“We needed a cover story and Titanic was the cover story”
Ballard had long been fascinated by Titanic, and always dreamed of finding it. Back in the 1970s, he led a failed expedition to do just that. But it wasn’t until 1985, while serving as a naval intelligence officer, that he was able to secure the technology and funding that helped him finally discover it 1,000 miles due east of Boston. Having helped the U.S. Navy develop unmanned submarines, Ballard thought the technology might be useful in finding the lost ship. The Navy had little interest in funding the search, but it was very interested in finding the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher, two nuclear submarines that were lost in the 1960s on either side of where the Titanic went down. With the Cold War still in its final throes, the Navy had to keep the true nature of the submarine search a secret. They told Ballard that if he could find the subs, then afterward he could use their technology to search for the ship—but the world would think the expedition was about finding the Titanic from the beginning.
“The Navy didn’t want to disclose the location of those submarines, so we needed a cover story and Titanic was the cover story,” says Ballard. “I wanted to find the Titanic. The Navy just wanted our expedition to deflect from the true mission.”…
Whether because of humans or because of bacteria consuming the ship, there is a good chance Titanic will collapse completely within the next few decades. In the meantime, Ballard is determined to do his part to preserve the ship and prolong her life for as long as possible. He is currently applying for a permit to clean the rust off the hull and give the ship a fresh coat of paint. While the prospect of refurbishing a 100-year-old vessel lying 12,000 feet beneath the sea might seem daunting to anyone else, Ballard isn’t fazed. It’s the same technology they use to repair supertankers that are too big to go into dry dock. “They’ve actually developed underwater robots that are very simple, they have magnets, they attach to the hull and they can travel the length of the hull and clean the rust off. And then they actually have paint that can be applied underwater,” he says.