What We Know About the Missing Titanic Tourist Sub

What We Know About the Missing Titanic Tourist Sub
Contributor: Nikki Main and Passant Rabie

A frantic search is underway for a submersible that disappeared while on a $US250,000-per-person dive carrying five tourists to view the historic Titanic shipwreck on Sunday. The submarine, which was operated with a video game controller, reportedly carried one pilot and four passengers when it lost contact off the coast of Cape Cod. Would-be rescuers say they have not located the vessel. Passengers are subsisting on a 96-hour supply of oxygen.

A search-and-rescue effort began after the submersible vessel’s operator, OceanGate Expeditions, that it had “somehow lost communications with the vessel,” just one hour and 45 minutes into the underwater voyage, according to U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger’s remarks at a press conference Monday.

Mauger, who is leading the search and rescue operations, told reporters the submarine was in a water depth of roughly 3,962.40 m, located about 1,448 km east of Cape Cod. The rear admiral told reporters that both U.S. and Canadian ships and planes were launched in the area where the submarine was reported to have disappeared. He said the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a surface and aerial search and deployed sonar buoys in the water to listen for any sounds that could be associated with the submersible. OceanGate first attempted the dive to the Titanic in 2017 but didn’t start carrying tourists to the wreckage site until 2021.

“It is a remote area, and it is a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area,” Mauger said on Monday, adding, “We are deploying all available assets to make sure that we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board. Going into this evening we will continue to fly aircraft and move additional vessels.”

The U.S. Coast Guard says it remains unclear if the vessel had resurfaced but couldn’t communicate, or if it was still underwater. “Time is very short and the next few days will be critical,” University of Southampton oceanography lecturer Dr. Simon Boxall told BBC News. The five passengers, who each paid $US250,000 for the voyage. “It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be cramped,” Boxall said. “There is no escape pod. If you came out the water at those depths you’d be crushed, so they’re totally reliant on the submersible being found.”

The submersible only has enough oxygen to last for 96 hours underwater, making the search efforts critical to the survival of those onboard. “It’s an enormous challenge, one we’ve never had to tackle before,” Boxall told the outlet. “There have been tragic cases of military submarines sitting on the seafloor where they have a lot more resources and a lot more oxygen available, but in this case, time is very short and the next few days will be critical.”

A CBS documentary about the voyage published last year shows the submersible’s captain demonstrating how the submersible was constructed using “off-the-shelf components,” including a video game controller used to pilot the vessel and an internal light from a camping goods store. The host of the documentary, David Pogue, said that another vessel lost contact for about five hours around the time he and his crew had been filming. In response, OceanGate cut internet access on its ship at the surface to prevent those aboard from tweeting about the incident, Pogue said. He added that the submersible’s door is bolted shut, so even if it were to rise to the surface, the passengers would not be able to escape without the aid of a crew.

As the debacle continues, OceanGate’s previous associations are under scrutiny. The company has praised Elon Musk’s internet provider Starlink, posting tweets thanking Starlink just last week. “Despite being in the middle of the North Atlantic, we have the internet connection we need to make our #Titanic dive operations a success,” OceanGate tweeted, adding, “Thank you Starlink!” Starlink itself tweeted that its services

The five passengers aboard include Shahzada Dawood, who is on the board of directors for Seti, a notable company in the aerospace industry, and his son. Hamish Harding, who flew to space on a Blue Origin rocket, owned by Jeff Bezos, on June 4, 2022.

NASA Linked to Missing Titanic Submersible

The Titan submersible vessel was partially constructed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

The vessel was developed as part of an agreement between OceanGate, Titan’s operator, and NASA, according to a press release by the company that announced the partnership in 2020.

The partnership was forged under the Space Act of 1958, which allows NASA to help stimulate commercial manufacturing that could in turn benefit the space agency in future missions. Under the agreement, Titan was partially constructed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre.

“NASA is committed to cutting-edge composites research and development that will not only further our deep space exploration goals, but will also improve materials and manufacturing for American industry,” John Vickers, principal technologist for advanced manufacturing technology at NASA, said in the 2020 press release. “This Space Act Agreement with OceanGate is a great example of how NASA partners with companies to bring space technology back down to Earth.”

The manufacturing of the carbon fibre and titanium submersible, in turn, helped NASA engineers gather more data on the development of vehicles that can survive under high pressure. Titan was created using aerospace-grade carbon fibre, reducing its weight to about a fraction of what other deep-diving crewed submersibles weigh, according to OceanGate.

The 6.71 m-long craft weighs 10,432 kilograms and is capable of going as deep as 6,000 metres below water. RMS Titanic, which famously sunk during its maiden voyage in April 1912, lies roughly 4,000 metres below the Atlantic surface.

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