James Cameron makes final preparations for historic deep-sea dive
Weather permitting Saturday, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron could take his Deepsea Challenger to the bottom of the world, a place of perpetual cold, darkness, and abiding mystery.
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The sub is rigged with high-tech gadgetry and controls, life support systems, powerful lights to illuminate the underworld and externally-mounted sampling instruments, including a curiously-named “slurp gun” to suction up biological and geological specimens.Skip to next paragraph
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It will descend like a bullet, dragged vertically at 500-700 feet a minute by 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of steel weights fixed onto it by electro-magnets. Once on the ocean floor, Cameron will maneuver using joysticks to command 12 thrusters. When he’s ready to resurface, the weights will be jettisoned at the flick of a switch to allow the sub to rise back up.
Naturally for an Oscar-winning movie-maker with a passion for extreme ocean exploration, there are also eight cameras to record his every move and, perhaps, images of hitherto unknown creatures of the deep.
Other members of the team, including Captain Walsh – who has dived to the wrecks of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck with Cameron – were made to sign non-disclosure agreements to keep plans and technological details under wraps as the inventor, environmentalist, explorer, and director of films including The Abyss, Titanic, and Avatar labored for eight years on the project.
Whereas Sir Richard Branson declared last year that he intended being the first to send a manned craft to Challenger Deep, Cameron and Australian co-designer Ron Allum have long led the field.
“Unlike the other guys, Branson, who said ‘We’ll get to the deepest point in the ocean by the end of 2011,’ Jim’s not made a big show of things. This has never been a race,” said Capt. Walsh.
Nor is Cameron’s expedition just about bragging rights. He will explore both the seabed and the sheer cliffs that lead down to it, gather samples of sediment, and collect sea life specimens with a grappling claw and suction gun.
Scientists from Scripps Oceanographic Institution and NASA, among others, will be waiting topside to take charge of his haul, hoping that it will bring them the kind of thrills that his five-mile test-dive in the New Britain Trench off Papua New Guinea yielded earlier this month; giant shrimp-like creatures measuring seven inches (17 centimeters) long were brought to the surface with him and others twice the size were caught on camera.
Whatever life lurks in the Mariana Trench, scientists believe that it will open up a whole new appreciation of the oceans’ past, present, and future.
“One of the issues on everyone’s mind is how much we’ve changed the ocean since Don and Jacques made their epic descent into the Mariana Trench half a century ago,” wrote Dr Joe MacInnis, a Canadian physician, scientist and deep-sea explorer who is on the expedition. “For the past 52 years we’ve been engaged in an all-out war against the creatures that inhabit its depths. Our weapons of mass destruction include nets, dredges, long-lines, harpoons, and toxic chemicals…We’re in the midst of a Darwinian death spiral affecting all life on Earth and every member of the human family,”
“For all of us, Jim’s dive is more than a 14-mile round-trip into the deep end of the ocean. It’s a journey into the history, geography, and future of the planet’s major life-support system. He’s diving into a place that inspires the imagination and wounds the heart.”