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Posted: March 31, 2012 7:38 p.m.

Exploring the deep blue

James Cameron - filmmaker and Hollywood superstar - just took a trip to the bottom of the ocean.
It should be noted he did come back.

When I heard Cameron was on his way to a dark and foreboding place I thought he might be in Georgia making a movie about the General Assembly.

Instead, he squeezed himself into a thing called the Deepsea Challenger and dropped to the bottom of the ocean.

The Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is not a vacation stop and to go there takes a certain about of fortitude. This part of the ocean is lower than the approval rating of Congress.

The pressure is about eight tons per square inch so if the machine you are in happens to have a malfunction you are pretty much dead before you realize there has been an accident.

It is so dangerous, in fact, that Cameron is actually only the third person to ever to venture to the alien world. The first two guys, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, did it in 1960 so it is not something a lot of people were lining up to do.

Few people remember their names but think Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and then realize more people have walked on the moon than been to the bottom of the Challenger Deep.

The deepest parts of the ocean are home to some of the most beautiful but strange and weird creatures in the world. Of course, you can say the same thing about Manhattan.

It may be that Cameron was hoping to find a big new creature so he could make his next big blockbuster movie, maybe, "Terminator of the Abyss" but in truth he has been an amateur and avid oceanographer since his childhood and the trip to the very bottom of the ocean was a lifelong dream.

No matter how careful one may be, there is a serious element of risk involved in a venture like this and it is pretty amazing a man with enough money to stuff an elephant with $1,000 bills and not blink would be willing take this risk rather than just make a movie about it from the safety of a soundstage.

This was also not a one-time stunt because there are plans to go back and gather samples and specimens that could answer questions we have yet to think about asking.

This is the type work men like Walsh and Piccard do. They usually toil in anonymity and take calculated risks to obtain new information and increase man's knowledge of things we have yet to understand.

Neil Armstrong was doing this when he was flying the X-15 and had he not become an astronaut and gone to the moon it is likely we would have never know about his contributions to aviation.
It is for this reason that Cameron's involvement matters. His celebrity, with an ego that would even dwarf that of Newt Gingrich, brings attention to what is essentially scientific exploration.
It took Cameron and his team - and he had a team of experts and professionals that included Walsh - seven years to finally make the dive a reality.

This is the very kind of exploration that is increasingly difficulty to do these days because government funding is limited and private sector investment generally only shows up once they figure out a profit margin in the venture.

The need for research in all fields of human endeavor has not diminished and perhaps what Cameron did will jog some of that spirit of fascination and wonder of the unknown that seems to be slowly ebbing away from us these days.

What will be found at the bottom of the Challenger Deep and what good will it do us? Who knows? We may find a sea creature that secretes an enzyme that could cure hemorrhoids. Or maybe cancer. That is the as yet untold story that may come from exploring the unknown.

No doubt Cameron will produce a product for the mass viewing audience and make a few bucks from this venture and if so we should not begrudge him that because he earned it.

But perhaps in a small way, despite all of Cameron's celebrity and the publicity his presence garnered, this is also a small tribute to explorers like Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard who push the frontier of knowledge forward without applause.

 


Ric Latarski is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics and can be reached at Rlatarski@aol.com.

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