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Submarine Tech: The Oceangate disaster

Submarines are remarkable pieces of engineering that allow humans to explore the depths of the ocean. Understanding submarine technology and the safety measures involved, let's delve into the key aspects that protect subs from imploding and enable them to operate at extreme depths.

The news of the OceanGate sub disaster has captured the attention of the world. We will help you understand the tech behind submarines, then give you an easy to undersdtand breakdown of what went wrong in the attempt by the OceanGate crew to reach the bottom of the ocean and examine the Titanic on its floor.

Of the various potential causes of the implosion, evidence seems to point to a series of bad decisions. There are at least six key decisions that have added serious concern for investigators and lead to potential human error. For starters the craft is relatively new and has not been adequately tested or certified.

Taking a submersible craft to such depth requires an exceptionally strong structure with exceptionally strong support system. That was not the case with the OceanGate submersible. Secondly there was no plan B. In other words, there were no visual monitors, no connecting tether connected to the craft or no support underwater drone to maintain and monitor the action. Thirdly, and this is a huge one, passengers were invited to pay and participate in this exploration with the aforementioned risks. These sorts of controversial and high risk adventures is a deadly gamble. It's important to note that there are passengers who declined because they were concerned for safety.

James Cameron, pictured above made 33 trips to Titanic, had plenty of insight on the tragedy as he grieved over the saw the loss of five lives in their quest to witness the Titanic. In an ABC News interview, the legendary director opened up about the devastating news, "People in the community were very concerned about this sub," Cameron recalled.

The Titanic filmmaker compared the numerous errors between the Titanic and the Ocean Gate submersible. He noted that what they were doing was too experimental to carry passengers and that it needed to be certified. "I'm struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night, and many people died as a result," he continued it's a very similar tragedy where warnings went unheeded. To take place at the same exact site with all the diving that's going on all around the world, I think it's just astonishing. It's really quite surreal."

Pressure Hull

The primary defense against implosion is the pressure hull, a specially designed and constructed structure that forms the outer shell of the submarine. It is typically made of high-strength steel or other advanced materials capable of withstanding immense pressure. The pressure hull maintains a relatively constant internal pressure, protecting the occupants and equipment from the crushing force of the water outside.

Compartments and Bulkheads

The interior of a submarine is divided into multiple compartments separated by strong bulkheads. These bulkheads further enhance structural integrity by providing additional support and preventing the propagation of damage in case of an accident or malfunction.

The compartments also aid in maintaining stability and controlling buoyancy.

Ballast Tanks

Submarines use ballast tanks to control their depth and buoyancy. These tanks can be flooded with water to make the submarine sink or emptied to make it rise. By carefully managing the amount of water in the ballast tanks, submarines can control their depth and remain at a desired level underwater. This ability to adjust buoyancy allows them to navigate through different depths without significant changes in pressure.

Pressure Equalization Systems

Submarines employ pressure equalization systems to manage the pressure difference between the interior and exterior of the vessel. These systems ensure that the pressure inside the submarine remains relatively constant as it dives deeper. By equalizing the pressure, the strain on the structure is minimized, reducing the risk of implosion.

Life Support Systems

To sustain the crew during underwater missions, submarines are equipped with advanced life support systems. These systems generate and regulate the oxygen supply, remove carbon dioxide, and control humidity and temperature levels inside the submarine. This allows the crew to breathe comfortably and safely for extended periods while submerged.

Regarding the incident you mentioned, where a specialty-made sub imploded during an attempt to reach a depth of 13,000 feet, several factors could have contributed to the failure:

Structural Integrity

It's possible that the pressure hull or other critical components of the submarine were not designed or constructed to withstand the extreme pressure at that depth. Insufficient strength or a flaw in the materials used could have compromised the structural integrity of the sub, leading to implosion.

Manufacturing or Maintenance Issues

If there were errors or defects in the manufacturing process or inadequate maintenance, it could have weakened the submarine's structure. Even a minor flaw or weak spot can be catastrophic under extreme pressure conditions.

Human Error

Mistakes made by the crew during the dive or in the operation of the submarine's systems could have played a role in the incident. Human error can range from incorrect calculations of depth and pressure limits to improper handling of equipment.

Technical Failure

Malfunctions in critical systems like the pressure equalization system, ballast tanks, or life support systems could have compromised the submarine's ability to withstand the pressure and maintain the necessary conditions for the crew's survival.

Investigations into such incidents are typically conducted to determine the exact cause.

Submarine technology continuously evolves to improve safety and reliability, but it remains a complex and challenging field due to the extreme conditions involved in underwater exploration.


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