Filmaker and citizen explorer James Cameron has successfully piloted the Deepsea Challenger (also known as the “vertical torpedo”) to the deepest spot on Earth – the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench 300 miles southwest of Guam. (See the National Geographic report here.)

The Challenger Deep, 6.8 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, has only been explored once before. That was in 1960 by the bathyscaphe Trieste carrying Swiss explorer Jacques Picard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh. The Trieste could only spend 20 minutes on the ocean bottom, however. Cameron spent about six hours on the bottom, filming the entire journey with 3D high-definition cameras. His submarine was also equipped with a sediment sampler, a robotic claw, and a “slurp gun” for picking up biological samples. Among the scientists waiting to see the samples are NASA astrobiologists.

Cameron was supported in his venture by the National Geographic Society, Rolex, the Alfred Sloan Foundation, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Guam.

The Deepsea Challenger is a great model for a citizen-science/exploration project conceived and run by a nonprofessional scientist with significant input from and participation by professional scientific organizations. The cost and technical complexity of a deep-diving submersible are comparable to a suborbital vehicle. (Cameron won’t reveal how much he spent on the DeepSea Challenger, but Sir Richard Branson is reported to be spending $17 million on his deep-diving Virgin Oceanic sub while Google CEO Eric Schmidt is spending a reported $40 million on his attempt to reach the Challenger Deep.) Perhaps, in the near future, we will see wealthy citizen explorers like Cameron buying suborbital vehicles like the XCOR Lynx or Armadillo Hyperion and starting their own space-science research programs.

Written by Astro1 on March 26th, 2012 , Astrobiology, Citizen Exploration, Oceanography

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