Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jacques Piccard dies at 86; scientist and underwater explorer

AFP/Getty Images
Jacques Piccard at his office in Cully, Switzerland, on June 31, 1995.
The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, November 4, 2008

Jacques Piccard, a scientist and underwater explorer who plunged deeper beneath the ocean than any man had gone before, died Saturday, his son's company said. He was 86. Piccard died at his Lake Geneva home in Switzerland, the company, Solar Impulse, said. The cause of death was not announced. Exploration ran in the Piccard family. Jacques' physicist father, Auguste, was the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere, and his son, Bertrand, with a second crewman, made the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight. Jacques Piccard helped his father invent the bathyscaphe, a vessel that allows humans to descend to great depths.

The Trieste made several descents in the Atlantic Ocean, but its greatest moment came after it was acquired and redesigned by the U.S. Navy. On Jan. 23, 1960, Piccard and U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh took the vessel into the Pacific's Mariana Trench to a depth of 35,800 feet -- nearly seven miles below sea level. It remains the deepest dive ever. "By far the most interesting find was the fish that came floating by our porthole," Piccard said of the dive. "We were astounded to find higher marine life forms down there at all." Solar Impulse representatives said the discovery of organisms at such a depth played a key role in the prohibition of nuclear waste dumping in ocean trenches. After the dive, Piccard continued to research the deep sea and worked for NASA. He also built four mid-depth submarines -- mesoscaphes -- including the first tourist submarine.

Born in Brussels in 1922, Piccard was 9 when his father took his balloon into the stratosphere. He studied in Switzerland and worked as a university teacher of economics but abandoned teaching to help his father design the bathyscaphe.

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