National Geographic : 2013 Jun
52 national geographic • June 2013 05:15, March 26, 2012 11° 22' N, 142° 35' E (WSW of GuaM, WEStErN Pacific) Predawn in a pitch-black sea. My sub DEEPSEA CHALLENGER heaves and lurches as huge Pacific swells roll above me. We’ve all been up since midnight, starting our predive checks after a couple of restless hours of sleep, and the whole team is running on adrenaline. These are the roughest conditions I’ve dived in so far on the expedition. Through my external cameras I can see the two divers just outside my tiny cockpit getting whipped around like tetherballs as they struggle to rig the sub for descent. The pilot’s chamber is a 43-inch-diameter steel ball, and I’m packed into it like a walnut in its shell, my knees pushed up in a hunched sitting position, my head pressed down by the curve of the hull. I’ll be locked in this position for the next eight hours. My bare feet rest on the 400-pound steel hatch, locked shut from the outside. I’m literally bolted in. People always ask me if I get claustrophobic in the sub. To me it just feels snug and comforting. My visual field is filled by four video screens, three showing views from the external cameras, one a touch screen instrument panel. The sub, painted electric green, is hanging up- right in the swells like a vertical torpedo aimed at the center of the Earth. I tilt my 3-D camera, out on the end of its six-foot boom, to look up the face of the sub. The divers are getting into position to release the buoyant lift bag attached to the sub, holding it at the surface. I’ve had years to contemplate this moment, and I won’t say there hasn’t been dread in the past few weeks, thinking about all the things that could go wrong. But right now I feel sur- prisingly calm. I am wrapped in the sub, a part of it and it a part of me, an extension of my ideas and dreams. As co-designer, I know its every The neW age oF eXploraTion is a yearlong series of articles celebrating National Geographic at 125. storm season was rolling in, and time was running out. rough seas kept delaying James cameron’s dive to challenger deep, lowest spot of the Mariana Trench, at nearly seven miles below the surface. When the swells subsided just a little, the ship’s captain gave the go-ahead. cameron climbed into the capsule and watched a crew member seal and lock the 400-pound hatch. in this exclusive account, he describes the intensity and wonder of his white-knuckle ride to the bottom. Marco Grob DEEPSEA CHALLENGE is a joint scientific expedition by James cameron, the National Geographic Society, and rolex. Learn more at deepseachallenge.com.