The media is buzzing today with news of James Cameron’s upcoming solo journey into the Challenger Deep. At 35,768 ft (more than 6.7 miles!) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, it’s the deepest spot on Earth. He broke a solo depth record yesterday during a test dive.
Jacques Piccard and Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, in the Bathyscaphe Trieste, were the first and last to journey into the trench. That was in 1960! Since then only two robotic missions have made it. Folks, we’ve sent humans to the MOON more often and more recently than we have to the Challenger Deep.
Cameron, however, is not the only one with a bid for the Deep. A handful of wealthy private endeavors have built or commissioned submersibles in the last couple years. Among them is Richard Branson, the billionaire papa of Virgin Records (and Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Airways, to name a few), whose goal is to dive into the deepest point in each of Earth’s five oceans this year – including, of course, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific. I’m not picking teams or anything, but at the very least I’ll say that is sure looks like Cameron’s National Geographic website totally ripped off Branson’s Virgin Oceanic homepage.
At any rate, what interests me most is this: we seem to have arrived at a new age of exploration in which Bazillionaire Private Company 1 and Bazillionaire Private Company 2 race each other to distant frontiers. I’m thinking not only of this quest for the Challenger Deep but also of private spaceflight companies and competitions like the Google Lunar X Prize.
If you think NASA’s Lunar Missions in the 1960s and 70s were for any nobler a cause, you’re fooling yourself. We were in a Cold War with our spacefaring Soviet counterparts, kiddos. So if a Movie Mogul and Bleached-Blond Branson want to spur each other towards the first live video feed from the darkest pit of the sea? I say bring it on, y’all! Scientific discoveries and incredible technological advancements often go hand in hand with competitive exploration.
Read more from the New York Times here.