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Fiction Science Club

True-life spy story gets an alien twist in sci-fi tale

What if one of the CIA’s most secretive and expensive Cold War operations was actually a cover story for an even more secretive, even more expensive operation … involving aliens?

That’s the question explored by science-fiction author Harry Turtledove in a new novel, “Three Miles Down.” The plot is only moderately wilder than the $800 million CIA operation on which it’s based: Project Azorian, which involved trying to raise a sunken Soviet sub from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

And as if a tale of aliens and the CIA isn’t wild enough, Turtledove works in references to the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, which was happening at the same time as Project Azorian. Turtledove says he couldn’t resist drawing parallels between the tumult of those times and today’s political tensions.

“There are enough parallels that it sort of leaps out at you, and you aren’t really being honest with yourself or your readers if you don’t,” he says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the intersection of science and fiction. “The only real difference is, what’s going on now is so much worse.”

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GeekWire

Science takes center stage in Titanic sequel

One year after OceanGate’s first expedition to the Titanic shipwreck, the Everett, Wash.-based company is gearing up for its second annual set of dives starting next week — and this time, science will be at center stage.

Last summer’s expedition kicked off what’s intended to be a yearly series of visits to the 110-year-old ruin, nearly 13,000 feet beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. As any movie fan knows, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank during its first voyage from England to New York in 1912, causing more than 1,500 deaths.

The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1985, and there’s been a string of crewed and robotic surveys since then. But OceanGate’s plan is different. The 13-year-old company and its research partners aim to document how the rapidly deteriorating Titanic and its surroundings are changing on a year-to-year basis — supported by customers who are paying $250,000 each to be part of the adventure.

The inaugural Titanic Survey Expedition documented the wreck site in unprecedented detail, producing a baseline for tracking future changes. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said that expedition was “a bit of a shakedown cruise.”

“We did have a lot of technical challenges that we think we won’t have this year,” Rush said today during an online preview of the 2022 Titanic Survey Expedition. “We had weather challenges, we had COVID challenges. So there’s a lot of that stuff, but we still got the best imagery ever taken.”

This year, OceanGate’s science team will be focusing on the biology as well as the archaeology of the Titanic’s resting place.

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Cosmic Science

Antarctic team finds iconic wreck of the Endurance

One of the world’s most celebrated shipwrecks — the hulk of the sailing ship Endurance — has been found at a depth of nearly 10,000 feet in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, 107 years after it sank.

The wooden ship carried British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew to the Southern Ocean in 1915 — but was trapped in pack ice just one day out from their planned landing point. Shackleton’s expedition was marooned, and the ship slowly slipped beneath the ice.

The saga of how Shackleton and his stranded crew set up camp and organized an 800-mile journey in a lifeboat to seek out rescue stands as a heroic example of overcoming Antarctic adversity. All 28 members of Shackleton’s party survived the 497-day ordeal.

More than a century later, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust organized the Endurance22 expedition to seek out and survey the sunken ship. The team set out last month from Cape Town, South Africa, aboard the icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II for a 35-day mission.

Today the expedition’s organizers announced that they found the ship on March 5 using state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicles. It’s sitting on the seafloor about four miles south of the position recorded in 1915 by the Endurance’s captain, Frank Worsley.

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GeekWire

The disappearing bathtub and other Titanic tales

For evidence that the wreck of the Titanic is rapidly deteriorating, you need look no further than Captain Edward Smith’s bathtub. That is, if you can find it.

The case of the disappearing bathtub, as documented by Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate Expeditions, is one of the most vivid indicators showing how fast the world’s most famous shipwreck is settling into the final stages of its decay, more than a century after it hit an iceberg and sank into the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

More than 1,500 passengers and crew died in the sinking, but the tale of the Titanic lives on in the annals of maritime history. The rediscovery of the wreck in 1985 grabbed headlines around the world — and James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie burnished the ship’s reputation as a cultural icon.

One of the touchstones of Titanic expeditions has been the bathtub in the doomed captain’s cabin, more than two miles beneath the ocean’s surface. As recently as a decade ago, photos clearly showed the porcelain tub sitting amid rusty ruins. But two years ago, an expedition team reported that the wreck was rapidly deteriorating and cited the state of the captain’s cabin as evidence.

“The most shocking area of deterioration was the starboard side of the officer’s quarters, where the captain’s quarters were,” Titanic historian Parks Stephenson was quoted as saying at the time. “Captain’s bathtub is a favorite image among the Titanic enthusiasts, and that’s now gone.”

So it was a given that OceanGate would try to look at the captain’s quarters this summer when its Titan submersible went on a series of 10 dives. The good news is that the bathtub hasn’t completely gone away.

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GeekWire

OceanGate gets its sub ready for Titanic trips

OceanGate is finally on the brink of beginning its first deep-sea dives to the Titanic, the world’s most famous shipwreck, 11 years after the company was founded.

“I was reading somewhere that most overnight successes usually happen in about the 11th year,” the Everett, Wash.-based venture’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, told GeekWire. “So I’m hoping that is the case here.”

Those 11 years haven’t all been about the Titanic: OceanGate has been sending its subs into the depths of waters ranging from Seattle’s Elliott Bay and the Salish Sea to New York’s Hudson Canyon and the Andrea Doria’s resting place off the Massachusetts coast.

But diving down to the fabled ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 has been OceanGate’s focus for the past several years. That’s why the company built the Titan submersible, using titanium and carbon fiber, and then rebuilt it when the first vessel wasn’t deemed strong enough to stand up to the pressure of a 12,500-foot-deep (4,000-meter-deep) dive.

Over the past couple of years, OceanGate also had to cope with Canadian red tape and COVID-19 complications. But now Rush says everything looks shipshape for a convoy of trucks to set out in a week to transport the submersible, its launch platform and other equipment to Newfoundland for staging.

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GeekWire

NOAA and Vulcan team up for ocean science

Deployment of Deep Argo float
Elizabeth Steffen, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and the University of Hawaii, deploys a Deep Argo float off Hawaii in 2018. The float was tested in preparation for its use in a data-tracking array in the western South Atlantic. NOAA and Vulcan Inc. have been collaborating in the project. (University of Hawaii Photo / Blake Watkins)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it has forged a new agreement with Vulcan Inc., the Seattle-based holding company created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, to share data on ocean science and exploration.

The memorandum of understanding builds on an existing relationship between NOAA and Vulcan.

“The future of ocean science and exploration is partnerships,” retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator, said today in a news release. “NOAA is forging new collaborations, such as the one with Vulcan, to accelerate our mission to map, explore and characterize the ocean, which will help NOAA support the conservation, management and balanced use of America’s ocean and understand its key role in regulating our weather and climate.”

Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said the agreement furthers his company’s mission, which includes developing new technologies for conservation and addressing environmental challenges relating to the world’s oceans. Vulcan’s projects include the Allen Coral Atlas, which uses satellite imagery and other data sets to monitor the health of coral reefs; and Skylight, which provides real-time intelligence about suspicious maritime activity.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

OceanGate picks its supplier for carbon fiber

Titan submersible
OceanGate’s Titan submersible made use of carbon composite for its pressurized hull, and the company’s future submersibles will up the ante when it comes to carbon fiber. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says Toray Composite Materials America is its preferred provider for the carbon fiber material that will be used in the company’s next-generation submersibles.

Toray CMA is the world’s largest supplier of carbon fiber and the leader in providing fibers for numerous aircraft, including the Boeing 777 and 787. The company’s U.S. head office is in Tacoma, Wash.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said in a statement that Toray CMA “will play a critical role as we develop the next generation of manned submersible, to usher in a new era of exploration using aerospace-quality composites.”

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GeekWire

OceanGate raises $18M to boost submersible fleet

Maintenance check for Cyclops 1 sub
OceanGate’s team puts the Cyclops 1 submersible through its annual maintenance check at the company’s shop in Everett, Wash. (OceanGate Photo)

OceanGate says it has raised $18.1 million in new investment, laying the financial groundwork for an expansion of its fleet of deep-sea submersibles and setting the stage for dives to the 108-year-old Titanic shipwreck in 2021.

The funding round was reported in documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission. OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush said the figure reported in the documents, $19.3 million, would be amended to reflect the actual size of the round.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

How I unwittingly steered a sub to discovery

POSSESSION SOUND, Wash. — Steering a five-person submersible is like playing a video game, except for the fact that you’re piloting a nine-ton piece of hardware at watery depths that are inaccessible to all but the most experienced divers.

I got my chance to play this week during a survey dive in a pocket of Puget Sound known as Possession Sound, courtesy of OceanGate, a manufacturer and operator of submersibles that’s headquartered in Everett, Wash.

During our three-hour tour, GeekWire photographer Kevin Lisota and I were taken around the sound at depths ranging as low as 350 feet, in OceanGate’s Cyclops submersible. We even played a supporting role in finding a colony of anemones in an unexpected underwater setting.

The trip was part of a summertime expedition to get a better sense of the ecosystem on the bottom of Puget Sound, in collaboration with researchers from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

Shipwreck-hunting project wins TV spotlight

Vulcan's Rob Kraft
Rob Kraft is Vulcan’s director of subsea operations. (Image © 2019 Navigea Ltd. / R/V Petrel)

The voyages of the R/V Petrel, funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, are the focus of a National Geographic documentary premiering on Aug. 12 – and as a prelude to the show, the leader of the Petrel team is talking about what it takes to find historic shipwrecks in the Pacific.

“Our missions have led to discovery of over 30 historically significant shipwrecks, diverse ecosystems and encounters with rare marine species,” Rob Kraft, Vulcan’s director of subsea operations, says in an online Q&A. “The environment we operate in brings inherent dangers, challenges and risk that most people will never experience.”

That all sounds like a natural fit for the next episode of “Drain the Oceans,” a National Geographic series that delves into what we’d find beneath the waves if the world’s oceans could magically disappear.

Get the full story on GeekWire.