Donald Kazimir: Research Submarine Captain

Alumni PhotoAfter spending nine years in the Navy, on a destroyer and two submarines, Don Kazimir joined Grumman Aerospace as captain of the deep diving research submarine, the Ben Franklin, which made history underwater as the Apollo 11 space mission prepared for a lunar landing. The driving force behind the sub and its scientific mission was noted deep-ocean explorer Jacques Piccard. From July 14 to August 14, 1969, Kazimir, Piccard and four other scientists were part of the PX-15 Gulf Stream Drift Mission, sealed into the mesoscape sub for a 30-day adventure. The sub, launched from Riviera Beach, FL, followed the Gulf Stream for nearly 1,500 miles, emerging off the coast of Halifax, NS. The mission provided data about human behavior in a confined space (the sub was 48 feet long and 20 feet high) and resulted in five volumes of scientific observations, all of which are still valuable in ocean and climate research and space travel.

Don recalls: “As captain, I took charge of the boat, ensured that everyone was safe, and made sure that the scientific mission was carried out as planned. Erwin Aebersold [a Swiss engineer and designer and pilot of the sub] and I took turns on 12-hour watch periods controlling the sub while the others carried out their experiments.

“One particularly interesting incident was off the Carolinas when the boat started to move up and down in a sine curve pattern. It would travel downward slowly about 300 hundred feet and then slowly back up, repeating the pattern over several hours. It did it on its own and we were quite puzzled. Luckily, we had a Navy oceanographic vessel on the surface with some experts in physical oceanography. They surmised that we experienced underwater waves that were created by the interaction of the cold coastal water and fast-moving warm Gulf Stream.

“The best part of the voyage was our ability to see into the ocean through 29 viewports, each with its own light to attract interesting marine life.”The Ben Franklin has been refurbished and is on view at the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Canada. (See photo of Don taken at the exhibit opening two years ago and, inset, during the mission.) Last year, a documentary of the Drift Mission was presented on the Discovery Science channel.

Following the excitement of the PX-15 Mission, Kazimir co-founded Solar Development Inc., a manufacturer of solar water heaters for residential and commercial use, in 1974. While at SDI, he won the Governor’s Award for an innovative solar water heater that was sold in The Home Depot stores and could be shipped to homes via UPS. It was later selected as a member of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Hall of Fame.

In 1995, Don joined the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach as Director of the Respect Life Office, a position he currently holds.

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