In 1985, explorer Robert Ballard, a Doctor at the University of Rhode Island, and at the time working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Institution, discovered the remains of the RMS Titanic. Besides being one of the most famous wrecks in history, and one that remained a mystery up until that point, the Titanic was also an unknown. No one had seen it since it fell into the ocean depths over a century ago. A great deal of time and money went into the project, but recently declassified details reveal it was much more than just a search for the famous sunken vessel.
Ballard had approached the US Navy for funding, which was offered, but with conditions. He would not be seeking out the wreck of the Titanic, though that is what everyone in the world was meant to think. As a former Navy commander, he was actually sent down to the area to determine if two downed US submarines the USS Thresher and Scorpion, both nuclear submarines, were affecting the surrounding environment. They were supposed to especially pay attention to their nuclear reactors, and several nuclear-tipped warheads that were on board.
The Background Story: Part 1
Only two submarines have been lost by the US Navy since World War II. The USS Thresher was unfortunately one of them. The Thresher was a new class of submarine supposed to replace the "outmoded" Skipjack class of submarines in the fleet. They were designed to be light, and deep diving, along with a number of offensive innovations.
On April 9th 1963, the Thresher, after two years of service, went to do several tests to determine the true strength of the hull. 15 minutes after they reached test depth, a report of minor malfunctions and ballast issues, were replaced with a sound like air rushing into a tank, and then silence.
The Thresher would be found a mile and a half under the ocean, having been ruptured into 6 pieces.
The Background Story: Part 2
On the 21st of May, 1968 the Skipjack-class nuclear submarine, the USS Scorpion, was on its way home after a routine mission in the Mediterranean sea, carrying two nuclear torpedoes on board. The last message that was ever send, was that they were 200 miles off the coast, and would arrive by 13:00 PM that day.
It was the last message ever received from the submarine, as 7 days later it was officially declared "missing and presumed lost." The wreckage was discovered that same year, with all 99 crew members bodies on board. No cause has been determined or
These Two Losses Are The Reason Subs Today Are Safe
Only two months after the accident that left the USS Thresher at the bottom of the sea, the Navy had developed what it called "SubSafe", which was a system designed to protect the integrity of the sub's hull, no matter what. They also improved the reliability of the nuclear reactors, and the propulsion system, so that the crew, in the case of disaster, would have a fighting chance. This was put to the test in 2005, when a submarine, the USS San Franciscohit the side of an underwater mountain head-on at 30 mph. The damage was substantial to the front of the boat (see above). But because of the new systems that were put in place, the sub was able to get back to port under its own power, without the hull being compromised.
Nearly a Pretty Raw Deal
The search for the Scorpion took much longer than expected, and though he set out with plenty of time to search for both the submarines and the ship, by the time he was able to start searching for the Titanic, he only had 12 days left. But he had learned something invaluable from his search for the submarine. To follow the debris field. Just like it lead to the discovery of the submarine, this newfound method allowed Ballard to find the Titanic in much less time, just in 8 days. Others had spent over 60 days searching for the Titanic, but to no avail.
This was done also at the height of the Cold War, so the Titanic story was used to throw the USSR off the scent of what they were really doing. The details of the mission remained classified and no one was the wiser, until 2018, when relevant documents and information were released with regards to the expedition, allowing Ballard to tell all and reveal what was really going on down there. This is also not the only mission that Ballard conducted during the Cold War for the US Navy, but it is the only one to be declassified thus far. Who knows what other ocean discoveries were really Navy secret missions.
Image From A Piece Of One Of the Submarines
A View Of The Submarine And The Route
Another Look At Part Of The Submarine
Unclassified Footage Of The USS Scorpion and USS Thresher
A YouTube user made a request to the government under the Freedom of Information Act, and this video was the response he got from the Department of Defense. Turns out the navy checks on the site every couple of years to ensure it has not been disturbed. Due to the nuclear tipped torpedos on the Scorpion, its important it remains that way.
The Details Finally Declassified
Ballard has made some of the most incredible ocean discoveries in the last 2 centuries. From the Bismark, to Titanic, to Robert F Kennedy's plane. But what can he do next to top all of these incredible achievements. His next target: Amelia Earhart's airplane. While the search is still young, as it began in August 2019, there are a number of places he hopes to search in that are key to Earhart's disappearance story, to try to find some, any semblance of the lost plane and pilot.