The NY Times has a piece today about the monumental task of forging a pressure hull out of raw titanium to be used in the replacement for the legendary Alvin, the Navy's only currently operational deep-sea scientific sub that first explored the wreckage of the Titanic. Where Alvin could dive 3.9km down, its successor can go up to 6.4km under (hence the serious forging above), which will open up 99% of the ocean floor for exploration. That's a pretty big deal.
As Cindy L. Van Dover, a marine biologist who has logged hundred of hours in Alvin, puts it:
"Depth is a big deal," she said. "It's hard to wax lyrical on the subject because we don't know what's there. So we can't guarantee a discovery. Yet we know that every time we extend our ability to go somewhere, we discover new things about how the planet works, about how life on the planet is adapted."
Unfortunately and as one might expect, the project's budget has ballooned (titanium alone has had a 5x increase in cost since work began), and researchers are having to get creative to scrape up the necessary funding. So 2015 is now the still somewhat shaky current target date for the bigger, badder sub's first dive. But before then, old Alvin may get some of its successor's new gear (like its titanium crew sphere) until the whole thing comes together. [NY Times]