Don't Give Up on Piloted Dives

By Cameron, James | Newsweek, January 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Don't Give Up on Piloted Dives


Cameron, James, Newsweek


Byline: James Cameron

The quickest way to destroy ocean science, James Cameron tells Newsweek, is to take human explorers out of the water.

I know Bob Ballard well and continue to admire and support his efforts. But here's the problem with his argument: it's not as if more funding is being made available for ROV (remote operated vehicle) and AUV (automated underwater vehicle) exploration as a result of cutting funding to piloted subs. No money is being freed up by these draconian cuts. Funding is being cut across the board, in the U.S., including for ROV and AUV operations, and deep-ocean science in general. Piloted subs, which are the most expensive to operate, are being cut most aggressively.

In contrast to this, the Chinese have recently launched the most advanced piloted research submersible in the world, the Jialong (Sea Dragon) with a 7,000-meter operating depth, at an unknown cost but presumably hundreds of millions to develop. And the Japanese just announced two days ago a $150 million program to dive their Shinkai 6,500 meters at deep trenches and hydrothermal vent sites around the world. One hundred and fifty million dollars could fund the type of work I've been doing with the Mir submersibles for another 10 years. The Chinese and Japanese governments obviously believe that human-occupied, piloted vehicles are important.

The issue is not one of robots versus piloted vehicles, it's one of national will. The U.S. public is not engaged in deep science and exploration. And the quickest way to get even less interest and engagement is to take human explorers out of the vehicles, and have it all done robotically.

No kid ever dreamed of growing up to be a robot. But they do dream of being explorers. And inspiring young minds and imaginations is one of the most important things we can be doing if we want a future supply of engineers and scientists insuring our lead in innovation.

My submersible program easily attracted young, brilliant engineers to work exceedingly long hours for low pay because their imaginations were captured by what we were attempting. And the public's interest in our dives, as measured by the literally billions of website hits, was several orders of magnitude greater than the dives of the very capable Nereus remotely operated vehicle done several years ago at the same deep spot in the Challenger Deep. Very few people outside the marine science community even noticed the historic Nereus dives because no one was inside experiencing it firsthand and returning to tell the story. …

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