Don Walsh was an oceanographer and explorer who explored the ocean floor and was the first human to visit the Mariana Trench, seven miles below the surface of the ocean.
Don Walsh’s legacy
Walsh graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1954 and entered the U.S. Navy as an officer. In 1960, he volunteered to serve on the Trieste, a bathyscaphe – a type of submarine – made to explore the deepest parts of the ocean. Navy officials wanted him and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard to take the submersible down into the Mariana Trench, a canyon in the Pacific Ocean that is among the deepest places on Earth.
On January 23, 1960, Walsh and Piccard made their descent. It took them more than five hours to drop more than seven miles into the depths of the ocean, shattering all previous diving records. It remains one of the deepest dives in history. Walsh earned a Legion of Merit from US President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the feat, among other awards.
Walsh never stopped being involved in ocean exploration. He would later become Dean of Marine Programs and Professor of Ocean Engineering at the University of Southern California, where he led the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies. He was a member of the Ocean Sciences Board at the National Academy of Sciences. Walsh was also part of James Cameron’s team when Cameron ventured into the Challenger Deep in 2012, and he was on hand when Victor Vescovo explored the same in 2019.
For his work, Walsh was awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society, a Distinguished Public Service Award from the U.S. Navy, among other accolades. Life magazine called him one of the world’s great explorers.
On becoming a bathyscaphe captain:
“I just thought it would be fun.”—from a 2012 interview with IEEE Spectrum
Tributes to Don Walsh
Full obituary: The Washington Post