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Deepest Dive Coming up!

March 16th, 2012

Illustration of James Cameron's Deep Sea Challenge. Image attribution National Geographic via Digital Journal

You know the movie Avatar ? The most successful movie of all-time? Ever . So successful it’s even a Guinness World Record . And then the second most successful movie of all-time, Titanic ?

The man who directed both those blockbusters, James Cameron, is also an avid submarine pilot and diver, and it looks like he’s going to be the first one to make it down to the deepest point of any ocean … and Earth … in the “Race to Inner Space”.

He’s reportedly now just waiting for the weather to calm before taking his one-man sub, called the Deep Sea Challenge , down to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, nearly 7 miles down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the U.S. territory, Guam .

For a submarine a dive straight down to the bottom of the ocean, this story has a lot of twists and turns. Billionaire Richard Branson and a few others have been vying to be the first ones down. You may remember Sir Richard Branson took HTE readers questions about his upcoming trip, likely to be in a few months. You can read Part 1 here . And Part 2 here .

For all the excitement, Mr. Cameron won’t actually be the first person down there. A half a century ago, U.S. Navy Lieutentant Don Walsh and Swiss scientist Jacques Piccard were the first ones down there in 1960. But as they touched down, their 12-ton submarine kicked up so much of the ocean floor they unfortunately couldn’t see much or get pictures. Plus, a crack in their window forced them back up just 20 minutes later.  Still, that was a huge accomplishment in exploration by some very brave people. And no one’s been back since.

U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste that made the first successful dive to Challenger Deep. Photo credit: U.S. NHHC Photo via Virgin Oceanic/Creative Commons

Submarine technology, materials, and design have changed a lot since then. Mr. Cameron’s submarine will tread lightly at just 1 ton and fits only him (barely). It’s been described as cross between a “race car and a torpedo”. And it will be fitted with all sorts of cameras and a “slurp gun” to suck up samples for scientists to study. There have been cameras dropped down before but this would be the first time this deepest point on Earth has been truly explored by human eyes.

It’s a very dangerous trip, especially because Mr. Cameron is going alone. It’s unclear whether he’ll even be able to communicate from that far down. And it’s not like anyone can easily come get him if they need to.

And even though he may be the first person to explore it (he plans to spend 6 hours there), it’s amazing to think that more men have been to the moon than down to the deepest parts of our own planet ( 12 men have walked on the moon! ).  And that while the earth is 70% covered by water, we know less about what’s on our ocean floors than what’s on Mars.

In preparing for his trip, Mr. Cameron also seems to have set the record for the deepest solo submarine going down 5.1 miles down near Papua, New Guinea during a practice.

Though it’s been described as a race, Richard Branson’s Virgin Oceanic group’s Operations Manager, Eddie Kisfaludy, has been quoted on WebProNews as saying, “Of course there’s some desire behind each individual to be first but the nice thing about working with Cameron is that we get to share some of the technology together – though the media has portrayed it as a race, it’s also been a nice collaboration to share technologies and learn from each other.”

National Geographic , in conjunction with James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge website , have some great resources if you’d like to learn more. As does Mr. Branson’s Virgin Oceanic website. And Triton Subs .

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