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Here at Opto 22 we get involved in some really exciting and compelling projects.
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We got an email one day. It seemed a little bit vague, but, it looked like something that we
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might be interested in pursuing. It turns out that the project was to be a mission
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critical component of James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge. And, when we found
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that out we couldn't wait to get involved. Just south of Guam the Mariana
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Trench. It is this a split between two tectonic plates and then Challenger Deep
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is the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. I mean you think about it only twelve
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people have walked on the surface of the Moon or been to the moon yet we've only
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had two that have gone down to the deepest part of the world's oceans. And,
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it was clear that this application had a lot of communications. There was tons
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and tons of Modbus systems and other ancillary products that were connected in this sub.
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And, I thought this is actually perfect for the type of projects that were involved
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in. And I also knew that we had the right guy who was perfect. Bob and Benson called me
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into the office and said, “how would you like to go to Australia for two weeks
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to work on a top secret project?”
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To be honest at that point I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean I knew it was a sub, but I
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didn't understand you know just the historic significance of it. Literally in
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two days time we packed together everything we thought that he would need and
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put him on an airplane heading for Sydney. I got off the airplane and walked
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into a nondescript factory in the Sydney suburbs. In very short order I had met
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both James Cameron and Ron Alum co-designer of the submersible. The
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team that Jim and Ron assembled didn't have any submersible experience. And they did that
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deliberately because I wanted to bring fresh ideas, fresh methodologies, and
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engineering practices to this solution. And, it really worked well because we
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ended up with a submersible that was leading edge, with a lot of
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groundbreaking technologies. The batteries, the lighting systems, the thrusters.
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Obviously I was focused on the control system. But, the control system
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was on a submersible that was going to be crushed by the weight of the world's ocean.
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The amount of pressure down there is infallible. And in this case we're
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talking about seven miles deep. We're at sixteen thousand pounds
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of pressure per square inch. And, everything we were building outside the sphere
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had to handle that sort of pressure. That makes this type of expedition
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exceedingly difficult to do. And, when you're down there nothing can go wrong.
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The criteria for control system was that it had to take up as small a space as possible.
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And we needed to be able to communicate easily and freely with all these
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different systems, all at the same time.
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As my two weeks drew to a close at the factory I was approached by the team leader
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and asked join the team on the expedition.
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So a typical day started usually around 6:00, 6:15 am. Get some breakfast in.
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There was an engineering meeting on the bridge every day at 7:00 am without fail to go over
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the day’s activities. Once the meeting was over it was all hands on deck literally as we
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prepped the sub to get ready for that that day’s repairs or that day’s dive.
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As the dive program progressed and each dive was deeper than the previous different science was
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being done and different setups were being able to be tested for the first
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time on the submersible. So there were constant changes to the control system
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to adapt to this deeper dive program. On the final dive when Jim got to the bottom
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it look like he was on the moon. It just looked like there was just nothing just
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endless fine silt.
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But after it took the samples and came back up and they were analyzed,
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it turns out to be teeming with life. Ron and Jim assembled a really diverse
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team. And it brought a lot of fresh ideas to the problems of building a full ocean depth
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submersible. And it worked spectacularly. Deepsea Challenger went down and back in record time.
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And, it was incredible to be a part of the machine, part of the process that got
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Jim there and back safely.