In 1956, a team of scientists convened in Washington to discuss the way forward in deep-sea exploration. They focused on the future because there was, at that point, no real past to speak of: At the time, the ocean floor was nearly as foreign to humans as the surface of the moon. We could guess what it might look like, based on the environments of shallower waters; we had as yet, however, no way to see the scene with our own eyes.
So the commission did what commissions do best: It drafted a resolution. One that, in this case, called for the United States to develop a national program to build underwater vehicles that would be capable of reaching depths never before possible. The manned mini-subs would be the maritime version of the rockets and capsules that NASA was then developing for the exploration of space: They would bring humans, for the first time, to the worlds beyond the Earth's surface.
Eight years later—on June 5, 1964—a team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute commissioned the vehicle that resulted: a little sub named, in a tribute to the oceanographer Allyn Vine, Alvin. In the 50 years since then, the three-seater mini-sub—the only one shared by the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—has, the Cape Cod Times writes, "easily become the rock star of WHOI's fleet."