Like much of the rest of the world, I'm absolutely fixated on the OceanGate story. I found this very interesting and disturbing interview with OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush—featured on Season 2, Episode 17 of Unsung Science with David Pogue, which aired November 27, 2022. Three parts of the interview especially stood out to me.
First, here's Rush discussing the "MacGyvery" nature of the vessel:
POGUE: It seems like this submersible has some elements of MacGyvery jerryriggedness . You're like, "we bought these handles off camperworld.com". You're like, "these thrusters are modified from some other purpose."
RUSH: I don't know if I'd use that description of it. But, there are certain things that you want to be buttoned down, and that's the pressure vessel.
POGUE: The pressure vessel is the carbon-fiber tube—the part that keeps the human beings alive.
RUSH: (cont'd) So, the pressure vessel is not MacGyver at all, because that's where we work with Boeing and NASA and the University of Washington. That part, once the pressure vessel is — you're certain it's not going to collapse on everybody, everything else can fail. It doesn't matter. Your thrusters can go. Your lights can go. All these things can fail. You're still going to be safe. And so, that allows you to do what you call MacGyver stuff. You just have to be very careful that the life support system, the sub itself, the oxygen system, the carbon dioxide scrubbing, all that stuff that needs to be buttoned down.
POGUE: But, surely, I'm not the first layperson to say, "I can't believe this isn't a more finished solid state-of-the-art NASA electronic." I mean, you're putting construction pipes as ballast.
RUSH: People are surprised by it, and not people in the industry, because that's what they do. I mean, the French had bags of stuff they dropped. The Russians used just steel shot with a little magnetic release and they drop it. All deep diving subs are prototypes.
POGUE: Please remember that line: All deep-diving subs are prototypes. That should be a T-shirt.
POGUE to RUSH: Are there ever clients who are taken aback and expected something more…polished?
RUSH: Oh, yes. Yes. When we started out, we did have cases where a travel agent or a travel consultant would lead them to believe this was like going to the Four Seasons and booking a zip lining trip, and we'll never be like that.
Second, here's Rush discussing safety:
POGUE: Last year, at the end of a Titanic dive, OceanGate had trouble getting the sub back onto the ship. Those poor mission specialists …they wound up spending 27 hours in the sub. Granted, the company says the sub has 96 hours' worth of oxygen and power. And Stockton isn't exactly an amateur. As a young man, he designed and built his own fiberglass airplane, which he still flies. Titan isn't even his first submersible. But it sure doesn't help your anxiety much when someone says stuff like this:
RUSH: You know, there's a limit. You know, at some point, safety just is pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don't get out of bed. Don't get in your car. Don't do anything. At some point, you're going to take some risk, and it really is a risk/reward question. I think I can do this just as safely by breaking the rules.
POGUE: Bottom line, the last couple of nights before the expedition, I didn't sleep AT ALL. Did I want to die for a TV story—and a really great podcast episode?
And finally, here's Rush discussing danger:
POGUE: I asked Stockton Rush about the whole danger thing.
POGUE to RUSH: How dangerous is it?
RUSH: I don't think it's very dangerous. / If you look at submersible activity over the last three decades, there hasn't even been a major injury, let alone a fatality. What worries us is not once you're underwater. What worries me is when I'm getting you there, when you're on the ship in icy states with big doors that can crush your hands and people who may not have the best balance who fall down, bang their head. That's, to me, the dangerous part. But, the scary part for most people is going down to 6,000 PSI.
POGUE: Yes. It's counterintuitive. I would certainly not expect life on the surface ship to be the dangerous part.
POGUE: So, once we're down there, what ARE the things to worry about?
RUSH: What I worry about most are things that will stop me from being able to get to the surface. Overhangs, fish nets, entanglement hazards. And, that's just a technique, piloting technique. It's pretty clear— if it's an overhang, don't go under it. If there is a net, don't go near it. So, you can avoid those if you are just slow and steady. Most of our fellow expeditioners were rich people seeking adventure, like a hedge-fund guy with his son, an artificial-intelligence pioneer who'd sold a bunch of companies, and Shrenik Baldota, who runs a massive industrial conglomerate in India.
What's that story about Icarus, again?