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DOMPDEEP OCEAN MINING PROJECT
By R. JOHN RUTTEN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 R. John Rutten, MD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE COVER STORY
"SECRET PLAN: HUGHES TO MINE OCEAN FLOOR" said the inch-and-a-half-high headline on the front page of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner for Monday, November 20, 1972. There was also a front-page photograph of the huge barge, the Hughes Marine Barge (HMB-1) that would hold the mining machine designed to mine mineral nodules from the floor of the oceans around the world. The story told of the secret technology that would allow the Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE), the 618-foot-long ship built through Global Marine by the wealthy and eccentric Howard Hughes, to mate with the huge mining machine contained in the HMB-1.
The mineral nodules were said to contain manganese, copper, nickel, cobalt, and other valuable minerals. They are produced by the volcanic hot vents on the ocean floor and seem to be present in huge amounts in selected areas of the deep ocean. It was estimated by mineralogists that there are 1.6 trillion metric tons of these red potato-shaped spheres in the Pacific Ocean alone. The volcanic vents are forming a half a million more metric tons each year. The nodules form like hailstones, in that there is generally a crystallized core found at the center of the friable metallic crust. Often this nitus is a fossilized shark's tooth.
The newspaper stated that the HMB-1 compound in Redwood City on the San Francisco Bay was shrouded in secrecy. Intrigue and mystery concerning the project were rampant. It was said that city inspectors must call ahead for permission to enter the compound where the construction project was occurring. Federal government officials had queried Hughes Tool Company about the project but had received no answers to the questions about the project.
The concept of a deep ocean mining program was highly competitive at that time. In addition to Hughes Summa Corporation, there were several other privately financed United States ventures with the same idea. At that time, Kennecott Copper Corporation, International Nickel of Canada, and governmentally financed corporations in Japan, Germany, and France were also going forward with nodule mining programs. How far back does the development of this then-current industrial technology go?
Global Marine seemed to have the longest history of building ships with successful position holding capabilities in the open ocean, with the Cuss I and the Glomar Challenger being used by the oil industry for drilling wells under the sea. There was even a program proposed in the 1960s for drilling into the Mohorovicic discontinuity, the junction between the earth's crust and the mantle layer, for scientific purposes. Remote-controlled robot devices had been designed and constructed to explore the bottom of the ocean at great depths.
The United States Naval Ship Mizar towed a Naval Research Laboratories detector in successfully finding underwater metallic objects. In 1968, Mizar found the navy's submarine, USS Scorpion, in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1969, she found Israel's The Dakar in the Mediterranean. She'd also found the USS Thresher in 1964 and the French Navy's Minerve in the Mediterranean as early as 1952.
Transducers and transponders were also developed to assist in object identification and produce echo sounds from remote positions that could be used via computer to facilitate "station keeping" by surface ships. Vessels at sea have utilized code transducers to facilitate positive identification of friend or foe vessels for years. Another technological breakthrough was Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) that consisted of bottom-mounted hydrophone arrays connected by underwater cables to facilities on shore. The individual arrays were installed primarily on continental slopes and sea mounts at locations optimized for undistorted long-range acoustic propagation.
The HGE had such capabilities for the deep ocean mining project. Another US company had engineered a dynamic positioning system that could hold the 36,000-ton ship in a 150-square-foot surface in 17,000 feet of water, 12-foot seas, and 40-knot winds. The capabilities of this ship and its mining machine were carefully guarded secrets of Summa Corporation, a subsidiary of Hughes Tool Company.
I first became aware of the Deep Ocean Mining Project (DOMP) through Delco/General Motors Sea Operations (DGMSO) Director Dave Parker, MD, in early 1972. He had received communication from Don Flickenger, MD, a consultant for Summa Corporation, requesting permission to visit the plant for the purpose of determining if General Motors could supply the facilities and medical consultant for the DOMP project. Dr. Flickenger was encouraged by Dave Parker, MD, to visit the plant and the clinic where I worked. Dr. Parker was convinced that, since we'd been doing considerable work with the US Navy in its several Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) programs since 1962, we could accommodate Dr. Flickenger's needs.
Dr. Flickenger came to the plant and the clinic on March 6, 1972, and was impressed by our capabilities. Dr. Parker, Leo Bancroft, Director of Sea Operations, and I were impressed by the enormous scope of the DOMP as presented by Dr. Flickenger. Costs were discussed, and Dr. Flickenger offered a compensation program for consideration by Dr. Parker for use of GM's facilities and personnel. The GM complement of certified divers numbered about twenty, all qualified for deep open-ocean diving. Dr. Parker agreed to give the offer his most thorough consideration.
That evening, Dr. Flickenger invited Dr. Parker, Mr. Bancroft, our spouses, and me to the Colony House restaurant in Santa Barbara for dinner. The specialty of the house was beef Wellington with Yorkshire pudding. After an excellent meal and short reviews of our four family histories, we parted company with promises to be in contact the following morning regarding the proposals.
The next day at 0800, Dr. Flickenger appeared at the clinic to discuss the program with Mr. Alex Kahn, administrator of the clinic, for my services and the services of the clinic. I introduced Dr. Flickenger to my staff at Automated Multiphasic Health Testing, an arm of the Department of Occupational and Preventive Medicine (DOPM), and to the capabilities of computerized health testing. He was impressed with the state-of-the-art capability that we had online. That evening, my wife Laura and I entertained Dr. Flickenger at our home for dinner and established a close relationship that lasted through the years following this project.
Dr. Flickenger told us Summa Corporation would most likely reject GM's first offer as over budget, and Dr. Parker promised he'd review the project with his advisors and get back to Summa Corporation with a counter offer. By March 22, no word had been received from GM's headquarters in Warren, Michigan. It seemed that DGMSO's participation in the project was unlikely.
April passed with no further communication between General Motors, Summa Corporation, and Dr. Flickenger. Then Mr. Alex Kahn received a phone call from Dr. Flickenger on May 26, 1972. Summa Corporation was willing to accept the clinic's offer for participation in the program, but the clinic would have to find its own sea operations personnel without the assistance of DGMSO. A contract would be signed with the clinic for my services on a schedule of "pay by the day" or "pay by the thirty-day month." Of course, the required physical examinations on the Summa Corporation personnel (mostly certified divers) would be performed through the clinic laboratories and me and would be communicated to a local company in Goleta, California, called Oceanus Inc., another subsidiary of Summa Corporation. I would still continue as medical consultant for DGMSO, director of the clinic's Comprehensive Health Examination Clinic (CHEC) program, and director of DOPM. With the program established through the clinic and Oceanus, a cadre of divers was recruited for the project. These were well-trained, certified ocean divers with several years experience in the field. All were brought through the clinic for their physical examinations according to a specific protocol developed by Dr. Flickenger to fit the specifications of Summa Corporation.
A select group of divers was approved for the program. Perhaps half a dozen others did not make the program because of various disqualifying problems. Hal Sampel was in charge of the divers' programs at Oceanus. He was a former DGMSO officer and a "buddy" diver with me in the Scripps program class that certified us both for open-ocean diving. Additionally, I had been the family physician for Hal and his family for several years. Our Summa consultant to Oceanus was Vic Ellis. Vic was a classic retired navy chief boson-mate type who held more seamanship in his little finger than I held in my whole body. He was a solid-gold asset to our project at sea. Our secretary was Suzie Walker, efficient and well qualified, with years of experience in handling classified matters.
The summer of 1972 passed with occasional contact by telephone with Dr. Flickenger. We were busy handling physical examinations for Summa Corporation through Oceanus, but my total contacts regarding progress of the project were with Suzie Walker, Hal Sampel, and Vic Ellis at Oceanus.
On Friday February 2, 1973, Dr. Flickenger called to inform me that Summa Corporation would like to have Hal and me visit their offices in the Hughes Building in Inglewood, California, just south of Los Angeles International Airport a week later for an indoctrination program into that part of the project and to become acquainted with the project staff. They were located on the fifth floor of the Hughes Building. It's a highly classified office; Hal and I would be obliged to obtain a special clearance for admission. Hal was able to provide this for me.
Hal and I flew down to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) United's Convair 880 at 0705 on the morning of Friday, February 9. Hal had my badge, and a van met us at the ramp. Instead of taking a cab on regular roads around the airport, we motored with flashing blue lights across the tarmac to a commercial garage on the south side.
A pair of antennae-protecting globes on the roof distinctively marked the Hughes Building. Hal escorted me through double security gates operated by armed uniformed guards. An attractive receptionist greeted Hal by name, and Hal introduced me to Jennie as the DOMP medical officer. She buzzed an intercom console, and we were asked to proceed to Mr. Harrison's office.
My orientation into the DOMP Project was mind boggling, with a tour of a display of graphic dioramas, audio visual aids, and detailed history, both written and photographic, of the project. The magnitude was just awesome.
I was also introduced to the classified portions of the project that were "need to know" for me. The project was highly compartmentalized so that there were only a few officers who would know the whole project picture at one time. It was at this time that I learned the true scope of the project and the reason for the compartmentalized secrecy. The agenda for the project was as astounding as any sci-fi author could have dreamed in his wildest imagination!
We broke for a buffet lunch in the all-purpose room. Bread, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, and soft drinks were offered. Then we returned to the administrative end of Summa Corporation's requirements for our participation in the project. There were insurance application forms to fill out for life and disability while on the job. There were forms for listing one's curriculum vitae and biographic history, as well as a person's civil record involving loyalty, criminal, social, and professional evaluations.
We enjoyed lectures and overhead projector visuals by the people who had seen the Mizar films. Electrical motors gimbal-mounted on its four corners powered the platform of the remote vehicle so that it could be turned for direction or azimuth and controlled for speed. We were told that a company had manufactured the cameras to withstand the pressure of the ocean at seventeen thousand feet. The strobe lights used on the vehicle were rheostat controlled for light intensity most appropriate for required illumination dictated by film speed.
The diorama showed a Golf II-Class ballistic missile submarine lying on its starboard side on the sloping floor of the ocean. Missile tubes were plainly seen aft of the conning tower. The aft section, perhaps a third of the vessel, was not seen. There was considerable loose debris from the broken-up submarine on the ocean floor, including pages from a book. The water was clear enough that the text could be easily read! The seminar ended in time for Hal and me to catch our United flight back to Santa Barbara.
We were back home by 1700 hours. DOMP was renamed "Azorian." Our mission was to raise a Soviet nuclear submarine! We were advised that we were now charged with the responsibility of top secret security. We took an oath to not refer to Azorian, even to our family, and to continue in the real world with the cover story of DOMP. So be it!
Chapter TwoHARVEY AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE HGE
We now had to wait for further instructions from Dr. Flickenger whether there would be changes in our roster as the files of our Oceanus crew, processed through the clinic, were reviewed by Summa Corporation. These exams were handed to Suzie Walker at Oceanus at noon on Tuesday February 27, 1973. Hal, Vic, and I had an opportunity to describe the course of the project. Eerily, it was proceeding right on time and date with the Program Detail Schedule (PDS) hanging on the wall beside us. On Friday, March 2, 1973 (my birthday), we saw that the wrap-up of the Oceanus's activities had occurred.
The month of April was filled with my return to the now-mundane activities at the clinic. My work with DGMSO continued with activities at the Santa Cruz Acoustic Range Facility (SCARF) and with the Santa Barbara County Medical Society (SBCMS) and politics for the county, state, and the nation, which I was also quite committed to.
On Friday, May 11, 1973, I drove to the Summa Corporation offices at Hal's request. I was informed that the timetable for the project had a new PDS. Summa Corporation and their secrecy agency had now thoroughly reviewed most of the papers that I'd filled out at the seminar in February, and I signed off on them. This time I was given a tour of both floors of "Harvey," as they referred to it at the office. ("Harvey" is the hero in the movie by the same name of the man-sized disappearing rabbit.)
Entry into the Summa offices was through the door on the fifth floor, but there was a stairway in the rear of the office that led to the sixth floor. A large bookcase, just like in a Get Smart episode, concealed the entrance to the sixth-floor office. Unless we were employees of the Summa office, we were strongly encouraged to exit from the sixth floor when leaving for the day.
I was given a tour of the full office–both floors. Planning, logistics, accounting, travel arrangements, and Summa's secure communications with Washington, DC, were carried out in these large technologically advanced offices. I was told that afternoon that the Tishman Building nearby on Century Boulevard just north of LAX contained the Global Marine offices. The orientation occupied most of the day, and I was asked to return the next day for the conclusion of the indoctrination program.
I was excited that Saturday, May 12, as I was expecting to be given my dates of potential duty on the project. Strangely, it wasn't difficult to continue using the cover story of DOMP with my colleagues and our families. It certainly appeared plausible. It hung together so well, in fact, that in the March 1974 issue of Ocean Industry, the HGE was described on the cover as "embarking on mining venture." A detailed description of the ship's capabilities was provided, along with the in-depth cover story for our project.
The PDS showed me that I would be at sea from November 30 to December 22, 1973, and from January 28 to February 26, 1974. There was more briefing on supplying the medical facilities on the HGE with necessary equipment and materials. In the meantime, there was the routine work of the clinic, my participation with General Motors and the SCARF program out off the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara, and my family to keep me occupied.
During this time, Global Marine was having its vessels built by Levingston Shipyard in Orange, Texas, but due to a backlog on other projects, they were unable to handle construction of the HGE. Consequently, Sun Shipbuilders and Drydock Company in Chester, Pennsylvania, was chosen to build the massive ship. The keel was laid on December 9, 1971.
National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego built the HMB-1. This part of the project was coordinated with Lockheed Missile and Space in Seattle. The HMB-1 was completed one month after the HGE keel was laid. The mining machine housed in the HMB-1 was also developed and engineered by Lockheed.
Excerpted from DOMP by R. JOHN RUTTEN Copyright © 2012 by R. John Rutten, MD. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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