Amazing Depths: the DSV Limiting Factor
When it comes to exploration records, we tend to forget that new feats are only made possible thanks to incredible advancements in technology.
A case in point is the game-changing deep-submergence vehicle ("DSV") Limiting Factor, which was the first sub to visit the oceans' deepest points.
Explorer and former US naval officer Victor Vescovo has amassed an impressive collection of Guinness World Records titles, but none of them would have been possible if it weren't for a trusty sidekick: his state-of-the-art deep-sea submersible, DSV Limiting Factor.
After summitting Mount Everest (Earth's highest point) and visiting both poles, his attention turned to the depths of the ocean. But for the project he had in mind, he was going to need a vessel like no other that had ever been made.
Working with maritime engineering specialists Triton Submarines, this led to the development of Limiting Factor, the first submersible engineered specifically to make frequent journeys to the most profound parts of the sea.
In 2018–19, the Limiting Factor (piloted by Vescovo and backed by a huge support team of scientists, engineers and diving experts) embarked on the Five Deeps Expedition, a quest to visit the deepest-known point in each of Earth's oceans. This included his first visit to the deepest point of them all, the Pacific Ocean's Challenger Deep at almost 11 km (6.7 mi) below the waves, located south-west of Guam.
In 2020, he returned to the Challenger Deep once more with a record-breaking team to successfully log the deepest dive by a crewed vessel.
Alongside him on that expedition was the US oceanographer Dr Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut and head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Accompanying Vescovo in the Limiting Factor, she became the first woman to visit the Challenger Deep and also the first person to visit space and the deepest point on Earth.
To date, Vescovo has completed a total of 15 descents into the Challenger Deep, itself a record.
Such record-breaking feats, however, would not have been possible without the precision engineering and bleeding-edge tech that went into the DSV Limiting Factor.
The sub has entered a never-seen before a league of its own: as of 2022, it had completed a total of 126 descents and played an essential role in discovering the world's deepest shipwreck, not once but twice.
The two-person vessel is built to withstand staggering pressures, which can exceed more than 1,000 times that at sea level, but within the capsule, pressure remains at a constant one atmosphere, so no decompression is needed on the return to the surface.
It was built specifically to withstand long journeys in remote areas, with a sturdy titanium structure made to bear 25% more pressure than it would ever realistically experience.
In late 2022, the Limiting Factor (and its support ship, Pressure Drop) were acquired by the marine research organisation Inkfish, set up by Gabe Newell (owner of the gaming company Valve).
Under the new name Bakunawa (a serpent-dragon creature of Philippine mythology), the sub will continue its deep-sea odysseys, led by marine biologist and GWR consultant Dr Alan Jamieson based at the University of Western Australia's Ocean Institute.
What is certain is that this vaunted vessel will continue to push the limits of exploration as it helps shine a light on parts of our planet that remain so little seen or understood.
Never, ever underestimate your own capabilities and endurance.
In my experience, people are far more capable than they give themselves credit for. Push yourself, constantly.
You only get one life. Make it count. - Victor Vescovo