Twelve men have walked on the surface of the moon and maybe 500 have traveled to space, but only [two] have visited the very deepest point of the ocean, which they reached on January 23, 1960. – Daily Mail
At 3:16pm EST today James Cameron began his descent to the deepest part of the ocean in the world, the Mariana Trench, the bottom awaited him an amazing 7 miles below! In 1960 two explorers made the same journey to explore the ocean floor for 20 minutes, today the visit included a planned bottom time of nearly 6 hours! Cameron made his trip in a small sphere attached to a state of the art submarine!
The state of the art custom built submarine known at the Deepsea Challenger, is nothing short of amazing. The design concept is very similar to the Trieste used in 1960 to make the journey, but the similarity ends at the design concept. Much like a space shuttle the vast majority of the vehicle is not accessible by those onboard the craft. In fact James Cameron spent the entire journey in a small sphere just like on the 1960 journey. When I say small I mean small, the interior diameter of the sphere is only 43″, thats likely smaller then the TV you well end up watching the footage he returns with.
From with in the sphere Cameron will have a number of tools at his disposal, all of which are controlled from a small touch screen that sits just inches from his face. Cameron has access to a sediment sampler, a robotic claw, a “slurp gun” for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges. The only problem he will run into with collecting samples is a lack of storage space. Cameron will be seeing life that has never been seen by man before and will only be able to collect a small number of samples of the course of the six hour bottom time. With each samples he collects during the exploration he will risk missing out on collecting something else later in the exploration. By contrast, the sub’s multiple 3-D cameras will be running almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries. The video produced will be used by the scientific community for research for years to come.
At 5:52pm EST James Cameron arrived at the bottom of the Mariana Trench at a depth of 35,755′ and what did he do upon arrival? He sent a tweet. “Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/ you”. Not exactly as legandary a quote as “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, but either way its going to end up in the history books.
Once on the bottom the first step in the exploration was to rendezvous with unmanned probe that that dropped into the trench hours before he began his descent. Using sonar Cameron will navigate the Deepsea Challenger to the probe in hopes of observing animals that are attracted to it by a onboard chemical bait. He will then follow a preset route that will take him through as many environments as possible during the six hour bottom time. This will allow him to not only survey the sediment covered seafloor but also the nearby cliffs that are of great interest to expedition geologists.
The depths are of the Ocean are one of the last places on earth we haven’t explored (with exception of course to countless underwater caves). Today is easily as important to exploration as when we landed the first person on the surface of the moon, actually it is likely more important. While the moon landing was covered by new outlets through out the world, this exploration is exploration is getting very little media coverage. Even though we have technologies like twitter now that allow us to witness history as it occurs twitters trending topics at the moment include tv shows, actors, and similar topics. What does this say about the world we are living in when what and actress is wearing to a part is more important to our society then the exploration of our worlds oceans?
More details on this expedition can be found online at the main website for the Deepsea Challenge or you can follow along on twitter on the following feeds & topics: @JimCameron, @DeepChallenge, @PaulGAllen and #deepseachallenge
For the next six hours I for one will be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what discoveries are found during this amazing expedition!