"Titanic" director James Cameron will attempt to dive to the deepest place on earth - the deepest any human has gone solo- in a submersible "as futuristic as anything in his movies," project partner National Geographic Scientific Institution says. He is headed for the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep; at seven miles deep, Mount Everest would be one mile below the surface if it were dropped here.
Cameron has already broken the record during testing of his submersible 'Deepsea Challenger' off Papua New Guinea earlier this month, when he dived 5.1 miles below the surface, says National Geographic. He will return from Challenger Deep in the Western Pacific with photographs, animal specimens and other samples; National Geographic said the mission would "expand our knowledge and understanding of these largely unknown parts of the planet." Scientists say that the dive will also help in predict earthquakes and answer some questions on how life began on the planet.
Fifty seven year old Cameron will not be the first human to visit Challenger Deep- two men aboard the US Navy submersible Trieste hold that honour since 1960. They could stay down for only twenty minutes, though, with a view obscured by silt stirred up when they landed. Cameron expects to stay six hours solo on the seafloor during which he will film and collect specimens with a robotic arm. His submersible, the 26 foot Deepsea Challenger, weighs just 12 tonnes; twelve times lighter than Trieste. Cameron will be stuffed into a three and half foot steel "pilot sphere", where he will not be able to extend his arms or legs completely. The pressure on the submersible will be- at 16,000 lbs per square inch- tremendous. "It would be about the equivalent of turning the Eiffel Tower upside down and resting it on your big toe," says team member Patricia Fryer.
"It's like a clown car in there," Cameron said. "You barely have room to get in, and then they hand you another 50 pounds of equipment."
Cameron and his team will test the Deep Sea Challenger off Guam next, close to the 1500 mile long Mariana Trench. For safety, the submersible has three independent systems that can jettison the heavy steel plates that allow it to sink—sending the craft up to the water surface automatically. Because of the extreme pressure, the Deep Sea Challenge will actually shrink more than six centimetres during the one and a half hour long descent. Once down, twelve thrusters will allow it to move or hover in place. Special independent 'landers' with bait sent down separately will lure any sea creatures which will be retrieved "still cold, still under pressure" by the team for study, says Kevin Hardy of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, adding that some of these species may be alien. "If you can imagine a wild animal, you'll find it down there," he says.
Cameron, who built his miniature submarine secretly in Australia over eight years, is well aware of the dangers of the expedition. "When you're making a movie, everybody's read the script and they know what's going to happen next," he says. "When you're on an expedition, nature hasn't read the script, the ocean hasn't read the script, and no one knows what's going to happen next," he says.