The village chief, a wispy fellow with an easy smile and snowy muttonchops, came aboard James Cameron’s expedition ship in Papua New Guinea with an entourage. The five young men who attended him called him Big Man, a term of respect. The Big Man spoke in a local dialect, but his meaning came across. Who are you, he asked Cameron, and what are you doing here?
Cameron smiled. “C’mon,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
He led the Big Man and his entourage to where DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, a sleek, 24-foot submersible, rested in its cradle. In a few days Cameron planned to deploy the craft in a deep seafloor trench off the coast, a shakedown run for the big dive to come in the Mariana Trench. The chief ’s eyes widened. His men ran their hands over the vehicle’s brilliant green composite skin. With its blinking battery array and robotic limbs, the machine could have been mistaken for a spaceship.