Movie director James Cameron made history over the weekend by becoming the third person ever to reach the deepest place on Earth – the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean – and on hand to help him with the mission was Don Walsh, who made the first trip to the bottom of the world in 1960 and earned two degrees from Texas A&M University.
Cameron, who directed the blockbusters “Titanic” and “Avatar,” descended to the ocean floor of the Mariana Trench on Monday, completing a solo dive that took him 35,756 feet to the bottom of the Pacific. When he surfaced, Walsh, who was asked by Cameron to serve as an adviser on the deep dive, was among the first to congratulate him on the accomplishment, which Walsh first achieved 52 years earlier on Jan. 23, 1960, when he and Jacques Piccard made the journey aboard the bathyscape Trieste.
Piccard was a Swiss ocean explorer who designed and built the Trieste. He later wrote a book about the dive, titled Seven Miles Down. He died in 2008.
Walsh was a navy lieutenant at the time and attained the rank of captain before retiring from the service. He earned a master’s degree from Texas A&M in 1967 and his doctoral degree in oceanography in 1968.
Cameron, an avid ocean researcher who also made several trips to the actual resting place of the Titanic, had said for several years he wanted to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench and had a specially constructed craft, the Deepsea Challenger, built for the occasion. He has been named by National Geographic magazine as one of its Explorers-in-Residence.
Walsh, now retired and living in Myrtle Point, Ore., also played a role in developing Texas A&M’s renowned Institute for Nautical Archaeology, says its founder, legendary ocean explorer George Bass.
“I met with Don and Robert Ballard, who went on to locate the Titanic, in about 1974 outside of Washington, D.C., and got ideas from both of them on how we should proceed with establishing our program at Texas A&M,” Bass now recalls.
“Don was something of a legend even then. He was also very helpful with our nautical archaeology programs and it goes without saying that he is one of the best oceanographers in the world. He also was extremely helpful in our efforts to get submersible craft built for our nautical archaeology dives. I believe he eventually commanded a nuclear sub before he retired from the Navy,” adds Bass, who was associated with Texas A&M’s Institute for Nautical Archaeology for 35 years before retiring several years ago.
Walsh’s doctoral dissertation at Texas A&M was titled “The Mississippi River Outflow: Its Seasonal Variations and Its Surface Characteristics” which he completed in 1968.
Walsh was named one of the world’s great explorers by Life magazine, and aboard various submersible vehicles, he dived to the Titanic, the famed German battleship The Bismarck and other notable locations. In 2010, the National Geographic Society awarded Walsh with the Hubbard Medal – its highest honor – and the U.S. Navy presented him with its Distinguished Public Service Award.
For photos of Walsh and Cameron, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17508955
Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 945-4644