Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Holy Shit, Robert Ballard!

Robert Ballard

In the summer of 1985, Robert Ballard set off on an expedition to find the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. Using side-scan sonar to map the ocean floor, his team noticed some irregular terrain which, upon further inspection, turned out to be debris from the infamous shipwreck. The following year, he returned with DSV Alvin (the same Alvin that explored the Marianas Trench) and got a detailed photographic record of the site.
Titanic Wreckage
Old age and the weight of the entire goddamn ocean have not been kind to her.

Here's the thing, though: part of that first paragraph is not, strictly speaking, true. Robert Ballard did not, in fact, set off on an expedition to find the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. That was his cover story. In reality, he was working as a US naval intelligence officer and searching for the wreckage of two nuclear powered submarines.

To be fair, Ballard himself really was in it for the Titanic. The Navy was his benefactor, and they set the priorities. Priority one was the missing potential doomsday devices, and priority two was the monument to man's hubris and graveyard of the humble peasants and crew who paid the price for it. Seriously, though. Take a look at the numbers.
Deaths on the Titanic
No no no, rich women and children first!

Ballard's mission was a success, and he had 12 days leftover to actually look for the Titanic. Against the odds, he found it. The Navy, as it turns out, was less than pleased with the latter success. When the discovery came out, Robert Ballard was an instant celebrity. That meant a lot of attention on something they'd rather keep on the DL. Whatever choice words they shared in private, they let Ballard go ahead and take his discovery public.
Sketch of Kate Winslet Naked
Which ultimately led to James Cameron drawing Kate Winslet naked and blaming it on Leonardo DiCaprio

Now we have artifacts, films, books, and a much better understanding of the design flaws that let a sideswiping iceberg sink the unsinkable. And it's all thanks to two more tragic and terrifying shipwrecks in the same area. Shipwrecks that may or may not have poisoned nearby ocean depths with radiation. That part's not unclassified yet.

Holy shit.

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