. That is, has it all been found? And of course it hasn't we can. It's rhetorical question, even the big ticket items, if you will, first or this or that. So be careful, you first of all, you have to set down guidelines of what what you consider things to be first up are apt, for example of the people studying the microbial life of the hadal trenches now, excellent scientist in England, Alan Jamison, who is Mr. Adel trench, you know, because that's 2% of the ocean floor or the trenches. Oh, area. And, and that's the reason we've not explored this deep trenches, adequately before, because 98% of the sea floor can be seen if you have a capability to work at 20,000 feet or 6000 meters, what a deal or a bean counter, or are people paying to do exploration and equipment so on, you can design for just a little over half the maximum depth of the ocean and have access to 90% of the seafloor. But the hadal zone is trenches. Most of their 30,000 will say it's 25 27,000 to that maximum 36,000 feet. And so is it worth spending a whole lot of money? We're only 2%. Well, yes. But we're just getting on to that now. So Alan Jameson has really pioneered is a hadal biologists remark, and he just discovering stuff left and right. He's written two books on it. And so a lot of firsts there. So you have to be careful, you have to set parameters. So when we're teenagers, we used to have the stoplight grand praise. You know, you've been lined up to cars and get across faster than the guy next year. Only thing is he didn't know he was a race. He just drove off normally anyway. And yeah, I'm first off, and you said, you know, you get a Hispanic speaking Vietnam veteran female with only one leg climbing Mount Everest. Okay, that's a journey of internal exploration itself. Yeah, but the rest of the world who gives a shit mean? That what's the purpose to it, in terms of adding to the Commonwealth of knowledge of humankind? Zip zero. That's one of the big problems. We have the Explorers Club when I was on the flag and honors committee for 14 years. We you know, we we award flags to certain expeditions, you got to have rather a rather elaborate application to basically what it all says, What are you going to contribute to science, I feel work. If you strip out all the crap, crap, crap on in the application, but you get adventures and get explorers, and there's a definite difference there. A guy that's doing a paddleboard from the Faroe Islands to Tokyo Bay. That's an adventurer. He's not adding to mankind's knowledge, a sure mental toughness, physical. Well, being and all of that, and and it's a it's a journey of self internal exploration. Are you really this tough? Do you have the mental ability, but it's not exploration. And it's often hard people come in and say, I have this great idea. And, okay, but it doesn't contribute to science. And the whole idea is contribution of the knowledge of humankind, through field exploration, of course, the outside world and I, you know, don't blame them. Always think all such things are exploring, and they're not. And you don't want to demean that people do these, I couldn't do it. I can't claim I have a hard time climbing over a parking lot bumped me a speed bumps. So don't tell me about climbing. My low gear has been shot since I was born. I can't climb. You know, these are things I can't do. But that doesn't mean I can tell the difference between exploration, discovery. I define exploration and, and as curiosity acted upon, and I told John Glenn that once and he used it, and Jim Cameron uses it also as definition exploration. I you know, I'm not copyright. I'm just saying that it had legs, right. Everybody's curious.

Thom Pollard:

I'll be publishing the balance of my interview with Don Walsh on my podcast called The happiness quotient check in the description for the link to that. Okay, now the Question for the Viewers, a good friend of mine, Mark sinet. He's a New York Times best selling author, big wall climber and explorer. We were on Everest together in 2019. He has said that an adventure is when you don't know the outcome of your journey. So the question to you is, if there is a snafu, or something goes wrong on an extreme expedition, operated by a company that hasn't gone through extensive testing and certifications, should there be any type of rescue mounted to try and save the occupants? Whether that be on land, sea or in space? Let me know in the comments below, yes or no, I want to hear your thoughts. And while you're taking the time to do that, let me know where you're coming from today. If you like what you've seen and heard today, I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe to this channel. And also think about becoming a member on this page or my Patreon page to support the work that I do here. Really, you'll get exclusive content, you can find my patreon link in the notes and here on this page, click the Join button and you can check out the different levels of membership. In the meantime, do a kind deed celebrate the successes of others endeavor to make the world a better place by doing a kind deed for somebody you don't know without looking for anything in return. Be well take care of yourself. Thank you for being here. Have a beautiful day.