Emails Show NASA’s Scramble to Distance Itself From Doomed Titan Sub

Not Our Fault

NASA was, new evidence and old press releases reveal, supposed to play a part in the testing of the doomed Titan submersible — and although that plan was ultimately scrapped, the agency wants to make sure everyone knows just how little it was involved.

Emails released to Insider via a public records request take a look behind the curtain at NASA's response to reports that it had helped design the Titanic-exploring submersible.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in June, now-deceased pilot and CEO Stockton Rush had insisted before the tragedy that NASA and Boeing had helped design it. That account was rebuked after the accident by NASA, which told the WSJ and other outlets that although it had planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to work with OceanGate on the design of the vessel's carbon fiber hull, that role was ultimately downsized to video consulting.

"NASA did not conduct testing and manufacturing via its workforce or facilities, which was done elsewhere by OceanGate," NASA said in a statement to ABC News in June.

Seriously, It Wasn't

Indeed, while an OceanGate press release from February 2020 does tout the public-private duo's joint "design effort" on the Titan's hull, the emails Insider reviewed showed a NASA employee insisting the planned collaboration was limited in scope and canceled due to the pandemic.

In one of the emails, a NASA staffer explained that the agency was only supposed to build a "scale model" of the hull for testing and had never agreed to build the "operational unit." In plain English, that means that NASA was never going to build the carbon fiber hull that may well have been the cause of the submersible's implosion.

That same NASA employee added that "COVID struck and this activity was not deemed mission critical."

"While we did provide engineering input," the email continued, "[OceanGate] was the technical authority and made final decisions."

"We only operated in a consultant role," they concluded, adding that the last time they'd had email contact with OceanGate was in October 2020.

All told? It doesn't sound like NASA played much of a role in the design or manufacture of the submersible, regardless of what the enigmatic Stockton was telling potential customers.

"NASA Marshall engineers participated remotely in technical interchange meetings with OceanGate, providing consultation for materials and manufacturing processes based on industry standards," a NASA spokesperson told us via email.

More on OceanGate-gate: OceanGate Cofounder Now Planning Totally Safe Colony Above Venus