Jiao­long un­der the Sea

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Edited by Yin Xing

On June 23, 2017, China’s Jiao­long manned deep-sea sub­mersible and its mother ship Xiangyanghong 09 re­turned to the Na­tional Deep-sea Base in Qing­dao, Shan­dong Prov­ince, bring­ing the na­tion’s 38th oceanic ex­pe­di­tion and the sub­mersible’s five-year trial run to an end. Dur­ing the 138-day ex­pe­di­tion, Xiangyanghong 09 sailed 18,302 nau­ti­cal miles through the South China Sea, north­west­ern In­dian Ocean and north­west­ern Pa­cific Ocean.

World’s Deep­est Dive

Named af­ter a myth­i­cal dragon, Jiao­long is China’s first home­grown manned deep-sea re­search sub­mersible, mak­ing China the fifth coun­try with deep-sea ex­plo­ration tech­nol­ogy, af­ter the United States, France, Rus­sia and Japan. It can carry three peo­ple and cover 99.8 per­cent of the world’s un­der­wa­ter area. Dur­ing a test dive in June 2012, Jiao­long reached its deep­est depth, 7,062 me­ters, which is the deep­est depth reached by a sub­mersible of its kind. In Jan­uary 2013, the sub­mersible be­gan a five-year trial run, dur­ing which time it made 152 dives in seven ma­rine zones around the world and col­lected pre­cious data as well as ge­o­log­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples.

About 90 manned sub­mersibles are cur­rently in ser­vice world­wide, 12 of which can reach a 1,000-me­ter-depth. The five lead­ing coun­tries in deep-sea ex­plo­ration all have sub­mersibles ca­pa­ble of div­ing 6,000 me­ters deep. Japan once held the div­ing depth record with 6,527 me­ters.

Fa­ther of Jiao­long

In 2002, China’s Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy launched a project to build a manned sub­mersible ca­pa­ble of div­ing 7,000 me­ters deep. Al­most ev­ery ex­pert nom­i­nated Xu Qi­nan to serve as its chief de­signer. Xu was a found­ing mem­ber of China’s deep-sea sub­mersible pro­gram and suc­ces­sively served as deputy chief de­signer or chief de­signer of the coun­try’s five sub­mersibles, manned and un­manned.

But Xu had al­ready been re­tired from China Ship­build­ing In­dus­try Corp, one of China’s ma­jor state-owned ship­builders, for six years by then. When the com­pany in­vited him to take the po­si­tion, Xu was ea­ger to get back to work, but his fam­ily ob­jected be­cause Xu was suf­fer­ing from heart prob­lems, high blood pres­sure, headaches and par­tial blindness in one eye. “I have been work­ing on de­vel­op­ing a 7,000-me­ter div­ing de­vice since 1992,” pleaded Xu. “It’s my dream. I can do it.”

Xu was 66 at the time, which was be­yond the project’s age limit of 55. But China’s Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy made an ex­cep­tion for him.

Across the fol­low­ing decade, Xu and his team over­came many dif­fi­cul­ties to con­tin­u­ously set new records for Chi­nese sub­mersible depth. When Jiao­long con­ducted its first trial run, Xu in­sisted on be­ing aboard its mother ship, even lug­ging a suit­case of drugs and health­care equip­ment such as an oxygen ma­chine and blood pres­sure mon­i­tors. Ev­ery time Jiao­long dove, rather than wait in the com­mand room, he would sit in the con­trol cab­i­net to look at the sea and wait for re­sponses from the divers—only a dozen sen­tences in sev­eral hours. He didn’t want to miss a word. “I am tired, but I am happy,” re­marked Xu.

To­day, 81-year-old Xu no longer man­ages any work, but the team he built and the pro­fes­sion­als he trained con­tinue to carry his torch.

Xu Qi­nan (left), chief de­signer of China's Jiao­long manned deepsea sub­mersible, vis­its Taizhou In­sti­tute of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy un­der Nan­jing Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy. IC

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