Photo by Erik Charlton, Flickr

73-year-old ocean explorer Bob Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic 30 years ago, and he hasn’t stopped exploring the ocean floor since. In a recent piece for Popular Mechanics, Ryan D’Agostino profiled Ballard and the research aboard his ship Nautilus (a 211-foot former East German research vessel that carries seventeen crew and thirty-one scientists and operations specialists). But what happens when the Nautilus team thinks they might have found something in ” the three-dimensional chess of the oceans deep” and isn’t sure how to proceed? They call in the experts:

Ballard has assembled, over the years, an astonishing roster of experts in many fields, all volunteers. When the Nautilus is at sea, towing its cameras through the depths, and it finds something interesting, the crew needs to know whether to stop and explore further or move on. And they can’t keep fifty experts on board at all times. So the Nautilus has a phone system with a 401 area code. “The ship thinks it’s in Rhode Island at all times, no matter where on the planet it is,” Ballard says. “When we need an expert, we just pick up the phone. It goes like this: ‘Hi, Deb? I know it’s 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, but can you boot up your laptop? We got something. We wanna know what it is. The ship is hovering in twenty thous and feet of water wondering, up or down?’ And we do this literally all the time. All. The. Time. Within twenty minutes we have to deliver the brightest mind in America on whatever subject it is to the spot of the discovery to tell us what to do. If you tell us go, we go into a response strategy,” Ballard says, jutting his chin into the breeze. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. The closest thing to a drug for me is Coke Zero. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t smoke. I do have wine. But you can’t beat the thrill of finding something on the bottom. And I’ll wait and wait and wait for it. We just had one on the last trip!”

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