New Horizons’ Alan Stern reveals how traveling on the Titanic compares to space travel

Planetary scientist Alan Stern said he was unprepared for the ‘intersections’ his Titanic ocean expedition has made with his career, which includes his time leading NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt.

Stern, who spoke to HuffPost last week, revealed the parallels he discovered between the ocean voyage he took through OceanGate Expeditions – a company that offers trips to the Titanic’s resting place in the Atlantic Ocean – and space exploration.

The scientist joined OceanGate Expeditions, which offers $250,000 expeditions for people to see the famous ship about 12,500 feet below the surface of the ocean, on its ‘Titan’ submersible as a mission specialist and expert scientist (these experts do not pay a fee to join the expeditions).

A number of Stern’s contributions to the mission – in addition to offering his planetary knowledge – included collecting water column samples, assisting with ocean floor sampling, and helping to communication with a surface crew during the descent.

“There are parallels to both current and distant space exploration, such as the exploration of ocean worlds in the outer solar system,” Stern told HuffPost. “And it didn’t all come together for me until I actually made the trip and we were on our way north to Canada to get back to dock.”

Noting that fewer people have been to Titanic’s resting place than to space, Stern reflected in journal entries he wrote in July about the ship’s tragic end and how stories about its remains are “lost in time”.

Stern, who is due to join Virgin Galactic’s suborbital research trip next year, told HuffPost that submersibles have many of the same systems as spacecraft – including an environmental life support system, a communications system and a power system – but that there are “vast” technological differences too.

One example, he noted, was the inability to use the radio on board the submersible.

“So you communicate with an acoustic modem, something like in the 80s… and it’s really just text messages back and forth, and there’s a long delay. … What if I send a message at the surface, it takes 30 seconds to get back up.

A glimpse of the Titanic’s port anchor. Stern told HuffPost that submersibles have many of the same systems as spacecraft, but there are also “vast” technological differences.

A glimpse of the Titanic’s port anchor. Stern told HuffPost that submersibles have many of the same systems as spacecraft, but there are also “vast” technological differences.

Stern recalled helping Stockton Rush, the company’s founder and CEO, on the final descent, and compared him to astronaut Neil Armstrong “making the landing” as he – in the role of “Buzz Aldrin” – canceled rangefinder sonar readings.

Rush founded OceanGate in 2009, and the company has since embarked on expeditions to San Francisco’s Grand Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the wreck of the Andrea Doria and the Titanic, with the company launching its expeditions to the Titanic in 2021.

Expeditions to the Titanic, a luxury liner that sank in 1921 causing the loss of more than 1,500 lives, are part of a longitudinal study that has several goals, the company said, such as determining how long people will be able to recognize the Titanic, mapping the ocean floor around the ship, searching for the ship as an artificial reef, and providing maritime archaeologists with images and footage of dives.

He noted that Rush had asked to tell him when they would be able to see the ocean floor on their descent this summer, however, there were challenges on their trip to the Titanic, such as reliance on sonar and searchlights. to find the wreckage.

“We know exactly where the Titanic is thanks to GPS and buoys. We know where it is precisely and we know where the submersible is on the ship on the surface thanks to GPS,” Stern said. “But between the two, there are currents. And as you descend, you are at the mercy of the currents.

Stern added that currents can vary with your depth, so while the best estimates are made of how far the submersible will drift on its descent, he said, you can usually find yourself hundreds of meters deep. where you intended to be.

Once his team reached the bottom of the ocean, they waited for the sediment clouds to settle, turned on the sonar to spot the ship, and made their way to the Titanic. But they didn’t see it until they were “literally 20 yards away”, he said.

“So it’s very interesting because in spaceflight we’re able to navigate to these incredible precisions, even after crossing the solar system to Pluto, for example,” Stern said.

“And it’s just different technologies, and in many ways more difficult, but also constrained by budgets, you know. So I found it fascinating, and full of parallels.

A look at the bow of the Titanic.  Stern noted that

A look at the bow of the Titanic. Stern noted that “very few

A look at the bow of the Titanic. Stern noted that “very little” of the ocean is explored the way people have explored Earth’s land surface.

In a press release, Stern said private sector entities like OceanGate Expeditions are marking the beginning of an “unprecedented era” of deep sea exploration.

He told HuffPost that “very little” of Earth’s massive ocean area has been explored the way people have explored Earth’s land surfaces.

“When I was a kid, nobody knew where the Titanic was. They know it was still in the future for Bob Ballard to find,” Stern said, referring to the 1985 discovery.

“And then when he went there, the idea that people could go there on a relatively regular basis wasn’t even something you thought about. It was such an achievement. is very rare.

“Of course, spaceflight is exploding in terms of human access, as is oceanic flight. And I’ve seen some great parallels there. And I think there [are] are going to be some very interesting parallels in terms of economic development of the oceans for the good of the world.


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