Return to Titanic Mission to Document Wreck's Destruction

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
April 23, 2004

Robert Ballard is returning to the scene of his greatest discovery with an urgent new mission—to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study the Titanic's alarming and possibly increasing rate of deterioration.

"I'm returning to Titanic to see what has happened to the ship in the almost 20 years that have elapsed since I first discovered her," said Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society.

See a previously published photo gallery of the Titanic >>

The R.M.S. Titanic sank 92 years ago this month—on April 15, 1912—while on her maiden voyage from Southampton in the U.K. to New York. Because the builders had not provided enough lifeboats for the evacuation of all the passengers, more than 1,500 people were left to go down with the ship after it was holed by an iceberg—a tragedy that has reverberated down the years in the form of countless films and books.

Ballard was the first to locate the resting place of the legendary vessel in 1985 in the icy waters off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

He returns May 30 with a team of scientists and specialists from NOAA, the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration (MAIFE), the University of Rhode Island's Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, and the JASON Foundation for Education.

The expedition will spend 11 days at the site aboard the NOAA research vessel Ronald H. Brown, mapping the ship and analyzing the causes and rate of its decay.

State-of-the-art remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Hercules, Argus, and Little Herc will employ lighting systems and high-definition cameras, sensors that gather data on water current, temperature and oxygen conditions, and manipulators, such as moveable arms and water jets, which help with excavation.

The robots will be steered and manipulated by operators on board the ship more than two miles away, on the surface of the ocean, under the direction of Ballard and other scientists.

The expedition will be aired on Monday, June 7, 2004, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, when the National Geographic Channel (NGC) will broadcast the one-hour special Return to Titanic. The show, live from the Ronald H. Brown, will include the first live telecast from the wreck of the Titanic some 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) under the Atlantic Ocean.

Are Dives, Salvage Hastening Titanic's Demise?

Various environmental forces eventually break down shipwrecks, but Ballard suspects more than natural forces are at work in this case.

Continued on Next Page >>


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