Mar 26 2012

James Cameron Becomes the World’s Deepest Human

Yesterday famed filmaker James Cameron became the first human to go solo to the bottom of the Mariana Trench — 35,810 feet below sea level — the deepest place on the ocean floor.

Cameron’s space-inspired description of the Challenger Deep included “very lunar, a very desolate place, very isolated.”

Cameron repeats a stunning feat first accomplished in 1960 — early in the Apollo Maslow Window — by the ocean’s most daring explorers, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh who first descended into the Challenger Deep, which is much farther (a mile+) below sea level than Mt. Everest is above it. Although unmanned submersibles have been there in recent times, until Cameron no human had risked the trip again.
Click: Nereus, Mohole, Apollo and the New Race to Space

Although Cameron and National Geographic view this voyage into inner space as an important scientific and engineering project, it’s also evidence of increasing “early ebullience” as we approach a new international Space Age expected by mid-decade.

Despite continuing economic challenges, early ebullience is evident around the world today — e.g., booming Antarctic tourism, architectural projects such as the Shanghai Tower, the Panama Canal Expansion Project, Spaceport America and the birth of the space tourism industry, the International Space Station (an “international marvel”), international plans for bases on the Moon.

One might ask the rather naive question of why — in this day of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and telepresence — he risked the trip personally. After all Cameron did have to surface early because of hydraulic problems.

Patricia Fryer (University of Hawaii) gives the standard “scientific” explanation:

The critical thing is to be able to take the human mind down into that environment, to be able to turn your head and look around to see what the relationships are between organisms in a community and to see how they’re behaving—to turn off all the lights and just sit there and watch and not frighten the animals, so that they behave normally. That is almost impossible to do with an ROV.

While true, considering the ebullient entertainment instincts of Cameron, it reminds me of the NASA official who once pointed out that,

We don’t give tickertape parades to robots.

Widespread ebullience and an increasingly fractal geopolitical situation will fundamentally drive public interest in Apollo-style space spectaculars and briefly become the dominant global zeitgeist over the coming decade, as they did during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

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