James and the Deepsea Challenger

by brian lam

Yesterday, James Cameron took his new sub, the Deepsea Challenger, five miles down the New Britain Trench to break a record for modern subs by a mile. It has not been seen by the public until just now.

The ship, 24 feet long, is a capsule shaped craft meant to descend and ascend quickly in a vertical manner, as to give the diver as much time on the bottom as possible. Soon Cameron will attempt to beat this dive by attempting the Challenger Deep where he hopes to observe, film and collect samples using a slurp gun. He plans on being seven miles down. The manned descent, last done by the Bathyscape Trieste and Navy Lieutenant Don Clark, took 5 hours but this ship can do it in two. The Trieste only had 20 minutes on the bottom, but the Deepsea Challenger will have an approximate 6 hours.

The expedition is being backed by a number of scientific institutions including NASA and Scripps but National Geographic is helping, too. One question they’re trying to answer is if fish can survive down at the bottom. One theory suggests that the calcium in their bones will dissolve at the pressure.

At this depth, James will be prepared to be alone in the one man sub. They’re not even sure voice comms will work. The sub’s internal atmosphere is fixed so James won’t have to pop his ears, and the shape of the cabin is a sphere, which is the strongest shape possible. The interior is 43 inches wide, but filled with electronics so he’ll be barely able to move. James’s breath vapor and sweat will condense on a metal surface where it is collected into a bag; He can drink it in an emergency. The sub’s ballast will auto release after 11-13 hours, in case the manual release fails (the manual release is also an engineering feat, comprised of a heating element which will break bolts.) All 1500 of the ship’s circuits controlling 180 systems were all custom built for this sub, as were the four HD cameras, which are backed by a seven foot panel of LEDs that can illuminate 100 feet in clear water, as well as a boom mounted light. Even the buoyant foam was made specially for this mission, twice as strong as previously existing foam as to resist being crushed by the intense pressure expected at the bottom.

The power source is lithium ion batteries. 2-3 times the number that power an electric car and is insulated from sea water in a bath of silicon oil, which resists compression forces better than air.

When James comes to the surface, flashing LEDs but also an acoustic nav system will let the mothership see and track the Challenger as it rises.

The point of all this is science. Microorganisms that exist under such harsh conditions may point towards theories on how life might exist in the extremes of space and may have medical applications.

Cameron told the New York Times, “You’d be an idiot not to be apprehensive, but I trust the design. You’re going into one of the most unforgiving places on earth.”

I wonder if anyone told him that green is considered by some to be an unlucky color in the ocean.

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