National Geographic : 2013 Jun
56 national geographic • June 2013 on the bottom. Depth is 35,756 feet ...life sup- port’s good, everything looks good.” Only now does it occur to me that I might have prepared something more memorable, like “One small step for man.” At least I’ve got my watch cap. Long seconds tick by as my message races up from the bottom of the world at the speed of sound and the answer comes back down. “Copy that.” The ex-Navy man on comms is even more matter-of-fact than I am. Military training. But I can visualize them all grinning and clapping up there on the ship. I know my wife, Suzy, will be glued to the telemetry screen, deeply relieved. I feel a surge of pride in the team, in their accomplishment. Most of the guys who built the sub are up there in that con- trol room, scarcely believing yet what they’ve achieved. The sub is a tangible manifestation of their imagination, their knowledge, and their will. Infused with their collective spirit. In a sense they are all down here, with me. Thirty-five thousand seven hundred fifty-six feet. What the hell, I’ll round it off to 36,000 feet at cocktail parties. The next voice I hear is completely unexpected. “Godspeed, Baby,” Suzy says, sending radar love down to the most remote place on Earth. Hearing her voice, my two worlds collide in a strange but beautiful way. Suzy has been by my side throughout the expedition, hiding her apprehension and backing me 100 percent. I know it’s been nerve- racking for her. Time to get to work. We’ve planned for just five hours on the bottom, and there is a lot to do. I turn the sub, using the cameras to peer around at the world I’ve arrived in. The bottom is flat and featureless in all directions. An alien limbo. I power up the hydraulics, open the external door to the science compartment, then deploy the manipulator arm to take my first sediment core sample. If everything goes to hell in ten minutes, at least I’ll be coming back with some mud for the scientists. James Cameron is a National Geographic explorer- in-residence. Mark Thiessen is a staff photographer.