In “Back to Titanic” Part 1, David Pogue told of his invitation to join an expedition to visit the wreck of the Titanic in a custom submersible. The company, OceanGate, ordinarily charges $250,000 per person, as part of a new wave in adventure travel. 

Bad weather immediately canceled the dive that Pogue and the “CBS Sunday Morning” crew were scheduled to join—but the CEO offered a consolation dive to the Grand Banks. The sights were said to include shark breeding grounds, towering underwater cliffs, and marine species never seen before.

Just as the sub was descending beneath the waves, the order to halt came from mission control. 

In this episode, the story concludes.

Intro

Theme begins.

2021 was a big year for adventure travel. For the first time in history, rich people could pay their way onto rockets for brief joyrides in space.

It was also the year that a company called OceanGate began taking passengers down to see the wreck of the Titanic.

RUSH: I just wanted to do cool things with cool people. And the second objective was I wanted to expand humanity’s understanding of the ocean and ocean awareness. 

This summer, I joined one of the OceanGate expeditions in hopes of seeing how it all works. I found out, all right.

I’m David Pogue, and this is “Unsung Science.”

Episode Transcript

Season 2, Episode 3: Back to the Titanic. Part 2.

Today, you’ll hear the thrilling conclusion to the story that began in the previous episode of “Unsung Science,” to which I gave the devilishly clever title “Back to the Titanic, Part 1.” 

In that episode, I described a company called OceanGate, the only outfit in the world still visiting the Titanic. For $250,000, you, too, can be one of the lucky passengers aboard the company’s one-of-a-kind, carbon-fiber submersible, designed by the company’s CEO, Stockton Rush. I’d been lucky enough to be invited along as a reporter. CBS paid room and board for my crew and me, but nothing like a quarter of a million dollars.

I’d encourage you to listen to that Part 1 episode before you continue with this one. It’s about 35 minutes long. I’ll wait right here until you get back. 

(4 seconds of silence)

Actually, you know what? If you need to hear that episode, just pause this one, and then come back. Yeah. Much better idea.

Anyway, when we were together last, I had been bolted into Stockton Rush’s submersible—from the outside— with him, my producer, and two passengers. 

The sub starts out clipped to a gigantic silver floating platform. Motorboats drag the platform off the back of our surface ship down a huge, bright-orange ramp, foot by foot—until it’s in the water. 

POGUE: We’re tipping! We are in the water, people!

At this point, scuba divers are supposed to unclip the sub, and then we’re supposed to zoom down and away to our destination. But what actually happened was this.

RUSH: They’re bringing us back up.

GUY: They’re bringing us back up?

RUSH: Yup. Something happened. 

Two sausage-shaped black buoys, about three feet long, had somehow come off the platform. I guess they’re designed to keep the corners of the platform stable—but now they were bobbing away on the waves.

RUSH: Topside, Titan…

KYLE: Go ahead.

RUSH: So we’re scrubbing?

KYLE: Yeah, that’s the consensus up here.

RUSH: (On camera) Copy that. It’s not an exact science. Everything down to knot-tying!

I was crushed. 

POGUE: So that concludes our voyages on the Titan submersible. 37 feet and that’s it. At this point, there are 2 days left of good weather where they’re hoping to do dives to the Titanic, but that’s for paying passengers only and that’s not us. So we’ll do our best to film and record and tell that story, but we will not be on the sub.

My submersible adventures were over. I would not be seeing the Titanic in person.

I spent about a day bumming out. This was not what I’d hoped for, not what “CBS Sunday Morning” had hoped for. I didn’t even know if we’d still have a story.

But when I chatted with Renata Rojas the next day, one of the paying passengers, I realized that maybe I wasn’t so special.

RENATA: Every expedition has its challenges. All of them. I have not been in one expedition where things have to be adjusted, adapted, changed, or cancelled. We’re not a cruise ship. You’re at the mercy of the weather. And taking Titan in the water, you have currents, so you may not necessarily land on top of Titanic. You might land 500 meters away and you have to find it in the bottom of the ocean.  

Oh dang! I just thought of a great alternate title for this episode—Hell or High Water. Get it?

On the other hand, to Renata Rojas, getting to dive to any depth in the Titan submersible counts as a thrill. She’s very much a believer in the ol’ “count your blessings” philosophy.

RENATA: To be honest, just to have the opportunity to get in the submersible and be launched into the water, and see that blue water fill the port… is just amazing. It’s just a ride in itself.

I mean…true. Now I was a little ashamed for having felt sorry for myself. I mean, Titanic or no, this was still an incredible adventure. We had the run of a $300 million, state-of-the-art industrial ship, in the middle of the North Atlantic. 

It’s a very cool place to be. Which is lucky, because we now had two days of rough seas ahead of us. Beautiful sunny weather, but waves too big to launch the sub. Fortunately, there was a lot to do.

There was cool sea life, like these dolphin pods that leapt out of water beside the crew’s motorboats, like they were racing us. 

At one point, a huge pod of whales swam past our bow, spouting as they went. One of ‘em even did that classic leap-out-of-the-water-and-splash-down thing.

Another way to spend your time on board: You could hang out with the divers and the ship’s crew. These are people who spend their lives at sea, and have racked up a whoooollllle different set of life experiences. 

Like, once, I hung out with Blake Reed, one of OceanGate’s scuba divers. He told us about a time he was hired to salvage a rich guy’s sunken yacht in Kodiak, Alaska.

BLAKE: Up in Kodiak, you get quite a diverse group of marine life that comes through… killer whales being one of them. Orcas. So I went down and was inspecting the hull, Next thing I know, I feel something pulling on my fin. And then I felt my fin strap really stretch, and I turned around and there’s this orca gumming my fin. And this thing just sat there and floated back and forth looking at me, and eventually got bored and took off. It was a really weird experience.

And it was a really cool experience, for me at least, to hang out with our ship’s captain. 

Gilles: My name is Gilles Poirier, and I’m the captain of the Horizon Arctic.

Gilles has been at sea since he got out of high school, and man, does he have stories. Like the time in 2004 when his ship got overtopped by a 200-foot wave. 

Gilles: We were off Sable Island. This gigantic wave came out of nowhere, and went over the whole vessel, and busted two windows on the bridge. 

The day before there was a tsunami in Indonesia. That’s the wave that we hit.

The glass just imploded, and it just flew everywhere. My poor chief mate had some glass embedded in his scalp. Then we had a cadet on board, and one of the glass punctured one of his arteries in his foot, so the blood was actually spurting up pretty quite high. And it was his first time at sea, so he was panicking extremely bad. So we brought him into a cabin, and we had to pack some flour into his foot to stop the bleeding. 

Took us a total of 2 days to get back to Halifax, and it was quite the experience. 

Once, when nothing was going on on the bridge, the Canadian crewmen taught me how to drive the ship. I mean, I was actually at the helm for about 15 minutes, and not a soul on the rest of the ship even knew it. 

COLE: Obviously the faster you go, the less you have to turn your rudders. And we’re doing 5 knots, almost, so you can bring it right around to about 15 degrees.

Pogue: Everyone hold on! It’s gonna be like “Speed 2!”

And speaking of killing those two days at sea—at one point, I broke the journalist’s code. Instead of just observing the story, I affected it. I made a scavenger hunt for the passengers and crew. They had to find rhyming clues that led them to one-word passwords all over the ship—and eventually use them to solve a puzzle.

POGUE: The first two teams to solve the big puzzle will get a 100 dollar discount coupon good toward your next $250,000 dive with Stockton’s company.

Also. Remember how I said there are scientists on board? You could hang out with them, and ask all the questions you like. 

POGUE: / what makes deep sea research hard to do?

MATHER: It’s a very hostile environment. The pressures are enormous.

POGUE: And when you say it’s hostile environment, the pressures are tremendous, you’re not just talking about your colleagues, am I right?  

ROSS: Right.  

MATHER: That’s right, —but that, too! 

ROSS: No, this is the hardest place in the world probably to work.

On our expedition, there were three of these guys: deep-sea explorer P.H. Nargeolet, who’s made 37 trips to the Titanic; underwater archaeologist Rod Mather; and deep-sea ecologist Steve Ross, who, in his career, has discovered more than one new species.

POGUE: Has any species ever been named after you? 

ROSS: Yes. So sendos rossi is this little diminutive fish.  

POGUE: What sort of fish is it?  

ROSS: Unfortunately, its common name is snotfish. I was hoping for something more spectacular. It didn’t happen.

The scientists point out that this OceanGate business offers them something virtually no other scientists get: The opportunity to do a longitudinal study of the ship’s deterioration, meaning, studying it over time. They come back every year at the same time, taking pictures and shooting video, and then they can compare the results.

MATHER: That’s a good thing. I mean, we can study this year, we can come back to study next year and so forth. So that’s unusual, that’s not really getting done at this site before.

POGUE: And if it weren’t for this outfit, and you wanted to study the Titanic, what would your options be?  

ROSS: Competitive scientific grants. It’s a much harder pathway.

MATHER: Yeah. If I was to come up with a proposal to study a merchant ship in a deep water somewhere else, I’d have to come up with $5 million to do it. Here, we get sort of combined funding and opportunities because it’s Titanic.

POGUE: Okay. So what is there to learn about the Titanic that’s been down there for 100 years?

MATHER: One of the things we do as archeologists is look for what we call signatures of human behavior. One of the things I’m interested in is, what else can we find out about what people were doing at the time the Titanic sank? Some of the portholes were left open. Now why you would do that? Any metal doors that were left open, those also give you some idea about people are doing on that fateful night back in 1912.

POGUE: I’ve read that the Titanic’s deteriorating, that at some point it’s going to be gone!  

MATHER: Well, it is deteriorating, and it is changing. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to look at. We’re trying to set up a series of stations so that we can measure that deterioration. 

POGUE: And then what is there marine biolologically to observe down there? 

ROSS: Well, Titanic represents an unusual habitat, opportunistic habitat. A lot of animals need a hard substrate, like corals to attach to and that attracts other organisms. So it essentially is an oasis in the deep sea. And we like to study that effect and see what impact it has on the natural ecology of the area. 

POGUE: While you’re down there, will you look for this giant heart-shaped diamond on a chain?   

MATHER: I think that’s not there. It might be in some movie studio somewhere…

For Stockton Rush, the founder and CEO of this whole outfit, the fun part is discovering new species—and apparently there are a lot yet to find.

RUSH: There is more undiscovered life in the ocean than we’ve discovered. There is more undiscovered life in the ocean than we’ve discovered on the surface. Hundreds of thousands of species. 

What we did this year is we also took water samples, and with a thing called environmental DNA, scientists can tell all the species that were around the wreck within a 24-hour roughly period.

Every time they go take a sample like these eDNA samples, there are hundreds of DNA in there, they have no idea what they are.

POGUE: So, it sounds like this isn’t just a shipwreck, just a twisted hunk of metal. 

RUSH: Yes. I think there are 300 unique species that have only been found on the Titanic. It is — it’s gone from being a grave site to being a garden. It’s this substrate that life is able to attach itself to, and it’s going to be this undersea reef for centuries.

Finally, on our fourth day parked over the Titanic, the weather cleared. The first three of the paying passengers were finally going to get their chance to see the Titanic!

They made fantastic time getting to the bottom—about two hours. The GoPros inside the sub recorded everything. 

Stockton Comin’ up on a mile under water, people! Mile low club!

Mile-low club… get it? 

They had a ball during the descent. They put on music, they bantered, they joked, they saw cool bioluminescent critters out the porthole.

Stockton: You seeing weird stuff there?

Rory: We’re getting lots of small firefly things, but nothing major. No major light shows. But when the lights are off, we’re seeing more stuff in terms of fluorescence.

Meanwhile, I was up at mission control, on the bridge of the ship. That’s where Stockton Rush’s wife Wendy works communication with the sub.

See, radio waves can’t travel through sea water. Fortunately, sound does travel—so the only way for the ship and the sub to communicate is to exchange short text messages through the water column, using acoustical signals, like over a 1990 modem. 

A couple of hours into the dive, we on the ship got one of those text messages from the sub. Wendy read us the good news:

WENDY: Titan sitting at 3742 meters, reports “on bottom!” (applause)

The sub had successfully reached the bottom of the ocean! They had not, however, located the Titanic.

Guy: Well, I’m seeing not a thing out here. Other than starfish…

Turns out that finding the shipwreck itself is easier said than done, according to OceanGate Director of Engineering Phil Brooks.

BROOKS: You have this giant ocean and where the Titanic wreck is, is it’s literally a needle in a haystack. And we have to guide them in. And our only reference are those coordinates, the GPS coordinates. So we have to guide them into the wreck.

You can be, you know, five meters away from the wreck and not know it.

That was something I hadn’t really considered: There is no GPS under water. So if you’re the pilot of the sub, how do you know where you are? How do you find the wreck of the Titanic? 

POGUE: Okay. Here’s the situation. The sub is 200 yards that way, and 2.4 miles straight down. And they can’t— [sneezes] But —[sneezes] the sun makes me sneeze!—They can’t find the Titanic. See, the sub has no GPS location system. Instead, they rely on the ship to tell them “Turn right, turn left, go forward to find the ship.” But the ship’s two GPS systems are not agreeing with each other, so they don’t know what to tell the sub. And it’s coming time that they’re gonna have to start thinking about coming up again.    

The sub does have sonar, but its range is pretty limited. So if you’re not even close to the wreck, you have to rely on directions provided by the mission directors at the surface.  

It’s like a game of Battleship. They text you, “Forward 50 feet, right 100 feet.”

GUY: I said, “Do you know where we are?” 100 meters to the bow, then 470 to the bow. If you are lost, so are we!” I mean, honest to Pete!

But on this occasion, something wasn’t quite making sense. 

Stockton: How could we be in grid 83 then?

Guy: Correct. I think someone’s reading it backwards.

Wendy Rush continued sending directions to the sub:

WENDY: Turn 30 degrees right?

PHIL: Probably 30.

An hour later, in the sub:

GUY: What’d they say?

RORY: 400 meters due east? That’s gonna take us away!

RUSH: Doesn’t make sense from the map.

RORY: Due east doesn’t make sense! 

Two hours later.

Rory: We need to turn 180 degrees! We’re heading northwest!

RUSH: What?

Rory: Comms has said we need to turn 180.

RUSH: Hang on. (sighs)

And then came the message from the ship that Stockton Rush really didn’t want to receive. 

RUSH: “Bottom time up. What do you want to do?”

“Bottom time up.” 

So now what? You’ve got three passengers on your sub who’ve paid a quarter of a million dollars apiece—and all it’s bought them is a glimpse of a boiler, lying in the Titanic’s massive debris field. No shipwreck. 

And now HQ, 2.5 miles over you, is telling you to give up. What do you do?

After the ads…I’ll tell you what Stockton Rush did.

Ad Break

Before the break, it was almost like we were in that submersible with the five frustrated occupants. They’d been underwater for about ten hours, and hadn’t found the shipwreck. And now they were being told to return to the surface.

Well, Stockton Rush had to accept defeat: The three paying passengers aboard Dive 79 would not be seeing the great ship—not this year, anyway. 

Two hours later, the sub was back on the surface. 

Once the passengers had had a chance to get some food and decompress, I spoke once again to our industry mogul passenger Shrenik Baldota .

SHRENIK: It was beautiful. I mean, it’s going in space with absolutely zero friction, gently descending at 300 feet—beautiful! It’s pitch dark and there’s absolutely zero sound except for the music that you’re playing inside and we’re talking.  

POGUE: Did you see any cool stuff on the way down, on the way up?  

SHRENIK: Yeah, we – oh, yeah. We had illuminous creatures going down. And when you see out, it was beautiful. Magical. 

POGUE: Things were glowing at you? 

SHRENIK: All glowing.  

Bottom line, he said that the trip was great. Just maybe not $250,000 great.

SHRENIK: We were lost. We were lost for two and a half hours.

POGUE: You didn’t find the bow? 

SHRENIK: We didn’t find the bow. There was some communication gap between the ship and the sub pilot, so that’s how we missed it, unfortunately.  

Rush says he’ll offer those passengers a complimentary do-over next year. 

RUSH: If there’s a mechanical delay you get to come, you get a full credit to do it again.

POGUE: You can try again?

RUSH: Yeah. If there is a weather delay, you get a 50 percent credit, which is better than your heli-skiing or going to your ski resort. So, we’ve sort of looked at different elements of that, things that we can control, things that we can’t control.

When we studied the map of the sub’s path during that dive, we saw the real heartbreak: the sub had actually been within 100 yards of both the bow and the stern at different points in their journey—but never knew it. 

Time was running out for this expedition. We’d spent four days floating over the Titanic, and the submersible hadn’t succeeded in reaching it even once. Three more paying passengers had yet to set foot inside the sub—and now there was only one more day before we had to head back to Saint John’s. One last chance for them to find the Titanic.

And, incredibly, as though we were being rewarded for our patience and understanding, the seas that day were calm, the weather was beautiful, and the sub was fully functional. All systems were go for Dive #80.

This time, the sub’s pilot was Scott Griffith; the scientist on board was our French Titanic expert P.H. Nargeolet. The remaining three mission specialists—that is, paying passengers—rounded out the contingent. 

Nargeolet gave guidance to pilot Griffith as he peered out the round window at the front of the sub.

PH : Slow down, slow down, it’s just in front of us. Just—we are in front of the anchor! The anchor is just here!

SCOTT: We’re right off the bow. Right off the bow now. Bow’s directly in front of us, probably 6 meters off our bow. Directly in front of us.

RICH: That’s incredible though. Just darkness, darkness, darkness, and then all of a sudden, it comes straight out.

MAN: Oh my god. Do you guys see it?   

RICHARD: I mean, you came up on it perfectly, too, like…

People were crammed around the porthole to see the ghostly image of the Titanic as the sub’s lights fell on it. 

Scott: We’re sitting on the Titanic.

Guy: We are on the Titanic!

The ship looks really rusty, and parts of it are kind of caved in. But overall, its shape and structures are still surprisingly distinct after 110 years. It’s covered with these rusty sort of icicles called, of course, rusticles. Turns out the ship is not actually rusting away—it’s slowly being eaten by this deep-sea, iron-eating bacteria called Halomonas titanicae.

Nargeolet narrated the tour, so the passengers would know what they were seeing. 

PH : And now, on the right here, we’ll have the mast. 

Guy: I don’t see a mast. Oh, it’s on the left?

PH: Yeah, here on the left, and after is broken.

PH : And you have the door of the crow nest, just in front of us.

As the sub drifted along the massive wreck, its thrusters sometimes stirred up a little silt, but it never came in contact with the Titanic.

On this particular dive, the Titan’s exterior lights were on the fritz. They’d occasionally blink off for a couple of seconds; and man, when they were off, you really understood just how dark it is down there. It’s about the darkest place you can be. Sunlight doesn’t come anywhere close to penetrating this far down, 2.4 miles. Makes you realize: Except when there’s a submersible shining its lights, the Titanic lives in pitch blackness all the time.

PH : There are three balcony, and after is the bridge. 

RCH: That’s where Jack and Rose first saw each other.

PH: And here is the telemotor. With the plaques? You see all the plaques? 

GUY: Oh, the plaques, yeah.

PH: And the telemotor is just in the middle here.

GUY: Oh, those are plaques laid down there?

Guy: Yeah, yeah.

The telemotor is the post that once supported the ship’s wheel. It’s hydraulic device that controlled the ship’s rudder. And why is it open to the water, if it’s supposed to have been inside the bridge where the captain stood? Because the walls of the bridge have long ago disintegrated. 

And arrayed on a railing right in front of it is something you don’t expect to see: A row of nine memorial plaques, left behind by previous Titanic submersibles, to commemorate their own visits. Kinda like when they planted the American flag on the moon. It’s this sudden, unexpected reminder that you’re not the first people to visit since 1912.

PH : After that we’ll see the Davit #1. 

RCH: Is that for one of the lifeboats?

PH: Yes.

Davits are these crane-like things they used to lower the lifeboats into the water. They look like old rusty candy canes, maybe ten feet tall. 

RICH: So the square is what?

PH : Is the skylight of the Marconi room.

The Marconi room was the radio room, where operators frantically sent out distress calls as the Titanic was going down.

PH : And after that is the grand staircase. The grand staircase is just here, where’s it’s black.

RCH: That’s where it blew out?

GUY: Wow, I had no idea it was this big.

PH: We can see some chandelier…

GUY: So that chandelier is in the grand staircase?

PH: Yes, and it’s suspended by the wire.

RICH: Is that—oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! 

PH: Do you see it? Do you see it? 

RICH: Chandeliers on the Titanic—whoof.

PH: From the grand staircase.

Yes, that’s the grand staircase that figures so prominently in the “Titanic” movie. But don’t get all excited—the actual staircase is long gone. What they were seeing was the gaping space where it used to be. 

So for the submariners on Dive #80, it was a spectacular couple of hours visiting the great wreck—and then it was time to drop ballast and rise to the surface.

(And before you email me about the pronunciation of submariners—I looked it up. It’s “subMARiner” —if you’re British. I’m not.) 

Anyway. Once they reached the ship, the mission specialists, the OceanGate staff, and even some of the ship’s crew gathered to welcome the submariners back to the surface, with glasses of bubbly held high. 

Crowd: Wooohoooo!!

(That would be…Bubbly apple juice, by the way. No alcohol whatsoever is allowed on these industrial ships. They’re dangerous enough environments already.)

And then, that evening, we all gathered at the railing of the ship, and held a little service to the memory of the 1500 people who died when the Titanic sank. 

And then we all dropped carnations into the sea, directly above the wreck of the Titanic. And with the infinite expanse of ocean before us, with the sun setting, it was incredibly beautiful.

I thought at that moment about the OceanGate haters…people who don’t like that anyone’s visiting the Titanic. I asked Stockton Rush about that.

POGUE: There has been a certain amount of controversy since the Titanic was discovered. You know, are you taking artifacts? Who has the rights and all that stuff?

RUSH: We don’t collect artifacts. We don’t treasure-hunt. We don’t pick things up. On the other side, I don’t see some of the — I don’t agree with some of the arguments, because the wreck will be gone. 

At some point, there will be no Titanic. It will be eaten by the bacteria. It will be a lump of — it’ll be an artificial reef that doesn’t look like the Titanic. So, if we don’t go and document it, then who is going to do that? 

So, if we want to preserve the memory of the Titanic and understand the site and how it’s decaying and capture 8K video and things like that so future generations can see it, then you’ve got to let folks go down there. And so, I really see what we do as extending the story of the Titanic, the inspiration of the Titanic. 

I have a hard time understanding why someone would say, “just leave it alone.” 

POGUE: Is there anyone like that? Do you have haters?

RUSH: Oh, yes. We get emails all the time. Yes. 

POGUE: And, what’s the argument? 

RUSH: It’s a grave site. 

POGUE: People go to grave sites. 

RUSH: Yes. They go to the Tower of London. They go to Gettysburg. 

POGUE: Taj Mahal. 

RUSH: Yes. We don’t even have a gift shop. So, I don’t quite — I don’t see that argument. 

Early on a Sunday morning, our ship pulled back into Saint Johns harbor. I rolled my bag down the long ramp, and set foot on solid ground for the first time in eight days. 

POGUE: Wow, it’s weird to be back on dry land. I literally feel the whole world tipping under my feet! Just stepped off of the ship for the last time. Never got see the Titanic, never even hit the sea floor. But I feel like the combination of that 30-foot dive, and seeing the 4k video of the one successful dive, gave me a good simulation of how amazing it is to see that wreck.

I have to say, it was a super cool adventure. That ship? I mean, whoever gets the run of an industrial petroleum-management ship like that? Food was incredible, and above all the people were incredible. We have everyone’s email addresses, and I have a feeling we’ll be in touch for a long time.

A couple of weeks later, I sat down with Stockton Rush to get his big-picture thoughts about his venture.

POGUE: Are you making money on this operation? 

RUSH: No, so, not yet. People might say, “hey, that’s a lot of money, $250,000.” But, yeah, we’re not making any. It’s very expensive. It is an extremely expensive activity. Ultimately, it will be quite profitable. And we’re right at that real hockey stick point of it. 

POGUE: Can I ask how much gas costs this summer? 

RUSH: We went through over a million dollars of gas.  

You know…this whole story has inspired a lot of reactions, a lot of feelings, in people who saw the “CBS Sunday Morning” story, or listened to part 1 of this show. The commenters on Twitter and YouTube illustrate some of the different ways you can reasonably view the whole thing:

Michael Catania: To me, it’s disgusting that people will piss away $250,000 just to see a wrecked ship. Tax the rich already. They have too much money.

Gary Alpaugh: That’s your takeaway from the segment? Really?

Mary Korlaske: Would never go down in that thing! Even if you paid me the 250,000 dollars!

Fat baby: That moment when you mortgage your house to go to the titanic in a submersible vehicle controlled by a game controller.

As for me…here are my three takeaways.

First, I have a new respect for how hard it is to reach the Titanic. These mechanical problems and weather problems that OceanGate faced? Every Titanic expedition has faced them. Bob Ballard, whose team found the wreck in 1985, faced one technical and weather problem after another. So did James Cameron, when he was trying to make his movie. It’s just hard.

Second, I feel as though OceanGate’s marketing materials could be more transparent about how low the odds are of reaching the Titanic. I mean, we had five days over the wreck, and made it to the Titanic only once. On most of their 8-day excursions, they get to the Titanic only twice… but sometimes not at all.

Third, I appreciate that most people would never in a million years pay that kind of money for that kind of trip, whether because of the value proposition, the risk, or the claustrophobia. But a certain percentage of the population does thrive on thrills like this—and has the money, or saved up the money, to fund them. And, having lived with these folks at sea for 8 days, I’m convinced that the ones who do see the Titanic…get what they were looking for. 

One of them, I’m very happy to report, is Renata Rojas. Remember her? The bank executive who’s wanted to visit the Titanic since she was a little girl? Who’d been on three different expeditions with various companies, every single one of which was ultimately canceled?

Well, after I returned home this summer, OceanGate made one more 8-day expedition. (They do the whole thing five times each summer.) And Renata was aboard. She got one last chance to visit the Titanic.  

And believe it or not, the Rojas Curse finally broke. She made it all the way down. 

Renata: Suddenly, a big wall starts appearing in front of you that is clearly the bow. It’s so tall! Just to imagine that there’s so much below the sand. It’s just magnificent. It’s just beautiful. 

Renata: My initial reaction was …awe. Speechless, of: Oh, my God. We’re here! First of all, we made it—finally made it!! And then the awe of how it stands in the sand. It’s almost like it’s going to keep going! Like it’s navigating still. It just stands still in time. 

What surprised her was how colorful the wreck was. 

Renata: Very colorful. You can see the red colors. You can see the rusticles that are orange, you can almost see the blackness of the paint of the bow. But in combination with the rusticles and some green, I thought she was beautiful. 

There’s only one submersible on the planet still visiting the Titanic—for Renata, the trip to the Titanic’s final resting place was worth the money, the cancellations, and the decades of waiting. 

Renata: It’s a sense of completeness. You know, I feel like I was missing something in my life and now it’s not missing. It’s… I can die happy. 

Music ends.… “Unsung Science” theme begins.

Before I read the credits, I just want to let you know that I’ve posted a 12-minute YouTube video of the Titanic footage they captured on that final dive, courtesy of OceanGate. It’s pretty cool. I’ve posted the link in the notes for this episode at UnsungScience.com.

Don’t forget that the entire library of shows, along with written transcripts, await at unsungscience.com, too.

This podcast is a joint venture of Simon & Schuster and CBS News, and it’s produced by PRX Productions. Today’s episode was edited and produced by Jamie Benson.

For Simon & Schuster, the Executive Producers are Richard Rhorer and Chris Lynch.  

The PRX production team is Jocelyn Gonzales, Morgan Flannery, Pedro Rafael Rosado and Morgan Church.

Jesi Nelson composed the Unsung Science theme music, our fact checker is Kristina Rebelo, and Olivia Noble fixed the transcripts.

For more of my stuff, visit davidpogue.com or follow me on Twitter, @pogue. We’d love it if you’d like and follow Unsung Science wherever you get your podcasts. And spread the word, will you?

Show Notes

12-minute OceanGate Titanic footage: 12 Minutes of Titanic