The Trail of Discovery

K.O. Emery of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution received a letter from French scientist Xavier Le Pichon proposing a joint U.S.-French expedition to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. (Courtesy of WHOI Archives)

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The 200-ton French bathyscaphe Archimède was one of three submersibles that participated in Project FAMOUS. (Courtesy of WHOI Archives)

1974 - Project FAMOUS

The birth of a project
Two years after humans landed on the moon, the time had come to try to send humans to the seafloor. In 1971, Xavier Le Pichon, head of the French Centre National pour l’Exploitation des Oceans (CNEXO) wrote a letter to Woods Hole geologist Ken Emery and proposed a joint U.S.-French expedition to explore the mid-ocean ridge with human-occupied submersibles.

Few research submersibles existed at the time. The French had the 200-ton bathyscaphe Archimède and were building a smaller “diving saucer” called Cyana. The U.S. had the Navy-owned, 15-ton Alvin, developed by engineers at Woods Hole. Alvin was only seven years old and still being tested to see what it could do.

Robert Ballard, Emery’s protege, replied enthusiastically to the idea for a joint French-American expedition to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. But it needed support and funding from U.S. earth scientists.

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