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Billionaires & Their Toys

Thankfully, the world remains full of billionaire playboys willing to invest their lives and fortunes in new frontiers others have all but abandoned.

Thankfully, the world remains full of billionaire playboys willing to invest their lives and fortunes in new frontiers others have all but abandoned, deemed unattainable, or, at worst, unjustified of any resource allocation.

With great fascination (somewhere between jealousy and over-imagined claustrophobic fear), I have followed James Cameron’s mild curiosity in a sunken wreck blossom into a full-blown obsession with the last frontier on earth. While many have focused on the great red rock in the sky, I find it odd that a greater interest isn’t expressed in the unexplored terrain beneath our feet. Consider Cameron’s cryptic description of a desolate, foreboding, and moon-like surface 35,576 feet below the surface of the Pacific, the deepest part of the sea that has only had 20 minutes of face time with man in the history of our existence.

He described a part of earth alien to all but three men (including previous explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in 1960), and I wish the feat was met with greater public exuberance. Unless man is walking on Mars -- an achievement further delayed by current economic austerity -- the public isn’t captivated by the spectacle. It’s unfortunate when a man sinks to the bottom of the ocean in a tin can only to generate less excitement in science and technology than his blockbuster film on deforestation featuring man-cats who ride flying horses. 

The public is in a unique position to experience Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest point located in the Mariana Trench 200 miles southwest of Guam. Cameron spent more than three hours alone at the bottom and due to a malfunction in the hydraulics aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub cheekily dubbed “Deepsea Challenger”, he was unable to collect samples on this maiden voyage. The glitch has academics clamoring for subsequent submerges, but his vessel was also equipped with cameras that caught the voyage in high-resolution 3D. Is it unfortunate that he couldn’t nab a few of the small, shrimp-like creatures he witnessed? Yes, but the public can still experience the deep through the eye of one of the most successful directors in Hollywood history -- and the best is seemingly yet to come.

According to Cameron, he sees this as the beginning. “It’s not a one-time deal and then moving on,” Cameron told the Associated Press. “This is the beginning of opening up this new frontier … To me, the story is [about] the people in their quest and curiosity, and their attempt to understand.”

Would all of this be possible if the wreck of the Titanic hadn’t tickled his fancy? Well, he’s not alone in his endeavor. The expedition has collaborated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography – UC San Diego, the University of Hawaii, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Guam, National Geographic, and Rolex, among others. But had this billionaire playboy not taken an interest in the deep sea, how long would the Challenger Deep have gone untouched?

The mission’s success was the culmination of more than seven years of planning and engineering for Cameron and the expedition team. While he seems to never sleep, and certainly never stops, I hope he continues to push the engineering envelop and invigorate individuals to demand more.

What is your take? Email [email protected].

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