| The Trail
1974 - Project FAMOUS
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)
200-ton French bathyscaphe Archimède was one of three submersibles
that participated in Project FAMOUS. (Courtesy of WHOI Archives)
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 lExploitation 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, Emerys 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.