Filmmaker James Cameron has made it back from his first excursion into the deepest point on the Earth's surface, the bottom of the Challenger Deep at nearly 36,000 feet below the ocean waves.
Cameron is the third person to make it to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, and the only person to make the trip alone. His submarine, DeepSea Challenger, took just over two and a half hours to sink over 35,000 feet and the director spent two hours cruising around the sea floor, shooting footage with 3D and regular cameras illuminated by an eight foot bank of lights.
"I landed on a very soft, almost gelatinous flat plain. Once I got my bearings, I drove across it for quite a distance ... and finally worked my way up the slope," Cameron said, according to National Geographic, which cosponsored the trip. "The bottom was completely featureless. I had this idea that life would adapt to the deep ... but I don't think we're seeing that."
Cameron had been due to take core samples from the seabed and see if any biological samples could be collected, but after a malfunction in the submarine's hydraulic systems and the loss of some thrusters, it was decided to cut the mission short.
Dealing with the extreme depths of the Challenger Deep trench has caused problems in the past. The Trieste, piloted by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, made the trip to the bottom in 1960, but had to abort their visit early after one of the windows cracked after the descent.
After he had dropped his ballast, Cameron took just 70 minutes to get to the surface. His arrival was spotted by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, another contributor to the mission, who was on hand in his 416-foot mega-yacht Octopus (which has two submarines of its own.) Allen and his boat were there as support craft for the dive.
Cameron now plans a second dive using the Deepsea Challenger, this time stringing fiber optic cable with him so that scientists can get real-time data from the site, and has suggested a return in a larger, second-generation vessel. ®