If you thought mountaineers were the world's toughest explorers, you have to read the Failure Magazine interview with James Tabor about deep cave explorers, author of the new book, Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth. Tabor glosses the careers of American Bill Stone and Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk and the caves that made them famous Cheve in southern Mexico and Krubera in the western Caucasus, respectively.
It turns out that Stone is more than a brave guy with a high tolerance for dark, tight spaces. He's also an inventor is working with NASA on a possible robotic explorer for scooting around under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa, which is considered one of the likeliest places to harbor extraterrestrial life in our solar system. He's also put his mind to work on technology for Earth. When he and his cohort reached the limits of traditional scuba gear in the late 80s, he hacked together his own "rebreather," a closed-circuit breathing system that allowed him to dramatically extend the time he could dive in the world's wet, partially flooded deep caves.
Here's Tabor's description:
[. It took him ten years to develop one in his home laboratory, and the model that he invented is now being marketed by a company called Poseidon, which is headquartered in Sweden. The Poseidon Rebreather weighs about forty pounds fully charged and gives the diver eight to twelve hours of continuous time underwater. Stone remained underwater for twenty-four hours with a prototype, and the only problem he had was staying awake.
How does the rebreather work? It recycles the air that you exhale. That air has been mildly enriched with carbon dioxide and stripped of oxygen. By running the air through scrubbers that capture the CO2 and adding oxygen from a tank, the recycled air can be returned to breathable air. While a rebreather requires carrying a tank of oxygen, the use of your own exhalations reduces the volume of gas that you must carry.
If all this sounds like it might be delightful on the big screen, James Cameron agrees with you. He's working on a movie called Sanctum about extreme cave divers. And yes, of course it will be in 3D. In the meantime, check out Bill Stone's TED talk embedded above.