Want to dive down to the wreck of the Titanic? It costs only $100K
More people have been to space than have seen the shipwreck
This summer, a group of intrepid travellers will depart the St. John's harbour bound for an adventure only a small percentage of people have ever been able to experience: diving four kilometres below the sea's surface to the wreck of the Titanic.
And if you've got $100,000 to spare, you could go with them.
OceanGate Expeditions, a Washington-based company that makes subsea submersible vehicles, plans to make a series of paid trips down to the ship, which sank on April 15, 1912, and now rests on the bottom of the Atlantic nearly 600 kilometres from the coast of Newfoundland.
Starting in June, it's aiming to transport nine people each week for six weeks.
The price? $105,129 — the same cost as a first-class passage on the Titanic itself back in 1912, adjusted for inflation, he said.
Fewer than 200 people have ever been down to the Titanic in a manned submersible, according to the company's brochure. More people have been to space.
In fact, more than half of the people signed up to take the plunge are also space travellers with Virgin Galactic, said Stockton Rush, OceanGate's CEO.
"So the people who want to go to space and pay for some weightlessness time and a great view of the planet are a similar group that want to go see the Titanic," Rush told CBC Radio's On the Go.
Over the course of six weeks, Rush's company will oversee between 18 and 30 dives to the shipwreck in a submersible craft named Titan.
It's about the size of a minivan and fits five people, Rush said: a pilot, a researcher and three clients, or so-called "mission specialists."
They're branded as "mission specialists" because they're not just gazing out the sub's massive window in awe, said Rush: they'll pitch in with the research, in exchange for the ride.
"We believe that it makes for a life-changing and meaningful experience to be part of a team doing something of meaning that's so unique. It's a travesty, we think, to just go and look and come back up," he said.
In particular, they will be examining how quickly iron-eating bacteria is devouring the wreck. The last time someone had an up-close look was nearly nine years ago, Rush said, and back then it seemed like the decay rate would reduce the hull to nothing within 20 years.
To study that, the mission specialists will help operate the sub's laser imaging system and analyse the images coming in.
"Until we go down and see the actual rate of decay, physically, and measure it with high accuracy with our laser scanners, it's really just a guess as to how long will the Titanic be recognizable, and not just be a lump in the ocean," said Rush.
Samples of different metals were left at the wreck during another dive about ten years ago, he said, hoping they'll be able to pick those up and run some tests in an effort to figure out if the Titanic is wasting away faster than other wrecks that sank in the same time period.
Clients will also collect data and analyze images from the sub's suite of deepwater cameras, in part to look for as-yet-undiscovered life.
"If you think about, it's a giant artificial reef four kilometres underwater, and a number of species have congregated on it," Rush said.
"They've identified hundreds of unique species on the Titanic."
When the missions are over, Rush said, he hopes to host a public event in St. John's about the experience, and is in talks with Memorial University to do so.
With files from Ted Blades