James Cameron is a renowned actor. Multiple Oscar-winner James Cameron has wowed us again. This time it is with “Deepsea Challenge 3D,” a documentary of his journey to the lowest point in the ocean at the bottom of planet Earth. Talk about boldly going where no man has gone before. But, instead of the Starship Enterprise, we’re talking about the Deepsea Challenger submersible.
Cameron’s voyage to the bottom of the sea was seven miles down. He and his scientific team spent years inventing and perfecting a unique vehicle able to withstand the crushing ocean pressure at 36,000 feet down. To understand the depth of what we’re talking about, seven miles down is deeper than Mount Everest with a Swiss Alp on top.
The Deepsea Challenger submersible looks like a submarine in the shape of a vertical capsule. It’s 24 feet tall and weights 11.5 tons. Cameron and his team created this big, green, vertical torpedo with a lower “pod” and steel sphere to house pilot Cameron and film his journey. The sub was equipped with 3-D cameras, lights and three video monitors.
The Mariana Trench is located in the western Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines. This deep pit had no human history and may as well have been a distant planet. Yet it became an idea, then an obsession for Cameron and his team to make this incredible voyage possible.
Encased snugly inside the 43-inch-diameter pilot’s chamber, Cameron gave the go-ahead to the team to release the submersible, and it began a rapid descent, quickly leaving behind the divers.
“It was going like a bat out of hell,” Cameron said. “It seemed like just a few minutes and I’m going past Titanic depth. Then I’m going past Bismarck depth, 16,000 feet. Then I’m going past 20,000 feet. Then I’m going past the deepest any sub on the planet, other than our sub, can dive.”
Cameron would spend more than three hours exploring and filming this strange and lonely universe in 3-D. If anything went wrong, there was no one to help him. With more than 16,000 psi (per square inch) of pressure crushing against the sub, if it sprung a leak, the water would drill in like a laser, boring through everything in its path, including him.
“That’s actually millions and millions of pounds when you distribute it over the whole surface,” Cameron said. “It’s best not to think about it. You just have to trust the engineering, and as co-designer of the sub, I’d have nobody to blame but myself. Though there wouldn’t be time to even think of blame, or anything else. You’d get to think, ‘oh sh—’ and that would be it.”
Exploring the mysteries of the ocean has been a lifetime pursuit for Cameron. His interest in diving began when he was a child, inspired by the “Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” TV specials of the 1960s and ’70s. He was scuba-certified at 16, in a time and place (a village in rural Canada) where diving was hardly a common activity.
Real ocean research in the 1960s, the work of medical doctors experimenting with human beings breathing liquids, inspired Cameron to write a short story in high school called “The Abyss.” The story, only a few hand-written pages, described researchers diving deeper than anyone before them, who are lured, ultimately to their deaths, by the call of the unknown in a deep-ocean trench. The story became Cameron’s 1989 underwater epic movie of the same name. Now, it seems like a premonition.