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NASA downplays its role in making doomed Titan sub

NASA and OceanGate formed a partnership years ago. NASA now says OceanGate overstated the agency's role in developing the destroyed submersible.
NASA downplays its role in making doomed Titan sub
Posted at 6:19 AM, Jun 23, 2023

NASA "did not conduct testing and manufacturing via its workforce or facilities" on the Titan submersible that  imploded this week, the space agency said in a statement to Scripps News.

Officials said Thursday the submersible likely suffered a "catastrophic implosion" as it approached the Titanic shipwreck, which sits over 12,000 feet below the ocean surface. At that depth, thousands of pounds of force are applied to every square inch of the sub.

In 2020, OceanGate said NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama would serve as "the facility where the development and manufacturing of a new aerospace-grade hull is completed." NASA confirmed it did enter a Space Act Agreement with OceanGate, which allows joint ventures for the purpose of advancing the agency's mission. 

"NASA is committed to cutting-edge composites research and development that will not only further our deep space exploration goals, but will also improve materials and manufacturing for American industry," John Vickers, principal technologist for advanced manufacturing technology at NASA, said in an OceanGate press release in 2020. "This Space Act Agreement with OceanGate is a great example of how NASA partners with companies to bring space technology back down to Earth."

SEE MORE: Submarine expert explains: What causes an underwater implosion?

Scripps News has asked NASA to provide a copy of the Space Act Agreement it formed with OceanGate. 

"We are deeply saddened by the reports of a catastrophic implosion involving the Titan submersible. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the crew members’ families for their loss," NASA said in a statement to Scripps News on Thursday. "NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center had a Space Act Agreement with OceanGate and consulted on materials and manufacturing processes for the submersible. NASA did not conduct testing and manufacturing via its workforce or facilities, which were done elsewhere by OceanGate."

According to OceanGate, Titan was the first deep-sea submersible to be built using carbon fiber. 

What is carbon fiber?

"Carbon fiber is a polymer and is sometimes known as graphite fiber," according to a description from Innovative Composite Engineering. "It is a very strong material that is also very lightweight. Carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff. Though carbon fiber is stronger and stiffer than steel, it is lighter than steel; making it the ideal manufacturing material for many parts."

SEE MORE: 'A catastrophic implosion': All 5 on board missing sub presumed dead

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush repeatedly boasted about his company's partnership with NASA in designing and manufacturing the sub. Rush was one of the five people on board Titan who are presumed dead.

"NASA’s expertise in the design and automated fiber placement lay up of composite hulls was extremely valuable on this project,” Rush said last year. “The ability to construct Titan’s pressure hull with aerospace grade carbon fiber and manufacturing protocols results in a submersible which weighs a fraction of what other deep diving crewed submersibles weigh. This weight reduction allows us to carry a significantly greater payload which we use to carry five crewmembers: a pilot, researchers, and mission specialists."

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