Director James Cameron details 3 hours at Earthâ??s deepest spot, says itâ??s desolate, foreboding B

 Director James Cameron details 3 hours at Earth’s
deepest spot, says it’s desolate, foreboding
Associated Press, Published: March 25 | Updated: Monday, March 26, 9:41 AM
WASHINGTON — The last frontier on
Earth is out-of-this-world, desolate, foreboding, and moon-like, James Cameron
said after diving to the deepest part of the ocean.
And he loved it.
Cameron, who knows a little about
alien worlds having made the movie “Avatar,†said when he got to this strange
cold, dark place 7 miles below the western Pacific Ocean that only two other
men have been to, there was one thing he promised to himself: He wanted to
drink in how unusual it is.
He didn’t do that when he first dove
to the watery grave of the Titanic, and Apollo astronauts have said they never
had time to savor where they were.
“There had to be a moment where I
just stopped, and took it in, and said, ‘This is where I am; I’m at the bottom
of the ocean, the deepest place on Earth. What does that mean?’†Cameron told
reporters during a Monday conference call after spending three hours at the
bottom of the Mariana Trench, nearly 7 miles down.
“I just sat there looking out the
window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating,†Cameron
He also realized how alone he was,
with that much water above him.
“It’s really the sense of isolation,
more than anything, realizing how tiny you are down in this big vast black
unknown and unexplored place,†Cameron said.
Cameron said he had hoped to see
some strange deep sea monster like a creature that would excite the storyteller
in him and seem like out of his movies, but he didn’t.
He didn’t see tracks of animals on
the sea floor as he did when he dove more than 5 miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were voracious shrimp-like
critters that weren’t bigger than an inch.*
But that was OK, he said, it was all
about exploration, science and discovery. He is the only person to dive there
solo, using a sub he helped design. He is the first person to reach that depth — 35,576 feet — since it was initially
explored in 1960.
He spent more than three hours at
the bottom, longer than the 20 minutes Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard spent in
the only other visit 52 years ago. But it was less than the six hours he had
hoped. He said he would return.
“I see this as the beginning,â€
Cameron said. “It’s not a one-time deal and then moving on. This is the
beginning of opening up this new frontier.â€
“To me, the story is in the people
in their quest and curiosity and their attempt to understand,†Cameron said.
He spent time filming the Mariana
Trench, which is about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam. The
trip down to the deepest point took two hours and 36 minutes, starting Sunday
afternoon U.S. East Coast time.
His return aboard his 12-ton,
lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger was a “faster-than-expected 70-minute
ascent,†according to National Geographic, which sponsored the expedition.
Cameron is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
The only thing that went wrong was
the hydraulics on the system to collect rocks and critters to bring them back
to land. Just as he was about to collect his first sample, a leak in the
hydraulic fluid sprayed into the water and he couldn’t bring anything back.
When Cameron climbed into his sub,
it was warm because it was near the equator and his cramped vehicle — his head
hit one end and his feet the other — was toasty because of the heat given off
by electronics. It felt “like a sauna†with temperatures of more than 100
degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
But as he plunged into the deep, the
temperature outside the sub dropped to around 36 degrees, he said.
The pressure on the sub was immense
— comparable to three SUVs resting on a toe. The super-strong sub shrank three
inches under that pressure, Cameron said.
“It’s a very weird environment,â€
Cameron said. “I can’t say it’s very comfortable. And you can’t stretch out.â€
*These “shrimp-like
critters†are isopods a type of crustacean. Like I said in my comments to some
of you on the ocean layering essay fish stop at 25,000ft Cameron was at 35,576
so these isopods are the only life except microbes for the deepest 10,000ft.NASA’s science missions bring the universe into
sharper focus even as agency struggles with manned flightBy”>Joel Achenbach, Published: February 11Life is tough these days at NASA,
the space agency that can’t launch anyone into space.It wrestles with basic questions:
Where to go? How to get there? When? And for what purpose?It killed a plan to return to the
moon and now is building a jumbo rocket to go to . . . well, it’s unclear.
Maybe to an asteroid: a rock to be named later.NASA is betting that private
companies will create a commercial taxi for flights to low Earth orbit. In the
meantime, NASA astronauts ride on aging Russian rockets that look increasingly
creaky. At any given moment, a few Americans are on the international space
station, circling the planet every 90 minutes, nearly as anonymous as they are
weightless.But even as NASA goes”>this awkward transitionin human space flight, the agency has one bright spot:
science. NASA’s scientific missions — robotic probes, telescopes, satellites —
are bringing Earth, the sun, the solar system and the universe into sharper
focus.Science at NASA is not without
serious problems, a fact expected to be reflected in the Obama administration’s
budget request Monday. The James Webb Space Telescope, the
successor to the Hubble, has gone far over budget and is still years from
launch. The next Mars rover has also experienced cost overruns. As a result,
planetary science, one of the divisions within NASA’s science directorate,”>will suffer a sharp cutunder the new Obama budget, according to scientists familiar
with the administration’s plans. Scientists expect that NASA will terminate its
collaboration on two European-led robotic Mars missions scheduled for later
this decade. The question is: To what extent will
future science missions be squeezed, delayed or terminated by the NASA budget
crunch? What’s certain is that NASA has managed in recent years to launch a
formidable fleet of scientific instruments. Activity aboundsNASA’s internal chart shows 86
missions, involving 96 spacecraft, either in service or preparation. That
doesn’t include the two European Mars missions. It does include other
international collaborations, and the extended operations of aging spacecraft
that have completed their primary mission and are still blinking away.One probe, New Horizons, is on its
way to Pluto. Another, Messenger, has been orbiting Mercury since March. A
lunar orbiter launched in 2009 has mapped the moon in unprecedented detail, and
two more NASA spacecraft achieved lunar orbit six weeks ago on a mission to
study the moon’s gravitational field and interior structure. NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off
in August on a five-year mission to Jupiter. The robotic probe Cassini
continues to study Saturn, and in a week will make another close pass of the
huge moon Titan. Kepler, a space telescope launched
in 2009,”>has found 61 planets by last count, with many more candidate planets yet to be confirmed. The
longer Kepler observes a small patch of deep space, the more likely it is that
it will detect a true Earth twin — a planet that’s both Earth-size and in a
propitious orbit that puts it in a star’s “habitable zone.â€NASA is eager to see what happens on
the morning of Aug. 6, when the $2.5”>Mars Science Laboratory,
launched in November, lands in a crater and dispatches a souped-up rover,
Curiosity, to look for signs that Mars was once warm, wet and teeming with
Martian life. The laboratory will land on Mars using a never-before-deployed
technology called a sky crane.“It’s going to be an incredible
nail-biter during the descent and landing, but then we’re going to have this
amazing rover,†said John Grunsfeld, the astronaut and”>who became famous for his work fixing the Hubble and who now heads NASA’s
science directorate.Meanwhile, the sun, which has been
in the news lately after spitting massive amounts of plasma at Earth and
inciting a spectacular round of Northern Lights, is being scrutinized by NASA’s”>Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Saturday marked the second anniversary of its launch. The observatory has made discoveries
that help scientists understand the phenomenon of “space weather.†It has
found, for example, that solar flares are longer-lasting than anyone previously
knew, and has managed to detect them when they’re in an embryonic phase deep
beneath the sun’s surface.“What we are learning from this is
pretty amazing. It’s staggering,†said Madhulika “Lika†Guhathakurta, who works
on the solar observatory as the lead scientist with NASA’s “Living With a Starâ€
project. She added: “Doing science with
robotic experiments compared with doing human space flight is a piece of cake.â€Competing for fundingGrunsfeld said the science missions
benefit from a competitive environment. There are many great ideas for
scientific missions in space. The scientists compete fiercely for limited
funds.The science missions sometimes
suffer from the same problem that bedevils human spaceflight — flat budgets
that extend the timeline of a program, push many of the expenses into the
future, and require standing armies of employees. That boosts a project’s
ultimate cost. But the science missions still enjoy
political and popular support. They have specific goals, and often produce
dramatic results — such”>the awesome imagesobtained by the Hubble telescope during its two decades in
space.“The payoff from science missions is
pretty clear — new knowledge — accompanied in some cases by pretty pictures
that make it publicly accessible. The payoff from human spaceflight is not nearly
as clear and still controversial,†said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at
George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.Senate supportHuman space flight isn’t a process
that can turn on a dime, as NASA’s recent strategic decisions have″>Inertial forces are powerful.
And because there’s so much money involved, there are multiple stakeholders,
including politicians representing states with NASA centers and major aerospace
contractors. Under pressure from powerful
senators, NASA will pour billions of dollars into the SLS, the “Space Launch
System,†which would create a heavy-lift rocket capable of flying to the moon
or a distant asteroid. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System. The current schedule indicates that
the rocket wouldn’t be ready for its first flight — unmanned — until 2017, and
then in 2021 it would have a second flight, this time with astronauts aboard.“To say with a straight face we’re
going to spend $20 billion between now and 2021 for two launches, you know, is
hard for a disinterested observer to accept,†Logsdon said.Whether that rocket will ever fly is
unclear, Logsdon said. He said the program is “in multiple dimensions fragile.â€
Mission uncertainty is a serious
problem in the ambitious and difficult enterprise of space travel. Grunsfeld, whose career has
straddled the human exploration and science sides of NASA, offered a comparison
to the pharaohs and their pyramids. When they made a decision to build a
pyramid, he said, they didn’t revisit the decision every year.Staff writer Brian Vastag
contributed to this report.


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