On May 30, 2018, the National Geographic Museum will provide new perspectives on one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks in the exhibition “Titanic: The Untold Story.” The National Geographic Society uses its storytelling expertise to shed light on a significant part of the ship’s discovery, a narrative that was classified for many years and can now be revealed.
The story of the Titanic has captivated audiences for decades, but few today associate the discovery as a cover story for a classified Navy mission. In the mid-1980s, National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Robert Ballard — who also held the title of commander in the U.S. Navy and served as a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — was sent on a top-secret mission to investigate the remains of two nuclear submarines, the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion, both of which sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic during the early years of the Cold War.
In 1985, Ballard’s mission was to dive to depths of 9,800 feet using a towed camera system called Argo to find and document the imploded remains of the Scorpion. The objective of the mission was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons and to gain evidence to help determine what led to her loss. After concluding his successful investigations of the Scorpion, Ballard used the final 12 days of his expedition to discover the RMS Titanic at a depth of 12,540 feet. The following year, while the public was enthralled and distracted by the discovery of the Titanic, Ballard returned on a second classified mission to the Thresher and Scorpion.