James Cameron set the record this week for the world's deepest solo submarine dive and says he next plans to dive even deeper in a matter of weeks.
National Geographic reports that Cameron set the 5.1-mile record on Tuesday, during testing of the submarine Deepsea Challenger off the coast of Papua New Guinea. And with the world record in hand, the Academy Award winning director says he will now travel to the depths of the Mariana Trench in a matter of weeks.
And while admitting he's nervous about the trip, Cameron says part of the excitement is not knowing exactly what he'll find 6.8 miles beneath the surface, more than a mile greater than the distance between Mt. Everest's base and summit.
"When you're making a movie, everybody's read the script and they know what's going to happen next," Cameron said in a video on the forthcoming dive. "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."
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Humans last explored the Mariana Trench 50 years ago. In 1960, the Trieste submarine carried two divers, American Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard to the trench's bottom, where they spent 20 minutes. And while the dive was a huge accomplishment, no images were captured from the journey because of silt stirred up on the ocean floor as a result of the sub's impact. The Trieste weighed a hefty 12 tons, something Cameron and his team was acutely aware. They say the Deepsea Challenger weighs in at just a single metric ton.
Since the Trieste's voyage, only robotic cameras have made the journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Cameron plans to spend six hours on the bottom of the trench, during which he hopes to collect samples, including live creatures, and will film the entire journey with several of his innovative 3D cameras.
"We're gonna go down there with our cameras, our lights, and find the answers to some of those questions," Cameron said.
Cameron is no stranger to pursuing historic discoveries both in and out of the water. He was a producer on the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary, which purports to have discovered the final resting place of the Biblical figure.
And Cameron devoted the better part of a decade to deep-sea exploration after winning 11 Oscars for his 1997 film Titanic. Cameron has said his sequel to 2009's Avatar will be set in the fictional planet Pandora's oceans. Cameron's 1989 classic, The Abyss dealt with a fictional crew's exploration of the Cayman Trough, where they stumble upon alien life.
Despite the innumerable technological advances over the past 50 years, one thing Cameron will share with the crew of the Trieste is a severe lack of personal mobility. The 43-inch "pilot sphere" section of the sub will prevent Cameron from fully extending his arms of legs.
"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 [23 kilograms] of equipment."
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