When I was in middle school we studied about a new ship built by Howard Hughes that was going to harvest nickel and manganese nodules off of the ocean floor. We learned that volcanic and tectonic processes had littered the ocean floor with hardened globs of nearly pure nickel, manganese, and other various metals, and that harvesting them with a specialized ship would be cheaper and more ecologically friendly than traditional mining and smelting.
We learned that the engineers at Hughes’ ship company had developed radical new technology that could be lowered from a surface ship to the deep parts of the ocean floors, and to identify and snag said nodules and haul them to the surface. The prototype nodule harvesting ship was called the Glomar Explorer. It was all very cool and interesting to science geek like me, and the nerd factor combined with the always mysterious and reclusive Howard Hughes made this subject incredibly interesting to me and my cohorts.
However, a year or so after learning all about the Glomar Explorer and the natural forces that created metal nodules, I then learned that the entire story was a lie. Well, not all of it, just the purpose of the ship was a lie – the ship itself had indeed been built for the purposes of retrieving stuff from deep ocean waters. However, what it was designed to do was to retrieve a sunken Soviet nuclear sub so that US intelligence could get their hands on it.
The short version of the story is that the US knew that a Soviet nuclear sub called the K-129 had sunk in water so deep that conventional wisdom said it was forever lost. However, the CIA wanted to get their hands on the sub, but were unable or unwilling to go through normal governmental channels to try to develop the technology needed to recover it. So, they contacted reclusive, patriotic billionaire Howard Hughes, and he agreed to put his not inconsiderable wealth and the technical expertise of his engineers to work developing a way to snag the sub. You can read a lot more about the Glomar Explorer here.
To say I was flabbergasted to learn the truth would be an understatement. I had been taught about the Glomar Explorer in school by my teachers, for crying out loud. Authority figures. Trustworthy elders. But they had been duped along with me. Yes, manganese nodules existed on the ocean floor, but not in quantities that would make it worthwhile to harvest. And yes, Hughes built the Glomar Explorer to grab stuff from the ocean floor with a giant claw. But that was all a cover story, which cracked within a year or so and the truth came out.
To top it all off, during the time that all of this was happening the US was also losing its political innocence via the Watergate break-in and cover up. I won’t