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:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Robert Ballard
www.colbertnation.com
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Comments

  1. Anna Carson
    Terre Haute, Indiana USA
    April 9, 2012, 10:12 pm

    Thank you for telling the story of the Guarantee Group. Thank you for speaking for those who lost most to this disaster.

    Save the Titanic!

    Anna Carson, Ph.D
    Geographer

  2. Jeanine Keeney
    Lakeview, Michigan USA
    April 10, 2012, 11:19 am

    It is the graveyard of those poor souls who did not survive. It is desecration to steal from those graves. Save the Titanic!

  3. alice jackson
    goodland kansas
    April 16, 2012, 6:45 pm

    My Grandpa Thomas John Hewett and his brother Mark had tickets for the Titanic they lost thier tickets due to a flip of a coin.They came to america aboard another ship. Their names are still listed among those that perished.Makes a person wonder how many others this happened to.

  4. alice jackson
    goodland kansas
    April 16, 2012, 6:57 pm

    Leave the Titanic to rest in peace.

  5. Anna Carson
    Terre Haute, IN USA
    April 29, 2012, 12:05 pm

    I’m still thinking about the Titanic and after reading the new publications and rereading the classics in addition to watching the excellent programs on NATGEO TV, I have some observations. I’m adding them here because I agree with Dr. Ballard that this is a human story.

    Titanic’s tragedy is not the story of a ship and what she could or could not have done. Her enduring fascination is that we sense that she shows us something significant about ourselves. She does. Being a massive object and event she provides everyone a personal way to relate to this great loss. She focuses the lives, actions and decisions of numerous individuals down to a single time and place. They are embodied in Titanic and her tragedy. Someone designed her. Someone built her. Someone commanded her. Someone manned her. Someone created the demand for her. But no one embarked on her with the anticipation that they were playing Russian roulette. All of these individuals functioned within a society with a system of human and economic values. This is a picture almost too large to comprehend. She is the 20th century’s first case of too-big-to-fail.

    Individually, people find a way to relate to this loss, explain it in some fashion, and lay it to rest. Laws and treaties established an International Ice Patrol, required lifeboat capacity for every person on board ships, and regulated wireless telegraphy. However, they did not put an end to the loss of lives and modern ships at sea.

    As with so many freeze-frame events that forever change our world, Titanic shows that right up until the moment that everything is irrevocably out of control life seems to many to be perfectly normal and progressing smoothly. The prospect of the unthinkable is, well, unthinkable. In retrospect and on investigation, there were warning voices such as Thomas Andrews and Roderick Chisholm and nearby ships that sent ice warnings. However, no single action or inaction caused the disaster. A cascade of events generated the result. Any of a number of small changes might have averted the final outcome. Discussion of these factors fuels an endless stream of what-if’s and if-only’s, which are far too late to help Titanic.

    Once doomed, Titanic became the stage for many actors – heroic and otherwise. The human story fascinates us. Engineers and firemen in the bowels of the ship kept electricity flowing for lights and pumps to drain the flooding engine rooms. Titanic floated almost twice as long as Andrews estimated when he saw the extent of the damage. The engineers and firemen, who knew Titanic best, sacrificed themselves buying time for passengers to escape. Less organized officers and crew above squandered their efforts by allowing portholes and a gangway to remain open and by failing to fully fill lifeboats. The difference between these groups came down to preparation to deal with an emergency.

    Titanic could have been a catalyst to planning for systems that are too big to fail. However, the warnings from Roger Boisjoly did not prevent the Challenger accident. The officers and crew of the Costa Concordia were no better prepared for their emergency. We as a society still take poorly-understood risks only to be surprised again when the unexpected occurs. Titanic is telling us there are risks and that survival favors the prepared.

  6. Emmnauel Moreira
    New Bedford Massachusetts
    October 30, 2012, 5:37 pm

    I would like to everyone who follows the history of the Titanic,
    to respect Dr. Ballard’s words.
    Let’s preserve and do not disturbe the Titanic’s grave site.
    Let’s keep in our minds that so many souls died on that tragic incident.
    I keep asking myself this question, raising the Titanic rack and retrieve all the arthifatcs it will be good for the new generations to come, learning and see with their own eyes
    every piece that once belonged to the world’s greatest ship RMS TITANIC.
    Than again I think about the all the souls that died on that tragic night.
    Please let’s educate ourselves about the Titanic and keep what we got, but no further retrieving pieces from the bottom of the ocean.
    Let’s leave the Titanic,s grave yard alone.