Yesterday James Cameron got into a little sub and went deeper in the ocean than anyone has ever gone (alone). He made it seven miles down into the Marianas Trench, a feat only accomplished once, back in 1960. It was two guys in the sub then, and in one of the more hilarious moments in exploration they had to quit the mission when they realized their landing on the ocean floor had kicked up a cloud of debris that would stick around longer than they could, so they wouldn't be able to see a single thing.
Cameron apparently did see - and film - stuff. And he brought back samples. The Twittersphere was abuzz with excitement about it yesterday... except for me. I wasn't that impressed. I made a couple of snide Tweets and got roundly attacked.
One of the people who disagreed with me was my friend Kevin Biegel, who you might know as a TV writer. He co-created the current ABC show Cougar Town, and he's a man who knows meat and beer better than almost anybody else. He should probably be running Badass Digest.
Anyway, this morning Kevin sent me an email with a link that he felt explained why I was wrong. We had a discussion about it, one that I think was interesting and, with his permission, I want to share it with you.
First, the link. It's from Deep Sea News, and it's written by two real deep sea biologist types. These guys know their shit, and they tackle the question of whether or not Cameron's dive was just a rich guy's lark (which was my essential argument). Click here to read it - it's really good.
So then I replied to Kevin, and he replied to me paragraph by paragraph. I've bolded my parts, and kept the discussion in a back and forth format. Be sure to read the link first, though - we just dive into it.
I get those arguments. A lot of them are ones I make for space travel. But here's the thing: I also sort of don't buy them. For me space exploration is all about getting humans into space because I think that's where the future of humanity lies. I don't think getting humans in the deepest part of the ocean is where our future lies.
It's not about putting people in space - it's doing stuff to save this planet, the one we live on, finding out things that impact our lives and the lives of everyone here. Space is fine for the future and hell, I'm a Spacecamp kid, I'm in love with space. And space has made life here better for everyone (seriously, NASA's ad campaign should be clips of cell phones/cars/most anything else we use in daily life with the tagline "space exploration and the technology that was developed with it led to your phone"). Yes it's a fun adventure going to the bottom, but we can learn a ton there about helping life on this planet. It's absolutely about where our future lies - and if you're going to come back with "well we can just ship everyone to a new planet that's not totally screwed up" i can't talk to you because you're a crazy person (although that would be super sweet until we messed up that planet, too).
But what's more, this was just a Guinness record and a stunt! People had been down there - 50 years ago. It isn't like nobody COULD go there, nobody came up with a particularly compelling reason to go back. I feel like this just keeps getting overlooked again and again.
It's a stunt in the fact that he did it, yes. It makes no sense to build the pod big enough for 2 people and there's no reason - the pressures down there crush most all current material; you need a contained space. And yes, he's an egomaniac and he did it. He also has been working on this for years and never talked about it - he waited till he was about to do it, did it, and now he's making all this tech avail to scientists all over the world. And no, you're very wrong on the idea that anyone could go - that first trip was crazy expensive, there is zero science budget, no one would pay for it because they (ours, other governments) didn't see any way to monetize the bottom of the ocean. There are no people there to conquer, no oil or gas we know of to suck up, no deep sea diamonds, why go? Because what's down there is knowledge; what falls to the deepest part of the ocean, can you track the decomposition of the ecosystems above over the past 100 years (b/c the sediment just doesn't move - we think), is there life down there and -- bringing it back to space -- if life can survive at 1000 atmospheres, what can we learn from the fish (maybe), jellies, etc that we can translate to space exploration? Basically - how do we turn deep sea mollusk technology into the next space suit? Nature always does it better, but we don't know that nature down there. That's not science fiction - we've been cripping from animals/nature for years.
Again, why didn't we just drop a bunch of dough on another Trieste, as antiquated as that technology was? Because it's crazy, crazy expensive. You, me, most governments do not have that money. Big ol' ego driven Jim Cameron with his movies you don't like and I sorta like and some I don't does. That leads us to your next point:
The biggest thing for me, though, is the feeling of returning to the Victorian age of gentleman explorers. All of a sudden the great feats of humanity are only for the rich. The great advances and daring missions get bought, not earned. The beauty of Neil Armstrong is that he was a regular guy from Ohio - any kid could dream of growing up to be an astronaut. Now you have to dream of growing up to be a billionaire in one field so that you can use that money to be an explorer and a discoverer.
Again, I love space, I love Neil, I love everything about it. But Neil was a pilot - he didn't build the ships, he didn't develop the program, he wasn't the one saying, "we can do this." He was chosen, and he did it. It's awesome. But you're comparing Chuck Yeager to McDonnell Douglas. This very special case - the undersea stuff -- Cameron hired brilliant designers, built a sub that no one had ever even tried (I read up on this stuff, trust me - most old fuddy duddies thought inverting it was a crazy idea), and then just did it w/o a government/public telling him "no! too expensive! Pull back!" And now, aside from him getting a record, we all -- the public as well -- will benefit from the technology and what we learn. We won't benefit from the record, but we'll benefit from everything else. Hopefully. We could learn nothing. But I really doubt that.
I believe strongly in publicly funded discovery, in a process that involves us all. I don't want Richard Branson to be the first man on Mars because he could afford the ticket - I want the first man on Mars to be a regular guy.
You might believe in it, but most everyone in this country would balk at 50 cents extra on their taxes for undersea/space exploration. They don't care. Publicly funded discovery when it comes to such extreme environments doesn't exist unless you have the added factor of, say, "let's beat the Russians!" Look at Cortes and the like 500 years ago - they got rich kings to pay for the exploration.
The first man on mars won't be Branson - it'll be a pilot. You need a pilot. And in this case, Cameron was a pilot. He's been down on these dives more than most deep sea pilots. But if the guy in the weird green sub gets kids excited about science? Gets them talking about stuff other than celebrity blah blah? That's amazing. That's gonna happen. You might disagree w/ some of that guy's arguments in the article, but you cannot deny that the space exploration from the 50s/60s inspired kids and future scientists. Guys that are changing / helping the world. To me, that's worth celebrating.
So I suspect that Kevin handed my ass to me. What do you think? What are your thoughts on Cameron's big dive?