by Claire Calcagno
Harold Edgerton was always keen to promote the use of his underwater instruments, and to learn about alternative designs from colleagues around the world.Doc had a unique opportunity to collaborate with Soviet colleagues in 1969, when he was invited to be a guest scientist on board the USSR’s research vessel R/V Akademik Kurchatov. Edgerton had met one of the chief scientsts on board, Gleb Udintsev, at an oceanography conference in 1961 in Honolulu. Their mission was to investigate and map an area of the Mid-Atlantic Rift Valley. Edgerton brought along a student of his, Jim Sholer (MIT Class of 1971) and Mike Hobart as assistants with his deep-sea photographic equipment during the expedition.
MIT student Jim Sholer with Edgerton’s deep-sea camera system on board R/V AKADEMIK KURCHATOV, 1969.
Leonid Dmitriv, Gleb Udintsev, Boris Shekhatov and Doc Edgerton on the Soviet research vessel, 1969.
The expedition epitomized the ideal of international collaboration among scientists that characterized the era, while at the same time underscoring the latent competitiveness stoked by Cold War attitudes. Nonetheless, When Edgerton found himself surrounded by Russians at the moment of the American Moon landing, he was fëted with vodka and song along with his fellow American passengers. As he wrote to Melvin M. Payne and his sponsors at the National Geographic Society, “The impact of this “moon walk” has been terrific…”