James Cameron will ride this submersible to the deepest point in the ocean

Meet the Deepsea Challenger, a one-man submersible craft capable of withstanding pressures at the deepest point in the ocean—Challenger Deep in the Pacific's Mariana Trench. Sometime in the next few weeks, this sub will carry filmmaker James Cameron into the Challenger Deep. He'll become the third human to visit that place, and the first since a two-man Navy sub made the dive in 1960.

As you see it in this photo, Deepsea Challenger is actually sideways. The sub will fall into and rise out of Challenger Deep in a vertical configuration, with Cameron at the bottom in a spherical steel pod. You can't see the spherical part in this image, but the pod is attached. It's in the end of the craft that's still slightly out of the water—the left-hand side of the photo.

Cameron's descent will be very different from the 1960 expedition, which wasn't able to see much because their craft stirred up so much debris in the bottom of the trench. Deepsea Challenger is designed to avoid this problem and Cameron will also spend a much longer amount of time at the bottom—several hours instead of just 20 minutes. He'll also film 3D footage of the trench, and collect animal and rock specimens.

You can see more pictures of the Deepsea Challenger at National Geographic News.

That site also has a longer story explaining, in more depth (harhar), how the sub will work and how Cameron's expedition contributes to science.

Finally, I'd like to take a minute to apologize to everyone who saw Titanic multiple times in the theater. If I'd known back then that your devotion to Leonardo DiCaprio would one day help fund cool stuff like this, I wouldn't have rolled my eyes at you nearly as often.


  1. I was just talking about this with a friend who knows the sub’s creator.  The scientific and engineering expertise necessary to get a human into the Mariana Trench (and back again safely) is more complex than getting a human into outer space (ABAS).  There’s a reason we orbited the Earth decades before this was even a glimmer of a possibility.

    So frigging awesome.

    1. This is one of the main reasons I don’t get excited about space travel.  Space (within reach) is just empty with some rocks and gases in it.  It’s fundamentally boring.  Why would we spend so much money looking at rocks when we could be exploring parts of our own planet we haven’t even documented properly yet?

      THIS is cool, and well worth the investment; hopefully we’ll discover a handful of new species too, rather than just get a couple more rocks to add to the collection.

      {edit} Quick addition: I don’t have anything against space travel, in fact I’d much rather we were spending money on any kind of exploration instead of war and oppression – it’s just sad that so little investment goes into sea exploration, when the sea is such an important ecosystem that’s full of interesting things we haven’t seen or understand – and yet folks are happy to throw money into sending people to big empty rocks, just cause they’re in space.

      1. I agree with you about the sea needing much more exploration, but seriously, rocks are fundamentally boring? Maybe if you can’t read them. To those who can, rocks are the things that tell us about the nature, history, and formation of our own planet, and the ones in space give us both clues and context for this.

        I notice Deepsea Challenger is collecting rocks as well as animals. My inclination is towards biology too, but let’s not imply there’s not spectacular things for chemists and geologists to discover, just because they’re not as obvious from photographs.

      2. Big empty rocks? The moon maybe, but Mars is full of amazing possibilities. It almost certainly had life on it long ago, and still might have subsurface life. There is frozen water in many places underground.

        Then there’s Europa, with an ice covered ocean that is deeper than any on earth and a volume greater than all the water on earth combined.

        And those are just places were life that is similar to earths might exist.

    2. 1960:  2 men reach the bottom of the mariana trench
      1961: Yuri Gagarin orbits earth

      I think I may be confused by your use of the word “this”.

      1. On 23 January 1960; Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh….
        They heard cracking on the descent but decided to keep going anyway.  They cautiously didn’t stay long on the bottom, which was good because their vehicle *was* damaged.  (No guts, no glory.)

        Thank you!  I did not know that.

  2. The 1st craft down – the Bathyscaphe Trieste – was about as cool as it’s possible to be. IT WAS AN UNDERWATER DIRIGIBLE, PEOPLE! That went deeper than any craft before or (at this moment anyway) since. I may have to pull the trigger on that Trieste  tat I keep pondering.

  3. James Cameron is going to the bottom of the sea to see the bottom of the sea. 
    He will film it. 
    While there, he may or may not wrestle a giant squid.

    I love it when rich guys get bored and start doing insane stuff like this (see: Branson,R. – Ellison, L.). There’s worse ways to spend your money, but it always makes me wonder  whether it’s related to having that much money or whether it’s a product of their insanely outgoing personalities.

    1. At least one of these guys will cap it off by shooting themselves into space with the express intent of not coming back. 

      Thereby winning.

  4. At the end of the in depth article Cameron talks about multiple-failsafe systems for releasing the weights so the vessel will return to the surface. It makes me wonder how controlled that ascent is… would it have something like a drogue chute to prevent tumbling and maintain a steady rate of climb?

    This may have been him pulling my leg, but a professor of mine who had several dives in the Alvin mentioned once over beers that the titanium pressure sphere was the most valuable part. So… in the event it got tangled in undersea cable loops or other hazards, explosive bolts would free the vessel from the outer instrument package, letting the sphere surge to the surface. Considering that violent spinning and tumbling ascent in a small capsule full of metal gizmos, he assumed the occupants would be unlikely to survive the trip.

    1. Another article states that something like a “wing” is employed to keep the ascent steady and tumble-free.

  5. I can’t read a story about exploring the bottom of the sea without recalling this absolutely terrifying anecdote from 1934: 
    Deep Sea Monster With Headlights Seen On Record Descent In Ocean

    HAMILTON, Bermuda, Aug. 16 (AP).
    — A huge deep sea fish, possibly unknown to man, was one of the curious sights which greeted Dr. William Beebe, American scientist, in a daring record- breaking descent toward the bottom of the ocean.   

    The underseas explorer and his associate, Otis Barton, were unable to identify the monster they sighted from their “bathysphere” yesterday.     

    Sealed in the two-ton iron ball, Beebe and Barton were lowered to a depth of 3028 feet, more than a half mile under the surface. The descent exceeded their record of last Saturday [August 11] by 518 feet and surpassed the earlier mark of half a mile by 388 feet.   

    A large gray “shadow” at 2750 feet was the first appearance of the unknown fish. The object seemed to be illuminated by scores of tiny lights, glittering like a diamond necklace, Dr. Beebe said. He estimated its length at 20 feet.

    Phosphorescent parasites are believed to have given off the lights. 

    Beebe described the monster as the largest he had ever seen in a deep sea dive. Barton attempted to photograph it, but his results were uncertain as underwater creatures flee when a searchlight is turned on from the bathysphere.                                     

    1.  If you’re not familiar with it I recommend Brad Matsen’s book Descent. Beebe and Barton were an interesting odd couple.

      To me what’s even more terrifying than anything they could have seen down there was simply the inherent danger of descending deep into the ocean in a hollow metal ball. On one of the test dives the bathysphere sprung a leak and was brought up full of water that, when the hatch was opened, shot out across the deck. If Beebe and Barton had been in there on that dive they would have been flattened.

      1. I read about that expedition in the school library as a kid.

        A leak in a pressure vessel like that would probably be like the sort of pressure washer the navy uses to dislodge barnacles – it would cut you in half instantly, although maybe you’d have enough time to think “Oh boy that really hurts -“

      2.  I’d recommend Peter Watts’ “Rifter” novels at this point, especially “Starfish,” the first one. The scariest things at the bottom of the sea are us.

  6. Let’s just hope he’s so gobsmacked by whatever he films down there that he’s incapable of writing the naration script. 

    Otherwise, I have a bad feeling he’ll begin his assent by saying “I’ll be back”.  :(

  7. If you’re going to pick weird colors for your submersible, how does one settle on green, and not, say… Yellow?

  8. how in heaven did he get cleared to be the pilot?  i’m sure he ponied up most of the cash, but he’s not a spry chicken.

  9. I am extremely interested in the efforts being put forth by Mr. Cameron and the associated financial and engineering support behind this venture. It seems at times that there has become a lack of interest by the majority of humanity in exploration of our earth and it’s uninhabitable areas.  The general trend seems to be focused more on what country or group is determined to annihilate another country, etc.  I am most definitely looking forward to watching this Deepsea Challenger venture with great enthusiasm and respect for those involved.     

  10. Y’ARR, some say the last act of The Abyss is no mere fiction……some say the 3D man is fixing to establish contact with critters ‘at have been down there long afore there was ever land to be lubbered on….

  11. Good on Cameron or anyone who does that. Getting into one of those would be a total claustrophuck for me. I’m in awe.

  12. Shouldn’t they be sending, you know, a scientist or something?  Why are they sending a filmmaker? Or does he have some qualifications I don’t know about?

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