Two thumbs up! The dive, the mission, and the promise for more dives to come should give every adventurer a reason to celebrate today. Filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron journeyed to Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest spot on Earth at 35,756 feet (10.89 km), and returned — or rather rocketed — to the surface in his custom-built solo-diving submersible made for this job: Deepsea Challenger.
At 5:15 a.m. local time Monday — barefoot and tucked inside the sub as it bobbed like a fish on a line at the surface next to its tender ship, Mermaid Sapphire — Cameron spoke the words “Release, release, release,” to the launch crew who removed the holding hooks and released the sub. Cameron took control of Deepsea Challenger and began piloting the vertical mini-sub along its rapid descent of about 3 knots.
He called out his depth readings to the surface over the underwater communication system as he went. The numbers climbed higher and higher as he descended deeper and deeper.
His friend Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen tweeted the depth reports as they came from his yacht, Octopus.
Two hours and 36 minutes later Cameron was by himself in a place last seen with human eyes on Jan. 23, 1960, when U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh (then lieutenant) and the late Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard visited the abyss with the bathyscaphe Trieste. We have gone to the moon and back since then. Cameron tweeted:
The plan was for Cameron to stay on the bottom and explore the soft, sediment-laden seafloor for signs of life for six hours. But Cameron cut the trip short after three hours when the manipulator arm’s hydraulic fluid leaked over his viewport, reported National Geographic, a co-sponsor with Rolex of the Deepsea Challenge expedition.
Walsh and Piccard had spent only 20 minutes on the bottom during their dive, as a crack developed in the plastic window of the hatch that connected where they were sitting in their observation sphere to their exit chamber. That chamber had been intentionally flooded with water to decrease buoyancy during the descent and needed to be pumped dry with air at the surface. The window held, but the Trieste never saw depths that deep again. And neither did anyone else, until today.
To return to the surface, Cameron dropped shot, as we say in the business, more than 1,000 pounds of metal ballast, a maneuver the U.S. Alvin submersible also employs for buoyancy control, but a method reserved only for emergencies on the Russian Mir submersibles. Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger took to the surface like a rocket from the seafloor, pointing straight up in an ascent that took about 70 minutes. It was, he said, a “heckuva ride.”
Always up for a challenge, Cameron ascended back to the surface, ready to fix the leak and get started on the next dive. “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 said.
James Cameron gives two thumbs-up as he emerges from the Deepsea Challenger submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. (Copyright Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)
Challenger Deep explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right, congratulates Cameron on completing the first ever solo dive 35,756 feet (10.89 km) down to “Challenger Deep,” the lowest part of the Mariana Trench. Walsh took the same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the bathyscaphe Trieste, with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. (Copyright Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)