A few days ago, the Atlantis left the dingy harbor of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to make a 500-mile cruise south to an astonishing spot in the eastern Pacific. This is the Galapagos Rift, a rise about 8,500 feet down, the site of "Rosebud." Here, in impenetrable dark and near frozen water, an active geothermal vent in the Earth's crust pumps up super-heated water rich with minerals and toxic chemicals. It was precisely here, 48 miles north of the equator, 200 miles east of the Galapagos Islands, that the most remarkable collection of undersea creatures was first discovered living amidst this forbidding brine. In 1977, geologists in the deep-submersible Alvin first penetrated the depths to discover these creatures, and in so doing, uncovered a deeper understanding of the conditions in which life could thrive in the Universe.
The deep submersible Alvin is an astonishing vessel and it lives aboard the Atlantis in a private hangar. It is tended to lovingly by a remarkably dedicated, experienced, and ingenious crew. Chief Alvin pilot Pat Hickey has gone on so many dives, he's spent a total of two years on the ocean floor. The other pilots so respect Pat's expertise commanding Alvin they speak of his feats in mythic terms. "Once he spent three days down there to let a hurricane go by!" "He is so good with the manipulator arms, he collects samples without even slowing Alvin down." So I feel pretty fortunate that tomorrow, when I'm scheduled to go down to the "Rosebud" vent site in Alvin, Pat is scheduled to be at the helm.