Ex­hibit de­picts se­cret mis­sion to find Ti­tanic

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Mary Bow­er­man

The Ti­tanic might have rested undis­cov­ered on the ocean floor for much longer if a top-se­cret Cold War Navy mis­sion hadn’t taken place.

The once-clas­si­fied story be­hind the dis­cov­ery is part of Na­tional Geo­graphic’s new ex­hi­bi­tion “Ti­tanic: The Un­told story.” The ex­hibit, which opened Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and runs through Jan. 6, de­tails oceanog­ra­pher Robert Bal­lard’s dis­cov­ery and show­cases items re­cov­ered from sur­vivors and lifeboats.

In 1985, the Navy com­mis­sioned Bal­lard to use sub­mersible tech­nol­ogy to ex­plore the wreck­age of two nu­clear sub­marines — the USS Thresher and the USS Scor­pion — that sank in the north At­lantic dur­ing the Cold War. The U.S. govern­ment wanted to know about the subs’ en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and whether foul play was in­volved, he said.

Bal­lard got per­mis­sion from Ron­ald Thun­man, who was deputy chief of naval op­er­a­tions for sub­ma­rine war­fare, to look for the Ti­tanic when he was done. He had 12 days to do it.

Bal­lard cal­cu­lated its de­bris field, which he likened to fol­low­ing a deer’s foot­prints. And at 2 a.m. on Sept. 1, 1985, Bal­lard and sev­eral crew mem­bers saw the images of the Ti­tanic’s boiler.

“We were at the very spot Ti­tanic sank. We were there.”

EMORY KRISTOF/NA­TIONAL GEO­GRAPHIC

This photo of the Ti­tanic’s bow rail­ing is part of the ex­hi­bi­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

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