Who is Stockton Rush, the man at the controls of the 'Titan'

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As other entrepreneurs push the limits of technology to fly wealthy tourists into space, Stockton Rush saw new opportunities to explore another frontier: the deep sea. He was the creator of the company whose submarine disappeared with five men inside it last Sunday and in which it is believed that there is no oxygen left since midday.

OceanGate, the company he founded in 2009, sought to not only cash in on bringing wealthy adventurers to sites like the Titanic wreck, but also to help scientists and researchers unravel oceanic mysteries by giving them better access to the seabed in boats. that would break the limits.

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"One of the reasons I started the business was because I didn't understand why we were spending a thousand times more money exploring space than exploring the oceans," Rush said at a conference hosted by GeekWire, a Seattle-based technology portal, last year. past. "There is no private access to the depths of the ocean, and yet there is all this life left to discover."

OceanGate's state-of-the-art Titan submersible went missing off Newfoundland Sunday night, with Rush and four others on board, sparking a desperate international search.

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Francesc Peiron

A Canadian plane detected underwater noise in the area, providing a glimmer of hope on Wednesday amid concerns about oxygen levels on the vessel.

It was the company's third annual expedition to the Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing nearly 700 of the approximately 2,200 passengers and crew.

An expert in the aerospace industry

Rush, a former flight test engineer for McDonnell Douglas' F-15 fighter jet program, had long experience in the aviation and aerospace industry, as well as technology startups, when he founded OceanGate, according to the website of the company.

Before graduating from Princeton University with a degree in aerospace engineering in 1984 and earning an MBA from the University of California in 1989, Rush earned his captain's rating from the United Airlines Jet Training Institute. After that, he went on to his business stage, where his time on the board of directors of BlueView Technologies of Seattle and as president of Remote Control Technology stands out.




Rush saw a way to use advances in materials science to create a new type of submarine, one that would be oblong, rather than spherical, and made of carbon fiber, which he claimed had a better resistance ratio. -buoyancy than titanium.

The design would carry five people and give both scientists and deep-sea adventurers more space: the few privately owned submarines in the world could only carry two or three people at most. Most research submarines also required huge support ships and were not meant to be profitable, Rush believed.

Part of the idea behind OceanGate was to offset the cost of deep-sea research through high-end adventure tourism, exploration or mapping for the oil and gas industry, or inspection of bridges or ship hulls. .

He and other investors invested tens of millions of dollars in OceanGate, as he acknowledged to The Daily Herald in 2017.

A "pioneer" who was ahead of the norm

Greg Stone, former executive vice president and chief scientist at Conservation International, as well as a friend of Rush's, stressed in an interview the importance of advances in research submersibles. “That's the direction (Rush) was going. And I liked where it was going." Stone, however, added that Rush "had the problem that many pioneers have: he ran ahead of the rules."

In his speech at the Seattle technology conference, Rush described how various submarine safety programs were "over the top in their rules and regulations" but had no experience with carbon fiber. “I remember him telling me that they had no way of evaluating their designs, even though from an engineering standpoint, they were working on paper and testing them over and over again,” Stone said.

Dissenting voices within the company

The Titan has a 5-inch-thick (12.7 centimeters) carbon fiber hull designed to descend 4,000 meters. And not everyone in the company environment agreed with that design. David Lochridge, OceanGate's director of maritime operations, wrote in a 2018 lawsuit that she could subject passengers to "potential extreme danger."

However, the company said that Lochridge "is not an engineer and was not hired or asked to perform engineering services on Titan."

Rush described at the Seattle technology conference the unnerving experience of lowering a prototype to 4,000 meters, only to have it proven faulty through acoustic monitoring. After a second try, the company scrapped the prototype built by a marine manufacturer and built another with an aerospace supplier.

In a 2018 letter, the Marine Technology Society, a professional group of ocean engineers, technologists, policymakers and educators, complained to Rush that OceanGate should put its prototype through expert third-party supervised testing before launch to protect passengers. . “One of the things I learned is that when you're 'outside the box,' it's very hard to know how 'outside the box' you are,” Rush said in last year's speech. "We were pretty far away."

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