Esther Inglis-Arkell –
When was the first voyage of the Challenger ? No, not the Space Shuttle — the original Challenger, a sea ship that sailed in 1872.
The HMS Challenger traversed the world’s oceans for four years, drove some of its sailors completely insane, caused about a quarter of the crew to jump ship, and forever changed the face of ocean science.
Is there a way to scroll past the nature channels without seeing one that describes the richness of the ocean and the life that teems in its depth ?
In the early 1800s, the ocean was something to fish in and to get across.
What happened below 1500 feet was of no concern to anyone, although scientists calculated that the pressure, the temperature, and the lack of sunlight meant that no life existed below.
The bottom of the ocean was presumed to be as lifeless as the surface of the moon, though it was far less known.
In 1872, the HMS Challenger was sent out to circumnavigate the globe, with a crew of around 240 sailors and scientists.
When it got back in 1876, it had 144 people aboard, losing people to madness, death, sickness, and sheer desperation to escape the voyage. It also held a wealth of information that launched a new era of exploration, and a new field of science.
The HMS Challenger sounds like a dream assignment to anyone who has ever imagined exploring new territory or making a contribution to science. It was set to go around to the globe, via some of the most beautiful islands in the world, taking reading and collecting life from regions never studied.
Then reality set in. The routine of the Challenger was this: the ship would sail to a certain part of the ocean, send down lines to a certain depth, take temperature and pressure readings, send nets or dredgers down, and haul up whatever life they could find.