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In the book "The Morning of the Magicians" the Belgian writer Louis Pauwels says that nothing prevented the bathyscaphe (that was designed by Auguste Piccard after World War Two) to be made in the nineteenth century. The bathyscaphe Trieste reached the bottom of the Challenger Deep (11,000 meters deep) in 1960.

I need help to verify that Louis Pauwels' claim is true.

Main question:

A) Was "state of the art" advanced enough in 1890 to build a bathyscaphe capable of reaching 11,000 meters if we consider that this vessel needs to have the following essential systems? :

diagram

  1. Spherical gondola, made of cast steel or forged steel, which is able to withstand a pressure of 1.25 metric tons per cm² and needs to have a diameter of two meters.

  2. Float chamber, which need not be made of a particularly resistant steel, and that needs to be filled several with tens of cubic meters of gasoline for buoyancy.

  3. A set of electric batteries capable of driving electric motors with propellers and also able to empower a group of electromagnets that hold the ballast iron pellets in place.

  4. Life support system able to allow two people to breathe for a day inside the cabin.

  5. Window made of transparent glass or plastic that can withstand the pressure.

  6. A set of electric (or gas) lights capable of operating underwater and withstanding the pressure.

Just another question:

B) Is there any other essential bathyscaphe part that I didn't notice?

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    $\begingroup$ Hello, and welcome! You have a great question here, but it's currently out of scope for WB SE. I'd like to give you some pointers as to how to improve it. First, you should avoid asking multiple questions. Instead, start by asking A & B in this post. Once you have an answer, post a different question linking back to this one, and inquire about C. Second, the "science-based" tag is a pretty big deal here. People answering are obliged to offer very serious proof of their claims, and not enough might be known about metallurgy in the 1890's for anyone to answer. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 1 '16 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM Ok, thank you for the advice. But, if there's not place for a "science-based" tag, which tag should it be? "Engineering-based"? $\endgroup$ – Ginasius Nov 1 '16 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ You can start with a science-based tag and see if you get any answers, then maybe leave only reality-check. Generally speaking, the two of them sort of exclude one another. Reality-check means that users should answer within the realm of it being believable, not necessarily accurate. Science-based means that answers must offer solid proof. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 1 '16 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering whether you might get a better answer to these questions on the Engineering SE Community. $\endgroup$ – Snow Nov 1 '16 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I didn't know that reality check and science based tend to exclude one another. Deleted "science-based". Thanks for the info. $\endgroup$ – Ginasius Nov 1 '16 at 13:56
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Most of it should have been possible in the late 1800's.
The hardest part would have been having a need and having someone with the vision to do it.
The first bathysphere was invented in 1928.

  1. Spherical gondola, made of cast steel or forged steel, which is able to withstand a pressure of 1.25 metric tons per cm² and needs to have a diameter of two meters.

Metallurgy would have been good enough by 1890 to handle this.

  1. Float chamber, which need not be made of a particularly resistant steel, and that needs to be filled several with tens of cubic meters of gasoline for buoyancy.

Probably not a problem. They may have used kerosene instead of gasoline, since the forerunner of gasoline was known in the early 1800's as a useless byproduct of kerosene manufacture.

  1. A set of electric batteries capable of driving electric motors with propellers and also able to empower a group of electromagnets that hold the ballast iron pellets in place.

The first electromagnets and electric motors were invented in the early 1800's. The Dun cell battery was invented in 1885 and would operate for at least 20 hours. While non-rechargeable, it put out more power for the weight than early lead cell batteries with a longer duty cycle. Fumes from the aqua regia may have been an issue, so the batteries may have needed their own compartment.

  1. Life support system able to allow two people to breathe for a day inside the cabin.

The first bathysphere used pans of soda lime and calcium chloride to absorb exhaled CO2 and moisture. The air was circulated over the pans with hand fans.

  1. Window made of transparent glass or plastic that can withstand the pressure.

This is the one that may have been troublesome. The first bathysphere had windows made from fused quartz since it is very strong and clear. Fused quartz was not invented until the early 1900's. Glass technology in 1890 may have been good enough to build a window strong enough, but it would have had to be thicker, causing clarity to suffer.

  1. A set of electric (or gas) lights capable of operating underwater and withstanding the pressure.

Probably electric since gas would need venting. The Edison lightbulb was invented in 1879, so it would have been available. With reflectors and the glass situation figured out in step 5 this would be doable.

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The 19th century spans from Trafalgar to the first steam turbine ships. My guess is that it would not be possible, with the possible exception of the last couple of years. Perhaps 100 metres by 1860. Perhaps 500 metres. Not 11 kilometres.

  • Iron and steel hulls for ships were introduced in this century. There were quality problems early on. Thermal effects that could lead to fractures were not understood.
  • Fitting windows and hatches is difficult. Consider the problems with breechloading guns, which prompted the Royal Navy to return to muzzle loaders after early experiments.
  • The motors for the propellers would be impossible to keep dry, and if wet they would not work.

Remember the fate of the Hunley. How many trial runs (with no info on what went wrong) before the first bathyscape works? What if test model #42 has a sufficiently strong gondola, but a defective window, and test model #43 has a sufficiently strong window, but a defective gondola?

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    $\begingroup$ The questions explicitly states 1890. In 1880 the Waddington Porpoise used an electric motor for propulsion, so it would totally be possible. If pressure might be a problem it could be sealed in mineral oil, which is non-conductive. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Nov 1 '16 at 18:41

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