A multi-millionaire explorer has become the first person to travel to Earth’s four furthest extremes after reaching the lowest point in the oceans.
Richard Garriott, 59, has now traversed* the north and south poles, reached Earth’s orbit and plunged to Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench beneath the Pacific Ocean.
Strapped into a special deep sea submarine, the video game pioneer and entrepreneur* sank almost 11,000m on March 1.
To put that into perspective, Mount Everest is 8848m high.
“I’ve been to the bottom of the Earth — you can’t go deeper than that,” he said from the expedition ship Pressure Drop, as reported by The Times.
The son of a NASA astronaut described the alien-like life found 11,000m beneath sea level.
“There was a whole variety of small and somewhat difficult to see life forms, small sea cucumber-related creatures and translucent* creatures like flatworms,” he said.
Garriott, who was born in the UK but raised in the US, made the dive on board the “Limiting Factor”, a submarine developed by undersea explorer Victor Vescovo.
In August 2020, former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan used the vessel to become the first space traveller and first women to dive to Challenger Deep.
Like Sullivan, Garriott made the trip as part of dives to research the bottom of the Mariana Trench and collect scientific samples.
Little is known about the conditions and wildlife at Earth’s deepest points because the technology needed to get there is still in the very early stages of development.
It took four hours for the crew to reach Challenger Deep.
On the way up, at a depth of about 500m, Garriott and sub-pilot Victor Vescovo came across a siphonophore, a colony of cells that connect to form what appears to be a single creature.
“It looked a bit like a big mop of tentacles, each a metre in length,” Garriott said.
“We bumped into it and it broke into all these pieces that grow into more siphonophores. We didn’t harm it, it just created more.”
Born in Cambridge, England, Garriott made millions in the video game industry before pivoting* to exploration in the 2000s.
He trekked to the South Pole in 1998, spent 10 days in orbit on the International Space Station in 2008 and went to the North Pole in 2018.
Garriott is said to have paid Russian space agency Roscosmos $30 million for his space trip, which was turned into an eight-minute documentary.
It was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for the multi-millionaire, who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, NASA astronaut Owen Garriott.
Garriott isn’t the first famous explorer to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Oscar winning movie maker James Cameron, who made The Titanic, became the first person to make a solo journey to Challenger Deep back in 2012.
Cameron said he was stunned by the “completely featureless, alien world”.
ABOUT THE MARIANA TRENCH
The Mariana Trench is in the west of the Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines, south of Japan and north of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
It is the deepest ocean trench in the world, plunging 10,994m at its deepest point, known as Challenger Deep. It is more than 2540km long and about 69km wide.
The trench was formed through a process called subduction.
Earth’s crust is made up of comparably thin plates that “float” on the molten rock of the planet’s mantle*.
While floating on the mantle, the edges of these plates slowly bump into each other and sometimes even collide head-on.
When two plates crash into each other, an oceanic plate plunges downward into the mantle, while the other plate rides up over the top.
This movement creates a trench where the downward oceanic plate drags down the edge of the top plate.
Despite the Mariana Trench being 2146m deeper than Mount Everest is tall — and pitch black at the bottom — marine life has been found living there, including prawn-like creatures and sea cucumbers.
- traversed: travelled across
- entrepreneur: someone who starts up businesses
- translucent: allowing light to pass through, semi-see-through
- pivoting: changing direction
- mantle: the layer between Earth’s core and thin outer layer or crust
- What four extremes has Richard Garriott travelled to?
- What is the deepest part of the Mariana Trench called?
- How deep is the deepest part of the Mariana Trench?
- What is the name of the special submarine Richard Garriott used?
- How long did it take Richard Garriott to reach the bottom of the trench?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Describing a deep dive
This news article gives us some understanding of what it is like to travel to the Earth’s deepest point. Close your eyes and really visualise how it would feel to be there on board the submarine. Then write your best description of the journey, as though you were a passenger on the “Limiting Factor” diving down to Challenger Deep.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Name an unusual or hard-to-reach location that you would like to travel to in your lifetime. Explain why you want to go there and draw a picture of what you think it will look like.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.