Titan Postscript: Now comes the sadness after the storm has passed.
By Alfred Hagen
The dull ache of sorrow exacerbated by a world determined to pass judgment before knowing the full facts. A world deficient in empathy & determined to bayonet the corpses and memories of our departed friends. Not because the jury has weighed the evidence but simply because hatred, misinformation, negativity and conspiracy theories have become our new religion. Because too many have abandoned science for intuition and confuse prejudice for judgment. It is the triumph of ignorance over science, of hatred over justice, of prejudice over fair play. It is tearing down those who seek to expand our horizons instead of glorifying the drive that has elevated mankind. Our drive to learn, to excel, to take risks, to go farther, faster & deeper than man has ever gone before is the divine spark that separates us from the animal.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all those who did express their empathy and concern for the OceanGate family. I am appalled by the outpouring of hate mail that I have received. One disturbed individual expressed the enraged wish that I had also imploded because of my suggestion that the only crime committed was the Government’s underfunding of the scientific research community. Others expressed their morbid envy towards anyone dumb enough to spend money on risky adventures. Apparently their view of true intelligence is refusing to take risks or to attempt to paint the tapestry of life’s experience on a larger canvas. It is far easier & safer to sit at home watching television and criticising those who venture beyond the frontiers of human knowledge.
I won’t take time to address all of the misinformation and premature accusations. I can point out that GPS doesn’t work three miles beneath the sea. I can mention that all the experts ranting about their 2018 report were referring to the prototype of the Titan, not the Titan. I can argue that scientists who want to expand our knowledge and wealthy adventurers who accept risk while helping to fund exploration represent a beautiful alternative model. I can counter Obama’s honest assessment that the fate of 700 immigrants in a sinking ship received less attention than the fate of five men probing the depths of the sea. But mankind looks up in fascination at those who attempt great things. That is why the world held its breath during the Apollo13 mishap and again for Titan. Because it was riveting and captured the imagination of the world. The lives of the impoverished immigrants are just as precious. But the world turns towards spectacle. Sadly, this is a world of inequality. The fact that we made every attempt to save our friends on Titan had no impact on any attempt to save 700 drowning immigrants. We owed both disasters a dedicated and compassionate response.
I have been accused of blaming the US Government because I protested their rejection of the British offer to send the sophisticated deep sea Magellan equipment. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered. I still believe that Magellan should have been immediately mobilised and every effort to effect a rescue should have been pursued until all hope was gone or the fate of the Titan was known. I never blamed anyone. I simply called for a full-on effort. If the passengers had been alive and we repeatedly told the Brits and French to “stand down”, we would have endured our generation’s Apollo13 moment. The eyes of the World looked upon us. Would we respond in the same “can-do” spirit as our forefathers? Refusing to accept failure as an option until such time as we either succeeded or actually failed? That is the forgotten aspect of Apollo 13… failure was not only an option, it was a high probability. If we found an intact submersible too late, we would have had our Apollo 13 moment… and “stood down”. As it turned out, the Titan imploded and this was not our moment to rise to a historic challenge. It doesn’t change the fact that we should have brought every tool to the task until the fate of the Titan was known.
I agree that this tragedy needs to be investigated and lessons learned. Just as the dawn of aviation cost many fliers their lives, the exploration of the last great frontier on Earth will not come without a price…. But Stockton and PH dared greatly… they should be celebrated as risk takers and pioneers who understood that the future of mankind is inextricably bound to the floor of the abyss. The elements to power our future will be found at the bottom of the sea.
Seen from space, Planet Earth is a tiny, delicate and beautiful blue ball gifted with deep waters. In the immensity of the Universe, our little oasis of life is a tiny spaceship that resembles at scale another tiny ship called the “Titan”. We have desecrated Earth’s landscapes, over fished her seas and polluted her waters. We argue about the cost of carbon neutral energy while knowing that we are draining billions of years of carbon fuel out of the earth in a “one time dividend” that empowers our generation to the detriment of all who come after.
I see some troubling hypocrisies at play. Are we not complicit in recklessly altering the protective hull of Spaceship Earth while feeling free to engage in hysterics about Stockton’s supposed “recklessness” democratising the abyss and opening a new world to mankind? The first recklessness threatens mankind’s ability to survive on earth. The other attempt to push the envelope cost us 5 lives in a noble attempt to take mankind into an alien world that will define our future. The Ocean sustains life on earth.
I wish that I were a younger man with limitless resources because I would take this moment to design a new Titan built in a possible series of interlocking titanium spheres where travellers to inner space could sit “back to back” looking out of opposing portholes. I would etch Stockton and P. H.’s images on the titanium shell. But if not me, I trust that someone will take up the fallen banner and lead us to places where no man has gone before. I look forward to a new, improved Titan. I will be the first to board.
I will close with the words of another Alfred written in another time after the loss of another dear friend:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.