James Cameron has just emerged hours ago from the deepest point on Earth: The Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep. At 10 p.m. on Sunday (our time; really it was noon on Monday), the filmmaker’s “vertical torpedo” sub broke the surface of the western Pacific ocean, about 200 miles south of Guam.
It took two and a half hours for the descent and Cameron spent three hours on the actual dive. The purpose of the dive was so that he could spend time at theh bottom of the trench collecting samples and video. However, after about three hours of dive time, the mission was cut short due to a hydraulic fluid leak that obstructed his view. He was unable to control the manipulator arm. He made sure to stress that this turn of events wasn’t out of the ordinary. Considering how difficult it is to send humans so deep, Cameron emphasized that “It’s a prototype vehicle, so it’s gonna take time to iron out the bugs. The important thing is that we have a vehicle that’s a robust platform – it gets us there safely, the lights work, the cameras work, and hopefully next time the hydraulics will work.” He also mentioned that he is excited to go back and get more samples.
In fact, Cameron and his sub co-designer have already planned more dives in the coming weeks as part of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE project. They are excited about understand the world deep under the sea.
Cameron did mention what it was like on his dive and what he saw and didn’t see. The whole time he was under he didn’t see any fish or living creatures that were more than an inch long. The only free swimmers he saw were small amphipods, which are shrimplike bottom feeders. He did recover about 50 millileters of muddy seawater which will be used for culturing and genomic studies. According to marine biologist Doug Bartlett, the mud could contain excotic species of microbial life that can help in our undertstanding of the ocean as well as aid in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Prior to Camerons dive, the only expedition in Challenger Deep to use humans was a mission that took place in 1960 with a retired U.S. Navy Captain and Swiss engineer.
Cameron is looking forward to the challenges of discovery and says, “This is a vast frontier that’s going to take us a while to understand. The impression to me was it’s very lunar, very isolated. I felt as if, in space one day, I’d gone to another planet and come back.”
It will be interesting to see if and when James Cameron takes his experiences from the deep sea dives and turns them into the next Blockbuster. The wheels for the next Avatar-like movie may already be in motion!