Celebrating Tektite I and II — Looking Back- and Forward

The event drew dr. Hal Ross and Doug Briggs, who both worked on Tektite II.

By Chuck Pishko
St. John Tradewinds

On Saturday, November 6, V.I. Environmental Resource Station and Clean Islands International joined with the St. John Historical Society in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of Tektite I and II.

Important programs were conducted on St. John during Tektite as part of the United States exploration of Sea and Space. An October 18, St. John Tradewinds article on Tektite detailed the link between the program’s advances and the recent Chilean miners rescue.

Randy Brown, the Executive Director of Clean Islands International, which operates VIERS, highlighted the article’s look at the extension of the benefits of Tektite. Brown led off the program by introducing Allan Hunt, the President of the Board of Directors of Clean Islands and Bruce Schoonover of the SJHS, who reviewed and updated his Tektite research.



Allan Hunt, President of the Board of Directors of Clean Islands International addressed the crowd.

President Hunt, who lives in Bermuda, welcomed the program participants and audience. Schoonover updated his material on Tektite and supplemented it with new information. Schoonover’s insights on the Soviet Union’s moves of the 1960s were especially germane in light of the Chinese government’s current leadership in the field of undersea submersibles.

In the September 12 New York Times it was reported Chinese scientists had descended more than two miles into the South China Sea to explore and mine the ocean floor, rich in oil and minerals worth trillions of dollars. Soon Chinese submersibles will be able to descend 4.35 miles, according to the New York Times.
Much of the technical support and equipment, such as lights, cameras and mechanical arms came from the United States, according to the Times. Also, the crews trained at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, aboard the Alvin, the world’s oldest and most famous deep-diving craft.

Tektite participants reminded those at the anniversary of the importance of looking forward to challenges as well as backward to history.

In the early days of undersea exploration, the Soviet Union appear to have little regard for the casualties encountered in their explorations while safety was one of the major concerns for the United States, according to Dr. Hal Ross, who worked on Tektite II and attended the reunion with fellow Tektite member Doug Briggs.

Briggs supervised students from Highline Community College, Washington, who served as rescue divers for Tektite II.

Much attention has been paid to the first all-women team of aquanauts in the Tektite program led by Dr. Sylvia Earle. The extra attention highlighted the talents of female scientists, but there were many other women involved.

Dr. Alina Szmant, currently a Professor of Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina, was one of more than 60 scientist-aquanauts who took part in Tektite II. Dr. Szmant studied behavior of reef fishes to determine stimuli needed to trigger escape.

Let’s hope that the early efforts of the United States don’t become a footnote in a Chinese scientific textbook.