A few weeks ago, entrepreneur and explorer Richard Garriott broke a unique record. He has become the first person to reach the deepest point in the Earth’s oceans, Challenger Deep, after having gone to orbit around our planet and having reached both the North and South Poles. IFLScience sat with him for a live Instagram interview discussing what the dive was like.
"We were at sea for 10 days helping to prepare the submersible for the descent, helping to arrange all the experiments that went down on the navigation landers as well as the submarine itself," Garriot told IFLScience. He then went to describe the necessarily cramped conditions of the tiny submarine and how cold it gets in there as they left the tropical sea to drop into the darkness of the deep ocean.
Challenger Deep is located in the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean. Using the incredible “Limiting Factor” submersible, Garriot dived down for 10,915 meters (35,810 feet) on March 1. This is the same exploration vehicle used by NASA Astronaut and Oceanographer Dr Kathryn D. (Kathy) Sullivan. Hers was three records in one. She was the first American woman to ever walk in space, the first woman to reach Challenger Deep, and the first person to have done both.
Garriot flew to the International Space Station in October 2008 as a private citizen where he also tried to get a few more records, including creating the first fictional film in space. And it was only recently back at Christmas that it was revealed that he sneaked on board, within a laminated card, the ashes of beloved Star Trek actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.
Its latest mission, down below the sea, has also got its share of firsts. The round trip between the surface, Challenger Deep, and back takes about four hours, but there’s plenty to do. Garriott filmed another fictional sci-fi movie (soon to be premiered online), performed some scientific exploration of the bottom of the ocean, and even placed a geocache. He’s also conducted a fun outreach activity, reading poetry submitted by (mostly) students which was sort of inspired by the challenges of diving to the bottom of the ocean
Proposed by a member of the National Association for Teaching English, students were tasked with writing a cinquain. This is a five-line poem made of only 22 syllables and a fixed structure. The first line has two syllables, then four, then six, then eight, and then it ends with two.
In both deep-ocean and space exploration, it is key to know what is needed, also carefully making sure everything has a solid structure. There are certainly parallels with the cinquains. In the interview, Garriott delighted us with one of the cinquains he made up in his trip.
Garriott also gave us a tease of what's next for him, having now been elected president of the Explorer Club. Garriot's next adventures are about two famous boats. One will be studying the genetics of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers in the Pitcairns Islands. The second one is finding the remain of Ernest Shackleton's Endurance, lost in the Antarctic ice in 1915.