Ben Franklin

StarDate: July 14, 2009

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In July of 1969, NASA dispatched a band of explorers from Florida on a journey into a hostile environment. Their trip helped prepare for longer journeys in the future, and provided important scientific information on the world they explored.

This wasn't the crew of Apollo 11, though, and the explorers weren't headed for the Moon. Instead, six men embarked on a journey through the Atlantic Ocean in a small submarine -- the Ben Franklin.

The expedition was led by Jacques Piccard, who was one of only two men ever to visit the deepest spot in the oceans. Other crew members included a Navy submariner, marine scientists, and a NASA expert in human behavior.

NASA was interested in the mission because it was a good simulation of a prolonged stay aboard a space station. Like a space crew, the men lived in cramped quarters, worked in a hazardous environment, and were pretty much on their own.

The Ben Franklin launched 40 years ago today, off the coast of Palm Beach. Over the next four weeks, the sub drifted about 1400 miles through the Gulf Stream, ending its mission off the coast of Maine. Marine scientists plotted the current and other information about their surroundings.

And the behavioral scientist found that the crew did just fine. The men worked well together, and accomplished all of their objectives. They provided valuable information for future trips into another hostile environment -- the environment of space.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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