Submarine Round 3

Ocean Sciences The building at the University of Washington in Seattle is a sleek modern, four-story structure with large glass windows that reflect the bay across the street.

By the afternoon of July 7, 2016, it was slowly shutting down.

Red lights began to flash at the entrances as students and teachers gathered under a cloudy sky. Eventually, only a handful of people remained inside, ready to unleash one of the natural world’s most destructive forces: the crushing weight of nearly 2½ miles of ocean water.

A black pill-shaped capsule hangs from a ceiling hoist in the building’s high-pressure test facility. It was a scale model of this submarine, about 3 feet long Cyclops 2, developed by a local startup called OceanGate. The company’s CEO, Stockton Rush, founded the company in 2009 as a type of underwater charter service, anticipating the growing need for commercial and research trips to the ocean floor. At first Rush bought old, steel-hulled submersibles for expeditions, but in 2013 OceanGate began designing what the company calls a “revolutionary new manned submersible.” Among the submarine’s innovations was a lightweight hull made of carbon fiber that could accommodate more passengers than the spherical cabins traditionally used in deep-sea divers. Until 2016, Rush’s dream was to put paying customers on the most famous shipwreck: Titanic3800 meters below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

Engineers lowered carefully Cyclops 2 model into the nose of a test tank—like first loading a bomb into a silo and then screwing the tank’s 3,600-pound cap. Then they began to pump the water, increasing the pressure to simulate the diving of submarines. If you are walking at sea level, the atmosphere above weighs 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi). The deeper you go, the stronger this pressure becomes; yes, yes Titanicdepth, the pressure is about 6500 psi. Soon, the gauge on UW’s test tank read 1,000 psi, and it kept ticking—2,000 psi, 5,000 psi. At about the 73-minute mark, when the pressure in the tank reached 6,500 psi, there was a sudden roar and the tank vibrated violently.

“I felt it in my body,” one OceanGate employee said in an email that night. “The building shook and my ears rang for a long time.”

“It scared everybody,” he said.

The model exploded thousands of meters beyond OceanGate’s intended safety boundary.

In the high-cost, high-cost world of manned submarines, most engineering teams would go back to the drawing board, or at least order more models to test. Rush did none of that. Instead, within months, OceanGate began full-scale construction Cyclops 2 based on an exploded model. This underwater design was later named Titanfinally brought it down Titanic in 2021. He even returned to the site for expeditions over the next two years. But almost a year ago, on June 18, 2023 Titan dove into the infamous crash and exploded, instantly killing all five people on board, including Rush himself.