Richard Branson’s Virgin Oceanic sub is poised to be the first of this new fleet of commercial subs to start probing the depths—it should launch this year.
The deepest point in the ocean, the bottom of the Marianas Trench off the coast of Guam, is the scene of a new kind of space race: a deep-sea submarine race, undertaken by such private investors as director James Cameron, Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson, and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Citing the excitement of exploration, all are involved in the construction of next-generation submersibles to plumb the trench and other deeps, taking advantage of price reductions in many components and the dearth of such innovation in the scientific community. Though designed to take the builders and other thrill-seekers to incredible depths, the ships are by and large not intended to be one-shot wonders, William J. Broad of the NYTimes reports:
“It’s not a publicity stunt,” [one builder] said of the planning effort. “We’re commercial vehicle builders. We want a product that can be used repeatedly without any difficulty — one that is very elegant, very safe and very competitive.”
After entertaining the entire planet with the movie Avatar, director James Cameron is now taking his expertise to space–specifically to Mars. He’s helping NASA build a 3D camera for its next rover, Curiosity.
The space agency announced that Cameron is working with Malin Space Science Systems Inc. of San Diego to develop the camera, which will be the rover’s “science-imaging workhorse.” The rover, which was previously known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is scheduled for launch in 2011.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had recently scaled back plans to mount a 3D camera on the rover, as the project was consistently over-budget and behind schedule. But Cameron lobbied NASA administrator Charles Bolden for inclusion of the 3-D camera during a January meeting, saying a rover with a better set of eyes will help the public connect with the mission [Associated Press]. Cameron, whose 3D spectacle Avatar earned more than $2 billion at box offices worldwide, had developed a special 3D digital camera system for the film, and felt the space agency could benefit from his expertise.