Human has made fatal errors throughout history. Recently, a major addition to it was the Titan disaster. As the US Coast Guard was informed about the missing Titan submersible, a four-day-long search mission was carried out, which finally came to a tragic end. The search ended after the ROV found the debris of Titan on the seafloor at about 500m from the bow of the Titanic. All the members onboard were presumed dead. What led to the sad demise of these people in an era where scientific and technical development is at its pinnacle? Let’s understand it thoroughly -
Titan, a 22ft long and 22,000lb submersible designed by the company Ocean Gate had a seating capacity of 5 people. It had a small acrylic window to look outside through it. Also, it could only be opened from the outside and not from the inside. It was constructed from 13cm thick carbon fiber and titanium. Another interesting fact is that it was controlled using an Xbox controller. Although it’s not unique since US Navy submarines use it too, the catch is, not to control the whole submarine.
Let’s have a look at few of the basic terminologies being used for a better understanding: -
1. Submarine vs Submersible
Titan was a submersible and not a submarine. There is a slight and quite important difference between a submarine and a submersible.
Submarines are self-supporting, while submersibles are underwater craft that needs to be transported and supported by a surface vessel or platform.
In the case of Titan, we had Polar Prince as its supporting ship or platform.
2. Implosion vs Explosion
Implosions are just the reverse of explosions. Implosion is the process in which the object is destroyed by squeezing on itself. In case of an explosion, the energy is released onto the outside or the force is acted outwards but, here in implosion, the force is experienced on the object.
Implosions are as violent as explosions. The submersible would have squeezed within milliseconds and the occupants would have not felt anything hitting before death.
On the 18th of June
On the 18th of June,2023 A submersible “Titan” dived into the deep North Atlantic Ocean on an expedition to view the wreckage of the Titanic. Onboard were Stockton Rush, the CEO of Ocean Gate; Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French deep-sea explorer and Titanic expert; Hamish Harding, a British billionaire businessman; Shahzada Dawood, a Pakistani-British billionaire businessman; and Dawood’s 19years old son Suleman. After 1 hour 45 minutes of dive, Titan lost its communication with its support ship “Polar Prince”. Men on Polar Prince waited until the scheduled resurface time of the submersible, and even after hours, when there was no sign of it, they reported to the US Coast Guard. After four days of its lost communication, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) discovered the debris of Titan. It was then declared as a “Catastrophic implosion” by the US Coast Guard, presuming the death of five. According to the experts, it is believed that it occurred due to safety ignorance by the company Ocean Gate and majorly due to the experimental design of the hull.4
The Engineering Aspect
Since 1985, when the first Titanic expedition was led, there have been no such case of implosion, so what was the fault with Titan? What led to such a catastrophic implosion?
The problem lies within the hull. A new experimental design with a material never used on submarines, carbon fiber was used in the construction of Titan. It was never tested before and no one knew what could be the impact of the high pressure of the deep ocean could be on it. The Titan was basically a cylinder constructed with carbon fiber and capped with titanium hemispherical domes. Generally, titanium, aluminum and steel were used for the manufacturing of submarines. Also, the submersible had dived dozens of times into the ocean, weakening it with every dive. Carbon composites have limited life when subject to excessive loads or poor design which leads to stress concentrations.
This tragedy makes us think about many things, majorly how the ignorance of reason and scientific facts could sum up to a man-made disaster and destiny pulled us back from the untested material body in low temperature in Titanic to untested material in high pressure in Titan.
Also, we got a new name added to the list of death of inventors from their own invention, the Stockton Rush.