After the sinking of the Titanic, the ship lay undisturbed on the ocean floor for more than 70 years. Two and a half miles deep, hundreds of miles from the nearest land, the ocean was the protector of one of the 20th century’s great mysteries.
That all changed on September 1, 1985 when National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard and a team of scientists discovered the Titanic and immediately began sharing dramatic images of the site with the world. The discovery kick-started Titanic mania—leading to the blockbuster 1997 James Cameron film and launching an industry of Titanic collectibles and memorabilia.
But now, nearing the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage, the ship is in danger of being loved… to death. Tourists visit the site–a couple has even been married in a submarine at the Titanic’s bow. A company with legal salvage rights has removed thousands of artifacts from the site. And other, shadowy treasure hunters, tempted by a lucrative artifacts market, are rumored to have plans to plunder the ship.
Dr. Ballard believes that if we don’t act now to save the Titanic, the shipwreck won’t survive another 100 years. So on the anniversary of the disaster; he’s embarking on a personal journey into the Titanic’s past, in order to secure the ship’s future.
Ballard travels along the path of the great ship’s maiden voyage, starting at her birthplace in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He ends up in New York City, at the piers where Titanic was supposed to arrive, and never did–and where survivors were ultimately brought to shore onboard the Carpathia.
Ballard charts the short life of the ship, reminding us what a magnificent achievement she was. He visits an archive where the original pencil drawings sketched out the contours of the ship (and Titanic’s twin sister, Olympic). He explores the ramshackle building that houses the ‘Drawing Offices,’ rooms where the original plans were conceived and executed. And he walks the length of the enormous dry dock in Belfast that was built specifically to accommodate massive ships of Titanic’s size.
Most importantly, Ballard delves into the human side of the tragedy. He meets the grandson of Titanic survivor Jack Thayer in New York, and Ballard reveals that Jack’s account of the sinking provided vital clues to the location of the shipwreck. In Belfast, Ballard tracks down descendants of the ‘Guarantee Group,’ a little known but crucial group of shipyard employees who sailed on Titanic’s maiden voyage.
The nine men of the Guarantee Group were so central to designing and building the ship that they were sent aboard the Titanic as an elite inspection team. When the ship hit the iceberg, they fought for the doomed ocean liner without regard for their own safety. No evidence exists that any of them even attempted to escape. All nine went down with the ship.
The heroes of the Titanic weren’t able to save their ship 100 years ago. Now Ballard draws inspiration from their struggle–and support from their families–to fight for the ship today. Will he be able to save the ship this time?
Tune in tonight at 10P et/pt for the full story and check out Robert Ballard’s recent interview with Stephen Colbert:
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