Humans first and last reached the Challenger Deep more than 50 years ago. In 1960, U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, a Swiss native, rode a massive metal vessel — the Trieste — to the seafloor and spent 20 minutes in the darkness there.
According to a release from National Geographic, Cameron plans to spend six hours at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean trench, which lies about 200 miles (322 km) southwest of Guam, to collect samples for research in marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics.
The announcement comes on the heels of a successful deep-sea dive last week. Cameron and his team piloted the Deepsea Challenger to a depth of more than 5 miles (8 km) off the coast of Papua New Guinea — an area near the southern edge of the Mariana Trench.
Race to the bottom of the sea
Cameron is not alone in his quest to return humans to the deepest and most unexplored places on the planet. A crop of well-funded parties have recently sent humans to some of the deepest spots on Earth aboard a crop of newfangled submersibles.
British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin Oceanic effort may be the best-known of the privately funded endeavors, while countries such as China have also sent manned crafts to some of the oceans' most inaccessible places, albeit for different reasons.
The deep sea — roughly defined as everything below 650 feet (200 m) — comprises a stunning 240 million cubic miles (1 billion cubic km) and more than 90 percent of the living space on the planet. Scientists are still trying to answer the most basic questions regarding it.