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James Cameron and DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Make History

Take a behind-the-scenes look at Cameron's exploration of the Mariana Trench, deepest spot in the ocean

Deeper than Mount Everest is tall, with no light, temperatures barely above freezing, and water pressure at eight tons per square inch—could anything live this deep in the sea?

Moviemaker and explorer James Cameron's solo dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench was designed to find out.

This DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition, a joint scientific project with National Geographic and Rolex, was designed to help answer questions in both biology and geology.

Equipped with multiple cameras, including 3D video cameras, a tower of LED lights, robotic claws and other apparatus to collect samples of rocks and sea creatures, the unique DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible holds just one human being for the descent to 6.8 miles (10.9 km) below sea level.

James Cameron talking to DEEPSEA CHALLENGER team

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
Explorer and filmmaker James Cameron talks with his crew in front of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER following testing of the submersible in Jervis Bay, south of Sydney, Australia. At right is Opto 22 Application Engineer Ben Orchard, technical liaison with the project and sub internals team member, who was involved in almost every aspect of the submersible's electronics and computer systems.

In the center is Dave Wotherspoon, Sub Team Leader and project manager for the build, integration, and testing of the submersible from a concept vehicle. "In a high-pressure, short-time-frame project there were many revelations and discoveries, but none as crucial as the inclusion of Opto 22's SNAP PAC control system," says Dave. "The PAC was pivotal to the pilot interface, controlling most of the submersible's functions such as thrusters, manipulator, and 3D cameras, also processing pre-set vitals/telemetry messages and broadcasting them at short intervals to the surface from depths up to 10900 meters.

"The Opto 22 SNAP PAC was further enhanced by Ben Orchard joining the team for four months. He increased the PAC's performance, providing the most advanced submersible with a control system that performed above my expectations. I was supremely confident the data being processed and released through Opto 22's SNAP PAC System was accurate and provided a stable control platform for the pilot to fly the submersible, achieving a historical single piloted dive to 10900 meters."


Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
Crews continue in-water testing in Australia of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, the submersible that explorer and filmmaker James Cameron piloted to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The submersible is the centerpiece of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific project by Cameron, the National Geographic Society, and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.


Image courtesy of Acheron Project Pty Ltd
DEEPSEA CHALLENGER control panel, located inside the 43-in. (109 cm) diameter pilot's sphere. The engineering of the sub is fascinating, from its shrinking syntactic foam beam to creative safety backups to the sub's extensive control system—the control system provided by Opto 22 and based on a SNAP PAC controller.

James Cameron inside the pilot sphere of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER

Courtesy: National Geographic/DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Expedition video
Cameron's March 26, 2012 dive is the first solo exploration and only the second in history. The last was in 1960, when Swiss explorer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh descended in a bathyscaph, staying on the bottom for just 20 minutes. The pilot sphere is a tiny 43 inches (109 cm) in diameter.

For more about DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, see:

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