MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Saturday, January 30, 2010

NIK’S DESCENT INTO THE ABYSS

by Nik Halik

Just a few years ago, I was invited to undertake a dive down to the most famous sunken ship in history. This is the story how I became one of the very few people in the world to ever dive down to visit the wreck of Titanic. The Titanic is frozen in time, a time capsule of the year, 1912. That was a year when there was such optimism – the new century, the fastest and biggest ship of its time, the marvelous anticipation of its maiden voyage. These were the early maverick days and industrial might of the turn of the century.


A twenty-five ton crane using its umbilical chain attached itself to my submersible placing me in the water. The ballast tanks took in sea water, and I began to sink down to the murky depths of the Atlantic Ocean, five miles below. Within minutes, the ambient light from the portholes disappeared. All traces of sunlight disappeared and I was immersed in total darkness. As I dived, I felt a surreal experience, as if I was travelling through outer space. As an aquanaut, I was descending into an alien environment so potentially hostile, with close to zero chance of assistance from the outside world if I required rescuing.


I had some guides for the early part of the journey. I illuminated the pitch black environment with the piercing lights of the submersible. A pod of pilot whales swam alongside me. They were attracted by the sonar navigation. The pilot whales escorted me down to about 300 metres – like caretakers of the ocean – giving me a personal tour of their domain. After three hours, I observed something on the radar screen. My heart was rapidly pounding. It was an outline of the most awe-inspiring structure I have ever witnessed in my life. Exactly twenty-eight minutes had passed and then, in a moment of sheer ecstasy, I came upon the bow of Titanic. It was a surreal motion picture moment. Pressing my nose against the porthole, barely a metre from the bow, I could reach out and touch it. The promenade decking was still intact, so elegant, so majestic, ninety-five years after it plunged to the ocean floor. Becoming certified as an Aquanaut, I then returned to Russia to complete my Astronaut certification.


In Russia, I continued my spaceflight training for an orbital insertion mission into the cosmos. My five year training regime qualified myself as a flight certified Astronaut” and I was named to an official space mission crew, a distinction that fewer than 800 people have ever experienced. The original pathway to entry into the Astronaut program was complicated. As a member of an assigned crew, I had the opportunity to train for an actual space mission to the International Space Station alongside other government funded professional Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronauts. My main training took place at the legendary Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia, one of the world’s leading training facilities for orbital space missions. The training centre was situated in a faraway place called Star City. Star City, north-east of Moscow, is a highly sensitive military installation and Cold War era massive facility The training there allowed me to immerse myself in the elite world of human spaceflight where the essential skills needed for living and working in space was honed. I was thrown into a maelstrom that pushed human tolerance to the limit. By rocketing to space as a privately funded and trained civilian astronaut, I will become one of the first 450 humans to ever reach Earth orbit, to rocket around the Earth every ninety minutes and complete a 40,233 kilometre journey with each single orbit.






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