If he descends safely, he will be the first person to complete the journey alone to what he describes as “a place less understood, more forbidding and perhaps less forgiving than the farthest reaches of space.”
Among his advisers currently aboard the Mermaid Sapphire mother-ship is a man who might be considered the ultimate authority on Challenger Deep, retired US Navy Captain Don Walsh, 80, who took the plunge aboard the steel bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960 with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard.
No one had made the 36,070-foot trip before and no one has done it in the 52 years since.
What can Cameron expect? “For us, it was rather like a foggy day in your car, where you turn the lights on and the fog comes back in your face,” says Capt. Walsh, whose Trieste crewmate died four years ago.
“As you descend, you lose your natural light fast and you’re in the abyss pretty quick – no sunlight penetration at all. But if you turn off the lights, there’s this host of bio-luminescence generated by creatures of the abyss. It’s not that bright, like little snowflakes with light reflecting off them. As you pass down through them, the illusion is that they’re streaming up from below.”
Despite measuring 24 feet in total, Deepsea Challenger affords its 6 foot, 2 inch pilot a space just 43 inches in diameter; the bigger one builds the pressurized compartment, the thicker its walls need to be and, therefore, the heavier the sub will become. Smaller equals lighter, equals slicker.
The water pressure will be so great – eight tons per square inch – that the sub’s dimensions will shrink by around 2.5 inches (6.3 centimeters) on the way down.
Cameron has been practicing yoga to help him fold his frame into the cramped, spherical space and maintain his position for nine hours – 90 minutes to two hours for the descent, six hours exploring the sea floor, and an hour back up to the surface.