Visiting the Bottom of the Mariana Trench Sounds Pretty Appealing Right Now

Caroline Delbert
Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

A retired naval officer and wealthy investor will begin carrying paying passengers into the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth. The eight-day trip, which includes three dives into the Deep, will cost $750,000 per person.

Victor Vescovo has already visited the Challenger Deep twice, and was just the fourth person in the world to get there. In 2015, he created an exploration company he named Caladan Oceanic, after the water-covered planet in Frank Herbert’s Dune saga.

The group has two fully booked expeditions scheduled for May, and so far, there have been no changes to those plans. Visitors will ride out to the very remote site aboard a 224-foot repurposed research ship called Pressure Drop. Pressure Drop, too, is retired from the U.S. Navy, where she was called Indomitable.

Indomitable served for nearly two decades as a surveillance ship, and another 11 as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel. Now, as Pressure Drop, she exclusively carries the specially equipped deep-ocean submarine Limiting Factor. (Three careers and counting makes sense for a vessel born in 1985, right?)

Bloomberg reports that Vescovo is excited to share the exhilarating and unusual feelings of deep water with his passengers. Even the most ardent recreational SCUBA diver doesn’t go much further than about 100 feet, and the typical Navy submarine goes about 800 feet down. Researchers who study the ocean floor take special crafts to do that work, and they often use autonomous vehicles to collect data and samples more safely. Still, the ocean floor is wildly unfamiliar to us, and an estimated 80 percent remains unexplored and undocumented.

Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

Once you get a ways down, the surroundings look so unfamiliar that people might be discombobulated by them. But then, pretty quickly, everything goes completely dark. “Then it’s just really peaceful, and there’s virtually no sense of motion in any direction,” Vescovo told Bloomberg. “You aren’t weightless like you are in space, but there’s no sense you are falling down or even turning slightly.”

That’s interesting, because studies show that just over half of humans can “see” their own movements even in complete darkness—but that’s believed to be a result of our brain activity, not any external signals. And at such depths, even adjusted and controlled air pressure can’t account for how alien the darkness and sense of unfamiliarity will be. The media often compare Mariana expeditions to space flight, but in a way, we’ve explored more of our immediate space than we have of the deep ocean.

Carrying passengers is a moneymaker that will help Vescovo underwrite his continued research in the deep ocean. And, well, he has a beef to settle with fellow megamillionaire and Challenger Deep visitor James Cameron.

The blockbuster director has been upset with Vescovo’s claims that he made it 52 feet deeper into the Deep, because Cameron says the bottom is flat and you can't go any deeper. Vescovo said then that he planned to confirm his finding during his 2020 trips.

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