Some kids love Disney, others nerd out over superheroes, but in each and every classroom across the world, there’s at least one little mind fascinated by outer space. The vastness of space provides a never-ending slew of questions and dreams to be dreamed. Where could we go? What have we learned? Can anyone set foot in space?
One little boy with a serious space obsession never let go of his dreams to be part of the last frontier’s story. So when he grew up to be a rich and powerful figure, he put his money where is childhood ambitions were and led an expedition that will forever be part of world history.
Over 600 million people, from every walk of life, gathered around the fuzzy black and white screens of their television sets and watched in awe as humankind leaped forward into the future. We’re talking about the 1969 Moon landing.
Air and Space Mag
One of those people was a five-year-old boy tuning in from Houston, Texas. He watched in wonder, anticipation growing with the count down until takeoff. He was keenly aware of what a special moment it was in history, for man to take the first step towards conquering space.
Fast forward to over 40 years later, that boy grew into a space-obsessed man with an unparalleled amount of influence. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon held onto his fascination with space exploration and revered the minds and workforce that got us there.
Ranked as the richest person on the planet, Jeff has a cool 112 billion dollars at his disposal. For reference, Jeff’s wealth is so grandiose that when the average American spends $1, the comparative equivalent for Jeff to spend would be a measly 1.7 million dollars.
In the years since establishing one of the most successful companies ever, Jeff fostered ambitions to make a difference in space technology. His mind drifted to that day back in July of 1969, when he watched the Saturn V blast off and its engines fall to the earth.
As Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin barrelled towards space, the lowest stage of the Saturn V that powered the craft into motion was released. The S-1C disconnected and plummeted as planned into the Atlantic.
NASA US Air Force
When the rocket breached the uppermost levels of the atmosphere, the next section of the Saturn V, the S-II, was cast off. It too dropped from such great heights into the ocean where it drifted into the mysterious depths to never be seen again.
The dispelled components of the Saturn V were intended to become fixtures of the ocean floor, rusting, playing home to aquatic life that needs zero light to survive. But this wouldn’t remain their fate if Jeff Bezos had anything to say about it.
In 2012, Jeff announced his venture capitalist group, Bezos Expeditions, through whom he funds investments in various sectors, had made an exciting discovery. Through sonar detection, they’d pinpointed the location of what they believed to be the Apollo 11 remnants off the coast of Cape Canaveral.
San Francisco Chronicle
Jeff explained, “We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in — they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in saltwater for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see.”
Ocean Exploration & Research
So, Jeff sent out a notice to his team of experts letting them know to pack their wetsuits and stretch out their sea legs. They were setting off on a fishing trip, and he wouldn’t return home without his prize.
They boarded the underwater exploration vessel, the Seabed Worker, in February of 2013. On the three-week long sea voyage, they planned to plunge 14,000 feet to the bottom of the Atlantic and, with the best technology available, pull the spacecraft pieces to the surface.
Using remotely operated vehicles sunken down with fiber optic cables, Jeff and the team watched in awe at their camera view of the ocean floor. In a place rarely glimpsed by human eyes, they saw, just as they expected, gnarled masses of metallic spacecraft equipment.
For Jeff, this was the culmination of many boyhood daydreams come to life. After 44 years of exposure to the elements, the fallen parts of the Saturn V were recognizable, just sitting there, right where they were supposed to be.
Marveling at the relics in their underwater safe place was nostalgic, but Jeff set out to take home a trophy. The next part of the mission involved retrieving the dispelled engines and any remaining pieces that they could salvage.
YouTube / Collect Space
Money, expertise, and technology combined to make this epic fishing trip possible. Giant cranes slowly reeled in monumental historical artifacts that made the first moon landing possible. In total, the team retrieved enough pieces to fully rebuild two of the massive F-1 engines.
Gathered on the deck to witness, Jeff described his sincere respect for the objects and what they represent. “Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.”
Before they popped the victory champagne, they had to determine if these were the legitimate Apollo 11 engines, which came down to comparing serial numbers. Decades in the ocean had worn them down, and they had to be restored to get the official stamp of authenticity.
Once the team docked in Florida, the engines were passed over to Kansas Cosmosphere for professional restoration. The pieces were cleaned to the point where they could use a scanner on one of the thrust chambers to see if it matched Saturn V’s code “2044.”
Jeff received the news that filled his space nerd heart with joy: they had salvaged the engines that powered the Moon landing mission. He never intended to keep these historical objects for himself, so he made their permanent home the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
Searching for the discarded engines popped into Jeff’s head one afternoon while sitting on the couch. Only people with that sort of money can turn a spur-of-the-moment whim into a concrete plan of action. He has peers that are helping him uncover the world’s mysteries.
Thanks to eccentric billionaires pursuing their passions, the world has learned a lot about things that would otherwise remain mysteries. Which is exactly what happened when Richard Branson turned his energy towards investigating a curious world wonder.
Located some 40 miles off the coast of Belize City, the Great Blue Hole has marveled those who’ve skirted its crystal-blue waters for over the last half-century. At over 1,000 feet across, this massive cavern was long considered the biggest of its kind.
The hole is at the center of the Lighthouse Reef, one of the many small atolls that make up the world’s second-largest coral reef system, the Belize Barrier Reef.
As such, the Great Blue Hole is protected as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Chabil Mar Villas
But although the hole itself has been known to researchers since the mid 20th century, it wasn’t until a famed marine explorer finally visited the site that anyone fully appreciated it.
When Jacques Cousteau visited the site in 1971, the world finally began to take notice of its magnificence. Using the mobile lab aboard his ship Calypso, Cousteau was the first to measure the depth of the hole — a remarkable 407 feet.
National Geographic Society
A 1991 expedition led by the Cambrian Foundation sought to confirm Cousteau’s original measurement, and to their surprise, they found that the French adventurer was nearly spot on.
Though the title of the world’s largest marine sinkhole now belongs to China’s Dragon Hole, the Great Blue Hole is still big enough to fit two Boeing 724 airplanes with room to spare.
Michael Wass / Flickr
Following Cousteau’s exploration, the site has since become a popular scuba spot among professional divers, with some citing it as one of the best in the world.
Palau Dive Adventures
But despite all the attention that the Great Blue Hole has gained over the years, little was truly known about the massive cavern and what it contained… until now.
Fueled by his adventurous spirit and fervent support for marine conservation, English entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson sought to unveil the mysteries of the Great Blue Hole once and for all.
Yet even with years of adventures and discoveries to his credit, Branson needed the help of one important individual to truly make the expedition worthwhile.
That’s right: he enlisted the help of Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the very same man that had put the Great Blue Hole on the map almost 50 years earlier. Together, the two explorers hoped to pick up right where Jacques had left off.
More specifically, the men wanted to use state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology to create a comprehensive map of the interior of the sinkhole. This would provide never-before-seen insight.
They were also looking to test the water quality and oxygen levels within the Great Blue Hole to get a sense of what kind of aquatic life could survive there.
Additionally, Branson and Cousteau were adamant about exploring what they believed to be an oxygen-depleted area at the base of the hole. Why the interest in this so-called dead zone?
Well, if their hunch was correct, this discovery could hold clues to the fall of the Mayan civilization between 800 and 1,000 AD! Yeah, who saw that one coming?
“We’ve heard that in the Blue Hole there is an anoxic area [or dead zone] near the bottom,” said one of the expedition’s crew members. “This is really interesting because things don’t degrade in anoxic areas so we could find preserved life.”
But even as visions of this vast undersea adventure danced in their heads, the men still had one glaring issue to overcome before they could even think about venturing below the surface: how would they do it?
Being that most humans can’t dive more than 130 feet without being crushed by water pressure, scuba diving was completely out of the question. They needed to think outside the box.
Dive Training Magazine
Luckily, they found captain Erika Bergman. Aboard her high-tech STINGRAY 500, the team would be able to dive at depths of up to 500 feet while simultaneously capturing HD recordings of the entire adventure.
Cause of a Kind
And so, on December 2nd, Branson, Cousteau, and Bergman – along with a team of cinematographers from the Discovery Channel – made the journey to Lighthouse Reef to begin their exploration.
With their live stream being broadcast to viewers all over the world, the three adventurers submerged in the waters of the Great Blue Hole.
Though the surface of the massive cavern looked almost clear blue from above, the depths below were anything but. Darkness met the team head on as they dove deeper and deeper into the hole, unaware of what treasures – or horrors – awaited them at its bottom.
Along the way, a variety of fish kept pace alongside the team, ranging from common ocean dwellers to the likes of the exotic Midnight Parrotfish.
But for every unassuming fin or tail that flitted by, they couldn’t help but keep their eyes peeled for the hammerhead and aggressive bull sharks that were known to prowl the area.
When the vessel arrived at the floor of the cavern the team immediately went to work mapping the dimensions of the hole. After only a few minutes of scanning, however, Branson and the others noticed a strange opening…
Curious, the team approached the opening, and inside they found the real treasure of the exploration: stalactites! This discovery would’ve meant little if stumbled upon in a typical cave system, but the fact that the find was made at such a depth underwater was unprecedented.
Discovery / Twitter
According to tests run on the rock formations, these stalactites were an astonishing 150,000 years old. Usually, stalactites only form in dry caves!
That means that the Great Blue Hole was once part of a larger cave system that formed on dry land. As remarkable as this was, though, this discovery actually points to a much larger issue.
With the Great Blue Hole now completely submerged under hundreds of feet of water, it’s a clear indication that the gradual warming of the earth is directly responsible for rising sea levels. As global warming continues to affect our planet, could this be a sign of things to come?
Richard Branson and his team seem to think so, and he’s pledged to aid in the effort to protect at least 30% of world oceans by the year 2030. With sea life covering over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, now seems as good a time as ever to make sure that it stays that way.