Franklin Submersible - Voyage into Inner Space
Franklin New Vancouver Landmark
Restoration of an Historic Submersible
Franklin (PX-15) is the only oceanographic research submersible accessible
to the public in Canada, and is an internationally significant vessel
and a symbol of Swiss genius and American "can-do" initiative.
Built in Luassane, Switzerland between 1966 and 1968, PX-15 was the
brainchild of famed inventor and scientist Dr Jacques Piccard, who with
his father, Auguste Piccard, pioneered the development of the bathyscaphe.
PX-15 was developed with funding from NASA and Grumman Aerospace in
the United States, reflecting Dr Piccard’s ties to the U.S. Government's
"aquanaut" programs as well as the astronaut programs. Dr
Piccard made world history on January 23, 1963 with Lieut. Don Walsh
of the U.S. Navy when they made a dive in Piccard's bathyscaphe Trieste
into the Marianas Trench, which is the deepest part of the ocean –
seven miles down. Since then, no one has dived deeper.
PX-15 was Piccard's foray into the mid-range depths
of the ocean. Rated to dive to 3000 feet (900 meters), the submersible
was intended for extended "drift" missions that could last
months. NASA was particularly interested in these missions as an analog
for extended space travel, and Grumman, NASA's partner in the LEM (lunar
excursion module, or the "lunar lander") as well as other
components in the Apollo program, was keen to investigate the potential
of the submersible for exploration of the ocean as well as a probable
model for future spacecraft. Many of the parts and systems inside PX-15
are similar to an Apollo spacecraft.
partially assembled PX-15 was shipped to Florida, completed by Grumman
and named "Ben Franklin" for the American patriot and scientist,
who was the first to note and chart the presence of the Gulf Stream.
As Ben Franklin, the submersible embarked with a seven-man crew, commanded
by Dr Piccard, on July 14, 1969, on a 30-day drift mission in the Gulf
Stream, with a final destination of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, completed
its unparalleled feat -- no research dive has gone for a more extended
dive. Ben Franklin made a few more dives after 1969, including the first
deep-sea dive for Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck of
the Titanic. In a recent telephone call, Ballard said he still has fond
memories of the Franklin, as its large size and comfortable bunks gave
him his best "sleep in the deep." Usually, submersibles are
small, cramped and you spend hours in contortions with cold water from
condensation dripping on you.
running aground on a reef in 1971, Ben Franklin was sold to Vancouver
businessman John Horton, disassembled and shipped here, only to languish
for nearly three decades on the North Shore. In December 1999, with
a sudden decision to either move or scrap the submersible, it was offered
to the Museum. Private donations made it possible to retrieve Ben Franklin
and all of the parts from North Vancouver, and place the sub in front
of the Museum. Since then, the Museum raised funds and support to remove
the peeling paint, clean and disinfect the interior (which was partially
flooded from an open hatch and decades of rain) and now, in the last
two weeks, to repaint and reassemble the sub.
first phase of the sub's restoration is now complete, but work still
remains to be done. The deck inside the sub needs a new layer of linoleum
to replace the worn and mildew stained riginal, electrical cable needs
to connect the sub and power up lights and equipment, and fibreglass
repair on a few broken parts is needed. The thick Plexiglas portholes
need to be cleaned and polished, and an acrylic dome to enclose the
conning tower is needed.