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8. Update the Ballard Chronicles

"[Robert] Ballard bet everything on his theory. The good news was that it would take him only six days to search the hundred-square-mile box. The bad news was that there wouldn’t be time to try again if Titanic didn’t show. And if something broke, the show was over."—"Ballard Surfacing," by Laurence Gonzales, ADVENTURE Spring 1999

As it turned out, making the greatest shipwreck find of all time was just the beginning for Robert Ballard. In May 2002 he led his crew and an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to an obscure quadrant of Melanesia’s Solomon Islands. There he found the wreckage of the PT-109, John F. Kennedy’s 80-foot patrol craft, sliced in half and sunk on a moonless night in 1943 by a Japanese destroyer. The attack sent the future president on a harrowing swim to the relative safety of a deserted island. Between 2003 and 2007 Ballard led a series of expeditions to the oxygen-free depths of the Black Sea, where he found an exquisitely preserved, 1,500-year-old Byzantine ship complete with a 33-foot mast and rope rigging. "That never, ever, ever happens on an ancient shipwreck," he says. "That was the perfect ship you could only dream of." He also surveyed what he and other researchers believe is evidence of human habitation destroyed by an ancient deluge—in other words, events that might have inspired the biblical tale of Noah.

Ballard, a former naval commander and intelligence officer, seems to have moved on from the sort of Cold War covert ops that led him to Titanic. (Though can you ever be certain with a guy whose cover was really deep?) The Black Sea, where he’s been spending a great deal of time, is nothing if not strategically located in today’s geopolitical landscape. "It will be interesting to see if we go back into a cold war with Russia," is all the former spook will say. "Who knows what’s going to happen in the future?"

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