James Cameron snags world record for deepest possible solo dive


March 25, 2012

James Cameron prepares to  enter Deepsea Challenger just prior to beginning his record-setting dive to the Challenger Deep (Photo: National Geographic)

James Cameron prepares to enter Deepsea Challenger just prior to beginning his record-setting dive to the Challenger Deep (Photo: National Geographic)

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On March 26 at 7:52am local time, film maker/explorer James Cameron entered the history books and became the first person to visit the ocean's deepest point alone. Just two weeks ago, we reported on his previous solo-dive record of 26,791 feet (8,166m), which he handily smashed by plunging 35,756 feet (10,898m) into the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep southwest of Guam. If the handful of contenders still vying for the record want to beat Cameron, they'll now have to excavate, because that's as deep as it gets.

The nearly 7-mile (10.9km) dive was made possible by the Deepsea Challenger, a specially-designed submersible nearly eight years in the making. The long, thin vehicle, which Cameron calls a "vertical torpedo," bristles with lights, cameras, powerful thrusters and is oriented with the cramped pilot sphere at the bottom. It drops straight down sphere first, rather than horizontally, like most deep-diving subs.

Several hours before launch, the support team dropped an unmanned vehicle about the size of a phone booth into the trench in an effort to attract whatever might be living down there. "I'm going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait," Cameron told National Geographic. When he finally reached bottom, he sent the anxious crew on the support vessel Mermaid Sapphire the welcome message: "All systems OK."

To take advantage of his up to six hours in the trench and hopefully make some valuable contributions to science, Cameron will pilot the sub to a variety of different environments including nearby cliffs. "I'll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I'll turn 90 degrees and I'll go north and work myself up the wall," he said. He'll also be able to use the sub's manipulator arm to gather samples for the eager scientists waiting up above.

"The deep trenches are very poorly understood by science," Cameron explained. "They're really the last frontier of exploration here on planet Earth because human beings have not gone down there and looked, so we're going to go down there with our cameras and with our lights and we're going to find the answers to some of those questions."

The dive is still in progress at this writing, so stay tuned for more news when Cameron returns from the bottom.

Source: DeepSea Challenge, National Geographic

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic! All articles by Randolph Jonsson

Everybody know that things like this take enormous sums of money. Fortunately, Mr. Cameron and a small handful of other ridiculously rich individuals are willing to direct some of their money to pursuits such as this. Considering what has been accomplished by civilian/private organisations, at least on the scientific frontier, in the last few years maybe the government should take the hint and step out of the scientific research field.

It would also be great if there were some way to recapture (in the vein of the moon landings) the public's interest in such endeavours. I wonder what it would take to accomplish this herculean task.


I am young enough that I grew up well after the accomplishment of the moon landings. As such it is not of great significance for me. I imagine a manned mission to mars would be a big enough feet to impress people once again. Congratulations James Cameron and I hope he comes back up with plenty of interesting data.


Governments have taken notice. The US is tapping into private industry to develop space technology, as just one example. But private industry is a business and has to accomplish business goals and satisfy investors and shareholders so that guides it direction. I think that their will always need to be a commitment by the people (by way of their government) to basic research). There is a lot that is done already though that is sponsored by private funds. Look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, and Warren Buffet's multi-billion donation to it. There are thousands of other organizations like it, large and small supporting all kinds of research and development. I just wish that more people were more generous.

Jon Shurtleff

The craft was entirely designed and built in Australia by the way. When facts like this are omitted people generally assume that it was actually done in America, the default nation for achievements of this kind. Many times has this happened from my observation. It is not a lie... Just not the whole truth. LAME.

Pieter Uithol

Awesome... and amazing the real time experience that technology allows us to have...literally happening as we read this... the last frontier of exploration on earth is being observed... well done to all who have contributed... who knows what wonderful and beneficial things will come of the acheivement... new species... new and creative technologies... I say stop quibbling over who made the damn craft or platforming some anti-governmental blather and appreciate the accomplishment and the potential it can hold in the betterment of human kind and our understanding of our planet...cripes... get out of your bubble


You make a good point Rt1583. If This had been the 60's, the entire world would have been watching.

Someone finally not only made it to the bottom of the trench, but actually stayed down there for hours looking around. In today's world where people just don't pay attention to amazing scientific breakthroughs, hardly anyone even knows yet that this has happened.

He's only the 3d man to ever get there, the first to do it alone, and the first to bring back footage, but there's surprisingly little excitement surrounding it. If Cameron had never done anything else before in his life, including his many filmmaking and deep sea diving inventions, this feat alone should have made him a household name.

Pieter, first off, James Cameron is not even American, so your point is moot anyway, but second, you're incorrect. It was not "entirely designed and built" in Australia. The group designing this included National Georgraphic, The Scripps Institute, Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii, all American organizations, so it was in fact you who are not telling the "whole truth."

Dave Andrews

I feel claustrophobia just contemplating this feat!

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