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Into The Abyss: Filmmaker James Cameron To Explore Mariana Trench

Here's a really cool field trip to watch for: the director of smash films Titanic, Avatar and the Abyss is preparing for an otherworldly experience of his own. In cooperation with the National Geographic Society, James Cameron will take a specially designed submersible to the lowest part of the Mariana Trench near Guam. He'll visit the Challenger Deep, 6.83 miles underneath the water's surface.

National Geographic points out the Challenger Deep has only been visited once: in 1960, U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard climbed into a deep diving submarine - a bathyscape - and spent nearly five hours descending to the bottom of the ocean. They spent less than half an hour there. Until now, their feat wasn't repeated.

Cameron, who's the National Geographic's "Explorer-in-Residence", soon plans to go alone in his vessel, the Deepsea Challenger, and stay on the floor of the Challenge Deep for six hours. He'll film his entire journey and collect any animals, plants and sediment samples in the specially equipped submersible. His website says he's already set records with practice dives: this week, he sank more than five miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. That reportedly makes him the world's deepest diving solo submersible pilot, operating the deepest diving submersible vessel in the world.

For the big trip, Cameron will climb into a capsule packed as tight as a shoe box, unable to fully extend his legs for the journey. It'll quickly get cold: as the NG site notes, it "is something like riding a cramped elevator that starts in a steamy tropical forest and ends in the dead of night at the North Pole".

But he'll be able to sink and rise a lot faster than the 1960 expedition vehicle, which took five hours to descend and three more to rise. The Deepsea Challenger is built to stand the crushing forces of the water pressure which increase the deeper Cameron goes and the longer he stays. It can be recalled to the surface in an hour by dropping heavy steel plates that will "send the sub surfaceward like a cork".

Cameron has long had an interest in undersea science and discoveries, notes the New York Times (paywall). He's an experienced submersible pilot, having made dozens of trips, visiting sites such as the wrecked Titanic.

He's not the only adventurer preparing to visit the remote Mariana Trench. The BBC reports Richard Branson, known for his attempts to set balloon and sailing records, is supporting another submersible effort called the Deep Flight Challenger. So is Google executive Eric Schmidt.

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