This Month, James Cameron Will Dive to the Deepest Point on Earth in a Custom-Built Sub

Deepsea Challenger Diving

Crews continue in-water testing in Papua New Guinea of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, the submersible that explorer and filmmaker James Cameron will pilot to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The vessel is the centerpiece of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific project by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex.Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

An expedition to the deepest place on this planet is set for later this month, in a custom-built one-man sub to be helmed by Hollywood director James Cameron. The vessel Deepsea Challenge will dive to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, seven miles into the Challenger Deep, where Cameron will shoot 3-D video.

The 26-foot-long ship was built by a team of Australian engineers and fits just one person. It has several cameras and shares qualities of a race car and a torpedo, according to National Geographic, which is sponsoring the expedition along with Rolex.

Cameron will spend about six hours at the bottom of the trench, collecting samples for scientists and shooting footage for a documentary. He just completed a series of five-mile-deep untethered test dives off Papua New Guinea and is readying for the real thing later this month. Cameron says the mission is meant to inspire interest in the oceans and in exploration.

Suspiciously absent from the discussion is any mention of new footage for an "Avatar" sequel, which supposedly will be set in the oceans. But that's probably OK.

The director could become only the third person to dive to the bottom of the Mariana, following then-Navy lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, who made the dive in a bathyscaphe called Trieste Jan. 23, 1960. The Deepsea Challenger would be the first manned vessel to reach the Challenger Deep.

Cameron could soon have plenty of company, however — as we read last week, Richard Branson's Virgin Oceanic venture is also building a sub that can withstand the deep's 1,100 atmospheres of pressure. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has donated money to marine technology company DOER Marine to build another ship, according to the BBC. But if Cameron's trip goes to plan, he'll be first, and along with glory he could win an X Prize.

Nat Geo built a nice website for the expedition, with plenty of photos and background on the mission — click here to see their coverage.

Testing the Waters

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible begins its first 2.5-mile (4-km) test dive off the coast of Papua New Guinea.Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

[via BBC]