Exploration at its Greatest

by Andrew Chaikin on March 28, 2012

My friend Jim Cameron is best known as the filmmaker who gave us epics like Titanic and Avatar, but in his heart he is an explorer, as he explained in his foreword to my book A Passion for Mars. A few days ago, Jim did something that had me thrilled and terrified at the same time: He made the first solo dive to Earth’s deepest point, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.

Using a submersible of his own design, he reached a depth of more than 35,000 feet—almost seven miles—at pressures of nearly 16,000 pounds per square inch. There, where only two humans had been before, over half a century earlier, he found a landscape so desolate that it reminded him of the surface of the moon. He said later that it felt as if he’d literally gone to another planet and returned the same day. He’d planned to spend six hours on the bottom, but malfunctions in the craft’s robotic arm and maneuvering thrusters cut the dive short.

But this is just a beginning. Jim says he’ll be going back to the Challenger Deep to make further observations and collect samples. Another friend, NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand, will be studying any creatures Jim is able to bring back from the abyss. To me, this is exploration at its greatest: Going where almost no one has ever been, seeing what no one has ever seen, and expanding our knowledge of the universe. To me, Jim is a planetary explorer, probing the remaining secrets of our own precious world, and inspiring us all to join the quest.


Human Spaceflight: A New Paradigm

March 15, 2012

Last month, I was invited by the Federal Aviation Administration to give the final talk at their conference on commercial human spaceflight. I can’t recall a time that has felt more exciting, or more critical, in the last several decades. I was glad to have the chance to talk about how we got here, and […]

Read the full article →

My Colbert Report Appearance!

April 5, 2011
Thumbnail image for My Colbert Report Appearance!

I had a fantastic time appearing on the Colbert Report. You can watch the video of my segment of the show here. Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookShare with StumblersTweet about itSubscribe to the comments on this post

Read the full article →

Bulletin: I’m on the Colbert Report on April 4th!

March 30, 2011
Thumbnail image for Bulletin: I’m on the Colbert Report on April 4th!

I’m getting ready to appear on one of my favorite TV shows, The Colbert Report, on April 4 on Comedy Central (tune in at 11:30 p.m. Eastern/Mountain/Pacific Time and 10:30 p.m. Central Time). I’ll be talking about the current and future space program, and my book, A Passion for Mars. Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend […]

Read the full article →

Paul Calle, 1928-2010

December 31, 2010
Thumbnail image for Paul Calle, 1928-2010

The great space artist Paul Calle died yesterday at age 82. As a NASA artist he documented the early space program with a rare mix of passion and precision. With works like the portrayal of the first space rendezvous shown above, Paul captured as no one else the excitement of that incredible time. I was […]

Read the full article →

A blue planet, a turquoise jewel

October 23, 2010
Thumbnail image for A blue planet, a turquoise jewel

This picture marks a turning point for the human species: It’s the first photo made by a person that shows the entire Earth. It was taken by astronaut Bill Anders on December 21, 1968 from the moon-bound Apollo 8 spacecraft. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you’re looking at, don’t feel alone: Anders was […]

Read the full article →

Room with a view

September 29, 2010
Robinson ISS cupola thumbnail

I envy Steve Robinson. Not just because he’s an astronaut who’s flown in space and even walked in space, but because, as a fellow guitar player, I really wish I could try out his practice room. Last Feburary on the STS-130 mission, Robinson helped install the International Space Station’s “room with a view,” called the […]

Read the full article →

A Good Story to Tell

May 21, 2009
Thumbnail image for A Good Story to Tell

In December 2003 I took part in a closed-door roundtable discussion on NASA’s goals in space and how to relate them to the public, led by then NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe. Among the participants was filmmaker Jim Cameron, creator of such epics as Titanic, Terminator, and the upcoming Avatar. At one point, as I was […]

Read the full article →


April 24, 2009
liftoff thumbnail

Welcome to my new blog. I’m going to be talking about space exploration, and why after more than half a century it’s still one of the things that makes me glad to be alive. This painting of the liftoff of a Saturn V moon rocket, Power to GO by the supremely talented artist Paul Calle, […]

Read the full article →