An aerial view of the deep-sea research submarine Ben Franklin at dock. The sub descended to 1,000 feet off of Riviera Beach, Fla., and drifted 1,400 miles north with the current for more than four weeks, reemerging near Maine. NASA/Provided

In 1969, shortly after its mission to drift in the Gulf Stream, the Ben Franklin submarine was docked on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Gene Feldman, then in high school, spotted posters on lampposts about the sub. He and his family decided to take a look.

He already had a passion for the sea and it’s creatures. But something clicked when he saw the sub.

Erwin Aebersold, crewmember of Ben Franklin, and Gene Feldman, NASA oceanographer, in 2013

Erwin Aebersold, crewmember of the Ben Franklin, and Gene Feldman, a NASA oceanographer, in 2013. Courtesy of Gene Feldman/Provided

“There it was, bobbing in the water.” The crew was there, too, dressed in their uniforms. “From that point on, I wanted to study marine biology.”

Feldman is now an oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, studying satellite imagery for insights into the planet’s seascape.

Despite its place in history, the Ben Franklin ended up rusting in a Canadian junkyard. The Vancouver Maritime Museum later discovered the vessel and restored it. But Feldman and a former crewmember, Don Kazimir, think an East Coast museum would be a more fitting home — perhaps in South Florida where the mission began.

Just as it inspired him, Feldman said the Ben Franklin’s legacy can inspire others.

Ben Franklin submarine in 1969

The deep-sea research submarine the Ben Franklin drifts off the East Coast of the United States. The submarine's record-shattering dive influenced the design of Apollo and Skylab missions. NASA/Provided

“Progress in science is often based on the gradual accumulation of knowledge,” he said. “This mission and its crew contributed to our knowledge of the Gulf Stream in ways we had never seen before nor since.”


For a deeper dive into the Gulf Stream and the amazing and disturbing things happening to it, visit our new special report: Into the Gulf Stream

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Reach Tony Bartelme at 843-937-5554. Follow him on Twitter @tbartelme.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme