New Horizons’ Alan Stern reveals how Titanic travel is comparable to space travel

Planetary scientist Alan Stern said he was unprepared for the “intersections” his ocean-going expedition to the Titanic 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 the exploration of the space.

The scientist has joined OceanGate Expeditions, which offers $250,000 expeditions for people to see the famed ship some 12,500 feet below the ocean’s surface, on its submersible “Titan” as a mission specialist and science expert ( such experts pay no fees to join the expeditions).

Several 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 assisting with communication to a surface team during descent.

“It has some parallels to both current and distant future space exploration, such as the exploration of ocean worlds in the outer solar system,” Stern told HuffPost. “And it didn’t go well for me until I actually made the trip and was heading back north to Canada to get back to the dock.”

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

Stern, who will join Virgin Galactic’s suborbital research voyage next year, told HuffPost that submersibles have many of the same systems as starships — including an environmental life support system, a communications system and a power system. — but that there are “vast technological differences as well.

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

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

A look at 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 look at 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 OceanGate’s chief submersible pilot, Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of the company, during the final descent and compared him to astronaut Neil Armstrong “making the landing” while he – in the role of “Buzz Aldrin” – interrupted readings from telemetry sonar.

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

The shipments to the Titanic, a luxury liner that sank in 1921 and claimed 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, researching the ship as an artificial reef, and providing maritime archaeologists with images and footage of the dives.

He noted that Rush asked to tell him when they could see the ocean floor during their descent this summer, however, there were challenges on their journey to the Titanic, such as a reliance on sonar and searchlights to find the wreck.

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

Stern added that currents can vary with your depth, so while best estimates are made as to how far the submersible will drift on its descent, he said, you can typically end up hundreds of feet from where you wanted to be.

Once his team reached the ocean floor, they waited for the sediment clouds to settle, turned on sonar to locate the ship, and headed for the Titanic. But they didn’t see it until “they were literally 20 yards away from it,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

In a press release, Stern said private sector entities like OceanGate Expeditions mark the early days of an “unmatched era” of deep ocean exploration.

He told HuffPost that “very little” of the massive area of ​​Earth’s oceans has been explored the way people have explored 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 find.

“And then when it went down there, the thought that people might go there relatively routinely wasn’t even a thing you would think about. It was such a feat. And still today it is very rare.

“Of course, spaceflight is exploding in terms of human access, as are things oceanic. And I saw great parallels in that. And I think there [are] there will be some very interesting parallels in terms of economic development of the oceans for the good of the world”.


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