Maker Faire Bay Area: Undersea Voyager Project Interview

Scott Cassell of Undersea Voyager Project

Scott Cassell of Undersea Voyager Project

We’re merely two days out from Maker Faire Bay Area, the Greatest Show and Tell on Earth, with over 700 makers of all stripes coming out to the San Mateo Fairgrounds to show what they’ve made. One thing all these folks have in common is their immense sense of passion for whatever it is they make. Undersea explorer Captain Scott Cassell of the nonprofit Undersea Voyager Project (UVP) exemplifies this passion with his tireless love of the open waters of our planet and advocacy for the creatures who call it home. He’ll be bringing their salvaged and homebuilt submersible Great White to the Faire.

1. How did the Undersea Voyager Project get started and what is the main goal?
Undersea Voyager Project made its official debut on December 15, 2008, at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. The Undersea Voyager Project is a nonprofit (501)(c)(3) public-benefit company for oceanic research and educational outreach. Founded by me, UVP is designed to utilize manned submersibles to take a physical look at the first 100—1,000 feet of seawater (which is the largest environment on Earth) on a continuing series of missions to explore the Earth underwater. UVP is privatizing ocean exploration and science by inviting the public — in other words, everyone — to participate! Our Youth Ambassador Program has had excellent success in training teens how to become submersible pilots, scientific observers, and oceanographer’s assistants. One student even co-discovered her own new species of life!

2. Six years of work went into your home-built two-man submarine, Great White. How did acquire the original Kittredge K-250 submersible it’s built on and what modifications have you made?
In the summer of 2007 I was told about a little one-person sub in someone’s backyard. Soon thereafter an acquaintance introduced me to a retiring radiologist who owned the Kittredge K-250 submersible. The K-250 was designed by the honored Capt (Ret) George Kittredge. It’s a very successful design with a depth rating of 250 feet of seawater, although testing indicated the subs were very capable of going much deeper. The radiologist had the sub for over 20 years. During his ownership in the 1980s he successfully sank the sub once and had to mount a salvage expedition to recover it. He nearly killed himself a few times diving the sub improperly and recklessly, and then decided to store it outside for nearly two decades, allowing it to deteriorate.

When I saw it for the first time I fell in love with it regardless of her poor condition. In my mind’s eye I saw the beginning of my dream of an oceanic exploration nonprofit. After first offering to donate the sub to me for my nonprofit, the radiologist suddenly had a change of heart and decided to sell it to us for $10,000! The old “bait & switch” trick (which became the radiologist’s nickname). Not having the money I became demoralized. My good friend and mentor, Tom Mix, became my sounding board, and after hearing my dilemma went off and made a plan with his wife Linda. Believing in me, Tom stepped up with a hugely generous offer. He committed to purchase the sub from “Old Bait & Switch” and donate it to UVP! The problem, he explained, is that it will take most of the year to pay for it with payments. I presented the idea to “Old Bait & Switch” and he accepted. Frankly, I was (and still am) awestruck by the selflessness and friendship Tom exhibited. After a Herculean financial effort of payments each month, on the 26th of January 2008, Tom finally purchased the Trilobite K-250 submersible.

The modifications we made are all based on proven technology and designs of operating submersibles. I have over 900 dives as Pilot in Command on the SeaMagine submersibles, so I used concepts applied to those subs simply due to their unrivaled reliability and toughness.

First, the ballast systems were changed from bow and stern open bottom tanks to closed variable ballast mounted inside pontoons tubes fitted on the port/starboard, giving much improved stability and safety over the original design. The aluminum ballast tubes were mounted on beautiful arms that resemble giant music notes.

Second, the “boat-tail” was added to give room for scientific instruments, then stuffed with syntactic foam to float the tail with nearly 200lbs of lift, allowing us to pack nearly 200lbs of instrumentation in the tail with “as-required” flexibility. To communicate the power and data feeds, a titanium circular plate was fabricated and mated to a 6″-diameter seal with five submersible plug sets that can be easily changed with the unique needs of the instruments used.

Third, the sub has 18″ longer skids to allow for larger batteries that double as emergency-releasable 400lbs weight. We kept the system 12V for safety and simplicity at the cost of some efficiency.

Fourth, we added a brand new, thicker acrylic 24″ dome, new heavier steel ring, new thicker bow, 16″ port and new side view-ports, increasing the safety and depth range of the sub to an excess of 500fsw (feet of sea water).

Fifth, the original port/starboard moveable thrusters have been changed to the more traditional three-axis configuration (Thruster One: forward/backward, Lateral Thruster: yaw (turning), Vertical Thruster: descending/ascending).

Sixth, we added wheels to the sub! These solid rubber wheels allow us to push-launch our sub at almost any boat ramp so we can reduce our launch complexity. This opens up the entire coast to us! After we push-launch her, we can tow her out to the dive site with a vessel as small as a RHIB with a 25HP motor up to any size ship.

Seventh, we added a 72-hour life-support system including onboard emergency battery, CO2 scrubber, oxygen injection manifold, and O2 sensor.

Eight, Great White is bristling with cameras and lights so we can film our dives as well as surface-feed images and audio up an umbilical to the surface vessel so topside personnel can see what the sub sees. Soon we hope to be able to link our images of dives as they happen to our website so kids around the world can chat with the sub’s pilot during dives!

Undersea Voyager Project

3. Tell us about yourself. How did you get interested in deep sea exploration and who are your inspirations?
As a child, I knew man should explore Earth’s inner space. And in my heart, I somehow knew that I would be among those explorers. One cold winter day when I was six years old, our family went to the movies. Little did I know this outing would set the course of my life. The film was Disney’s version of the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I was enthralled by the action unfolded on the giant silver screen, to the point where I felt physically tired by the time the movie ended.

The movie deeply affected me — especially during the scenes where the giant squid attacked the Nautilus. The next day I visited the school library and learned that giant squid were REAL! At that moment, I knew my life would revolve around submersibles and giant squid. After all, how many kids don’t like monsters or dinosaurs?! The difference was that my “monster” was real — living in the present and not impossible to encounter. My childhood imagination flourished and has not abated to this day.

I was inspired by my mentor and personal hero, Dr. Andreas Rechnitzer, who was the project manager and senior scientist of the Trieste Bathyscaphe and the Nekton Project (Man’s Deepest Dive and first to the Challenger Deep in 1961). Although very proud of his achievements, he wanted to perform trans-oceanic scientific transects to study the condition of the oceans and report it to the world. But 1970 budget cuts prevented the program. I promised him if I could figure it out in the current economic environment, I would execute the missions.

4. You’re driven to “make people explorers once again, instead of remote control vehicles.” Why is this important?
I am 50 years old. When I was only a few years old, I watched Apollo 11’s astronauts take the first step on the moon. It made the entire world stop in its tracks. When the seven Challenger astronauts died in the Challenger accident, the entire world mourned. When humans scale Everest, discover new life, see something for the first time, the world notices in a primeval way. In contrast, when the first pictures from the Mars Rover came back, people were amazed, but few, if any, can tell you the date, or exactly what they were doing the moment they heard the news.

When people do incredible things in the name of science, people notice. We are a race of genetically predisposed explorers. We must know what is in the dark, the unknown. I am using that human trait to inspire the next generation of scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians to pursue the sea as a way of life in order to get fresh new minds to untangle the global-wide extinction event previous generations (including mine, worst of all) have set. We are living at the time science fiction writers have expressed in their works for over a hundred years. The time when man faces extinction within a generation. What happens next? Do the unethical-money-motivated-extinction-causing human filth continue to win? Or, does the new generation of ethical science and technology make a radical and powerful change in humanity’s destiny?

Remote systems are critically important tools, but they inspire very few. We need explorers to become the heroes they are to our kids. Ask current scientists and engineers at JPL and NASA what inspired them. Most will say Star Trek and Jacques Cousteau.

Undersea Voyager Project

5. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
My VP and good friend, John Sanderson, learned about it, and since our sub is basically home-built he felt it was a good opportunity for UVP to get some public exposure.

6. How will you be bringing UVP to life at the Faire?
UVP has a life of its own now. It has our little sub, access to another sub (SEAMobile), and an underwater habitat is under construction. During the Maker Faire we will bring our submersible Great White in its fully operational status and give guided tours around the sub.

7. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
With our sub operational, I finally let in the possibilities of what she can accomplish. This fact has been suppressed inside me for years because the sub was not ready. Now we can do so much with research, exploration, and inspiring kids that I find it difficult to sleep at night.

Undersea Voyager Project

8. Your passion for mystified (and often demonized) sea creatures, like the great white shark and the giant squid, is inspiring. What is your main message for the masses?
In the dark cold of the open sea live some of the most amazing creatures our planet has ever seen. They exist in a dark and often hostile world where man has only recently ventured, and with all of his technological mastery has seen just two percent of this vast and mysterious realm. We come from this! And, we are driven to re-explore it. What we find is amazing and incredible! Each time a deep submersible dives it has the chance of seeing something previously unknown. Mankind only loves what they are aware of. Discovery is the basis for all emotions we can apply to what exists in the sea. The more we know the more we can love and protect.
For example, when I saw Jaws I was terrified of the water based on the lies of a stupid movie that depicted great white sharks as plotting man-eaters.

Now, after 20 years of diving with many great white sharks, I can tell you that they are individuals with personality! I have swam with 3,500lb sharks and tickled their bellies, ridden on their backs, and petted them. I have learned to love them and see them much like folks see family dogs. They are nothing but animals and most of the time, harmless. More folks die from family dog attacks than white shark attacks.

We must leave our preconceived notions behind us and grow up! The only true monsters are men. Over 73 million sharks are killed just for shark-fin soup. That is over 200,000 per day! Last month a shark I loved for 20 years was murdered for her fins and jaws. Her 60-year long life ended for $1,800. Her 3,000lb body rots on a Baja beach, and I miss her.

9. Tell us about your outreach program in collaboration with Global SchoolNet.
The Global School Net program is yet to be plugged in but it is anticipated to be a real-time outreach program to kids in classrooms as well as a series of YouTube mini videos for kids and adults alike.

YouTube player

10. What advice do you have for young makers who are inspired by your project?
If you are comfortable, you are wrong! If you have a dream fueled by passion, build it! Don’t take no for an answer — find a way to make it happen. Sit down away from distractions and imagine. Imagine in great detail. Make well-thought-out designs and write it all down. Never stop imagining your dreams. That is reserved for when you die, just like comfort. Great people have gone past comfort and made events happen — often against all odds and against normal thought. Don’t be normal. Use imagination as a discipline to create. The greatest opportunity in the history of mankind exists today. Save the oceans to save ourselves. My god, human, invent!

Thank you Capt. Cassell! For folks who want to come see Great White in person and connect with thousands of like-minded makers, check out the Maker Faire website for all the information you need. See you there!

6 thoughts on “Maker Faire Bay Area: Undersea Voyager Project Interview

  1. HDFilmDiziKeyfi says:


  2. Tech/Travel News Commentary for May 16 2012 « TechTravel Review says:

    […] Make Magazine […]

  3. Ryan Van Horne says:

    Reblogged this on Ryan Van Horne and commented:
    Fascinating underwater footage. I would love to own my own submarine to be able to go explore the ocean’s depths.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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