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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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Scientists plan to analyze DNA at Titanic wreck site

What’s lurking at the Titanic shipwreck site, nearly 13,000 beneath the surface of the North Atlantic? Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate aims to help scientists find out by cataloging the genomic signatures present in the deep ocean.

Researchers will gather up water samples at different depths during a series of dives planned by OceanGate’s Titan submersible this summer, and then analyze the samples to identify the DNA captured within.

The results are expected to give scientists a deeper understanding of deep-ocean biodiversity, and may also shed new light on some of the enduring mysteries surrounding the world’s best-known shipwreck.

“This is groundbreaking deep-sea research,” Steve W. Ross, a research professor affiliated with the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said in a news release. Ross took part in OceanGate Expeditions’ 2021 Titanic survey, and will be chief scientist for this summer’s expedition.

Over the past 110 years, the sinking of the Titanic luxury liner — and the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew — have provided the inspiration for countless tragic tales, including an Oscar-winning movie. Over that same time period, the rusting wreck has provided an artificial reef for life at the bottom of the sea.

“This study will give us an entirely different view of this one-of-a-kind habitat while also adding substantially to shared deep-water DNA data sets,” Ross said. “Water samples taken and analyzed using advanced genomics technologies will not only help us identify the lifeforms we can directly observe from the Titan submersible, but also will give us a full picture of the lifeforms we cannot see. This includes invisible signs of both microscopic creatures and larger animals that leave traces of DNA in the water surrounding the Titanic.”

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OceanGate’s sub is coming home after Titanic trips

After making a series of successful dives to the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic this summer, OceanGate’s flagship submersible is returning to its homeport in Everett, Wash., where it’ll be spruced up for another round of Titanic trips.

OceanGate Expeditions officially announced that its 2022 Titanic Survey Expedition will run from next May through June, with fresh opportunities for mission specialists to take part in the adventure. (Because OceanGate’s customers contribute to operations at sea, the company doesn’t call them “tourists,” even though they’re paying OceanGate a fee of $250,000.)

The five-person Titan submersible’s dives to the Titanic, more than two miles below the sea surface, are aimed at documenting the condition of the wreck on an annual basis. This summer’s dives confirmed previous findings that the world’s most famous shipwreck is rapidly deteriorating — 109 years after the luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank, causing more than 1,500 deaths.

“Mission specialists helped our crew gather and review terabytes of the highest-resolution still images and video of Titanic and the debris field ever collected,” OceanGate Expeditions’ president, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

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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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OceanGate sub makes its first dive to the Titanic

After years of building, testing and dealing with setbacks, Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate has sent a next-generation submersible and its crew down to the wreck site of the Titanic for the first time.

“We had to overcome tremendous engineering, operational, business [challenges], and finally COVID-19 challenges to get here, and I am so proud of this team and grateful for the support of our many partners,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

The first fruits of OceanGate’s 12,500-foot-deep dive in the North Atlantic include photos that show the frame of a stained-glass window and fragments of floor tile from the ocean liner, which hit an iceberg and sank during its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912.

The loss of the ship and more than 1,500 of the people who were on board — plus the wreck’s rediscovery in 1985 — made the saga of the Titanic one of the history’s best-known sea tragedies.

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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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OceanGate picks its support ship for Titanic dives

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate Expeditions has taken one more giant leap toward sending its submersible to the world’s most famous shipwreck, with the selection of the expedition’s support vessel.

The Canadian-owned, 93.6-meter (307-foot) Horizon Arctic will serve as the seagoing base of operations for the Titan submersible’s trips to the Titanic wreck site in the North Atlantic, starting in June.

“For this expedition, in one of the world’s harshest marine environments, we have selected a superior vessel, with outstanding features such as low-emissions hybrid propulsion, full redundancies and the highest standard of accommodations for our crew and mission specialists,” Stockton Rush, OceanGate Expeditions’ president, said today in a news release.

“Our focus has been on identifying a vessel and crew uniquely qualified in deep subsea operations with a commitment to putting safety first,” Rush said. “We have found that in the crew of the Horizon Arctic.”

Sean Leet, CEO of Horizon Maritime, said he was looking forward to conducting the operation from the company’s home port in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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OceanGate copes with COVID-19 as it targets Titanic

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate is getting ready to send explorers down to survey the wreck of the Titanic in its own custom-made submersible, but sometimes coping with the coronavirus pandemic can seem as challenging as diving 12,500 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean’s surface.

For example, there was the time OceanGate had to retrieve carbon-fiber material that was held up at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama due to a coronavirus-caused lockdown.

“They had to send a hazmat team into the facility,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, recalled today. “This was in March, and we got our material and our equipment out. I don’t believe NASA is back up and operating even now.”

In hindsight, sending in the hazmat team “was the right thing to do” despite the hassle and expense, Rush said, because that kept OceanGate’s hull fabrication process on track for next summer’s scheduled dives to the Titanic.

Now that process is well underway at Electroimpact and Janicki Industries, two companies north of Seattle that are better-known as aerospace contractors.

Rush said the experience taught him a lesson that other startup CEOs can apply as they cope with the pandemic’s effects: “Being nimble and not waiting is the only way to survive,” he said.

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Judge clears the way for opening up the Titanic

Titanic
The Titanic sank during its maiden voyage in 1912. (Acme Newspictures via Library of Congress)

A federal judge says RMS Titanic Inc. can go forward with its plan to cut into the Titanic shipwreck and try retrieving the Marconi wireless telegraph machine that sent out distress calls 108 years ago.

In an order issued Monday in Norfolk, Va., District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said RMS Titanic, the court-designated salvage firm for the Titanic, made its case that the radio had enough historic value to justify sending a specially equipped robot into the wreck. The remotely operated submersible would be equipped with tools to cut through the deckhouse if necessary.

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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.”