for National Geographic News
The 1985 discovery of the Titanic stemmed from a secret United States Navy investigation of two wrecked nuclear submarines, according to the oceanographer who found the infamous ocean liner.
Pieces of this Cold War tale have been known since the mid-1990s, but more complete details are now coming to light, said Titanic's discoverer, Robert Ballard.
"The Navy is finally discussing it," said Ballard, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island in Narragansett and the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration in Connecticut.
Ballard met with the Navy in 1982 to request funding to develop the robotic submersible technology he needed to find the Titanic.
Ballard is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
(See a Titanic photo gallery.)
Ronald Thunman, then the deputy chief of naval operations for submarine warfare, told Ballard the military was interested in the technology—but for the purpose of investigating the wreckage of the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion.
Since Ballard's technology would be able to reach the sunken subs and take pictures, the oceanographer agreed to help out.
He then asked the Navy if he could search for the Titanic, which was located between the two wrecks.
"I was a little short with him," said Thunman, who retired as a vice admiral and now lives in Springfield, Illinois. He emphasized that the mission was to study the sunken warships.
Once Ballard had completed his mission—if time was left—Thunman said, Ballard could do what he wanted, but never gave him explicit permission to search for the Titanic.
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