The Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin is the best known marine research vessel. It was commissioned by the United States Navy in 1964, but it calls Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution home. For its 49th birthday, it's received a refit that will increase its dive range by two kilometers and give the people inside more room and greater vision. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of its batteries, Alvin won't be able to reach its rated depth for another few years. Lithium-ion batteries are considered to be too great a fire risk at the moment.
|Alvin returning to the surface carrying samples (photo Wikipedia)|
Alvin sprang to fame in 1977 when scientists inside it made the first observations of hydrothermal vent communities off the Galapagos Islands. These were the first communities of multicellular organisms ever discovered that were able to survive in isolation from the sun. To marine biologists, the discovery of hydrothermal vent communities was more exciting than the moon landings less than a decade earlier. And it was Alvin, like Apollo 11, that made it possible. Unlike Apollo 11, Alvin continues to make discoveries and has contributed more to marine science than any other vehicle.