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A Titanic Tale

Illuminated by lights from the deep-sea submersible Alvin, the bow of the sunken Titanic sticks outs like a knife edge stuck into the seafloor as the tethered robotic vehicle Jason Jr. searches for the ship's name on the hull in 1986. “While Martin flew Jason Jr. around the port anchor, I watched and ate my lunch,” wrote Alvin pilot Will Sellers. “Not a bad spot for a picnic, I thought at the time.” (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
In 1986, crammed into Alvin's titanium sphere, pilots Ralph Hollis and Dudley Foster and scientist Bob Ballard were the first human visitors to Titanic since the great ship sank in 1912. Dudley is on the left, Ballard is on the right.
The robotic vehicle Jason Jr. operated at the end of a 60-meter fiber-optic cable, its movements controlled by a pilot inside the submersible Alvin. The Titanic expedition in 1986 was the first deep-sea test for Jason Jr.
Jason Jr. peers into a stateroom of the sunken Titanic. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The deep-sea submersible Alvin pulls up alongside the RMS Titanic in 1986. “The biggest danger to any dive on Alvin is entanglement on the bottom,” wrote Alvin pilot Will Sellers. “If I were to get us stuck and was unable to free the sub, we would become a bit of Titanic history ourselves.”
The stalwart A-frame at the stern of the research vessel Atlantis II lifts Alvin (and two divers atop it) back aboard ship. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The cast iron frame of a deck bench appears almost bronze in the lights from Alvin. The wooden slats had been eaten away by marine organisms. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
A crystal light fixture dangles by its wiring from the ceiling in a first-class public room in this frame from a Jason Jr. video. A deep-sea coral grows out of the light fixture on the left. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Alvin's lights illuminated rust covering much of the hull. The rusted formations beneath Titanic's railing looked like orange icicles. The scientists called them “rusticles.”
The discovery of rusticles—rusting iron—on the wreck of Titanic opened a new field of research into previously unknown microscopic deep-sea bacteria that consume the iron. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Reporters mob WHOI scientist Bob Ballard to hear what the 1986 expedition found. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Members of the Alvin Operations Group and Navy personnel pose proudly aboard the research vessel Atlantis II during the 1986 expedition to Titanic. The group includes Alvin pilot and author Will Sellers, second from left atop Alvin; Bob Ballard, second row, third form left; and Martin Bowen, second row, fifth from left, who piloted Jason Jr.
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