Explorers in Our Midst: What the James Cameron Voyage Can Tell Us

By Larry Bock
Founder and organizer, USA Science & Engineering Festival

In our world of high-tech bravado, I often wonder where we'd be without explorers -- those undaunted heroes and heroines of the past and of today whose achievements, like an unforgettable song or movie -- form a lasting impression in the brain over what the human spirit can accomplish with will and perseverance.

From the annals of history, their names roll off the tongue almost effortlessly: Vespucci, Columbus, Lindbergh, Earhart, Shackleton, Henson, Cousteau, Glenn and others -- people who, bolstered by a sense of adventure and a higher purpose, had the courage to push the limits of human (and craft) endurance in order to explore unknown realms and regions -- and in the end, to help us see what really is on "the other side."

It is great to know that individuals such as these remain in our midst, inspiring and amazing us with their feats of exploration. Film director James Cameron is one of them.

i-ec19c56f9b72e759f4192e26412db5f5-web_cameron_thu_1388564cl-8-thumb-300x168-73669.jpgAs you may know, Cameron recently undertook and successfully completed an historic voyage to the deepest known point in any of the world's oceans (about 11 kilometers) in his one-man submarine, the Challenger Deep, in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Guam. At this deepest point on Earth, where he spent three hours shooting footage and collecting research samples as part of a joint project with the National Geographic Society, he said he found the ocean to be eerie and desolate, almost like being on another planet.

Said the acclaimed director of such films as Titanic, Avatar and The Abyss: "My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity... I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating."

"It's really the sense of isolation, more than anything," he continued, "realizing how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place." Later, he will share footage and experiences of his journey through a deep-sea documentary, which will likely include 3D video of never-before-seen views -- all which he hopes will draw attention to the need for further study of the ocean, one of the last unknown frontiers of exploration on Earth.

What does it take to be an explorer? What are the challenges and risks? What are the payoffs?

These are some of the questions that young students and others will get answered when they meet and hear prominent explorers this spring as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival hosted by Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering.

At the Festival's Expo weekend celebration (a free event) April 28 to 29 in Washington, D.C., excitement will abound as visitors learn from space and ocean explorers and other trailblazers -- including Space Shuttle astronauts, the world's first female private space explorer, professional storm chasers and the oceanographer who helped lead the exploration of the Titanic.

In the Festival's mission to inspire the next generation of innovators as well as informing the public about the fascinating world of technology, we are especially looking forward to giving kids and others a peek into the world of scientists, engineers, explorers and other innovators who are helping to make it all happen.

Here are just some of the explorers that Expo visitors will meet:

-- John Mace Grunsfeld, Ph.D., five-time Space Shuttle astronaut and Hubble Space Telescope repair expert

-- Anousheh Ansari, an electrical engineer and technology entrepreneur who made world headlines in 2006 by becoming the world's first female private space explorer, and the first astronaut of Iranian descent

-- Josh Wurman and Karen Kosiba, both scientists from the Center for Severe Weather Research who explore bad weather in the teeth of raging hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and wildfires

-- David Gallo, oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanograhy Institution, who co-led expeditions to the Titanic and the German battleship Bismark

-- Nan Hauser, ocean scientist and president of the Center for Cetacean Research & Conservation, who explorers the world's oceans studying the humpback whale and other endangered marine life

-- Richard Garriott, legendary computer video game innovator who, in 2008, became the sixth private citizen to journey into Earth's orbit when he traveled to the International Space Station as a self-funded tourist (Garriott is the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott who completed two space missions in the 1970s)

-- Chantelle Rose, high school science teacher in Ohio who is among seven teachers currently undergoing training with the Teachers in Space Program for a suborbital flight on a commercial spacecraft -- after which she will share her experiences with current and future students

-- Inspirational book authors in exploration: The Expo includes a Book Fair on April 28 to 29 that highlights prominient Featured Authors in science and technology. Authors in exploration that are sure to wow you include: Homer Hickman, a former NASA engineer whose No. 1 New York Times bestselling book, Rocket Boys, was based on his childhood love of space exploration and building rockets, and which was the inspiration behind the acclaimed film October Sky. Ed Sobey, an oceanographer-turned-author who has participated in research expeditions and other projects around the world including Antartica, in addition to circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Jeffrey Bennett, whose works such as Max Goes to the Moon, and Max Goes to Jupiter, has been an inspiration to kids toward space exploration and other frontiers

In addition, at the Expo, Lockheed Martin and other festival partners will take visitors behind the scenes to view leading aerospace technology that is helping forge bold new paths in space discovery. For more information on the Expo and Book Fair, visit http://www.usasciencefestival.org/

Join us in April as we inspire the next generation of innovators -- and explorers!

Follow Larry Bock on Twitter: www.twitter.com/usasciencefest


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