- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. | A team of scientists will launch an expedition to the Titanic next month to assess the deteriorating condition of the world’s most famous shipwreck and create a detailed three-dimensional map that will “virtually raise the Titanic” for the public.

The expedition to the site, 2½ miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, is billed as the most advanced scientific mission to the Titanic wreck since its discovery 25 years ago.

The 20-day expedition is to leave St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Aug. 18 under a partnership between RMS Titanic Inc., which has exclusive salvage rights to the wreck, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The expedition will not collect artifacts but will probe a 2-by-3-mile debris field where hundreds of thousands of artifacts remain scattered.

Some of the world’s most frequent visitors to the site will be part of the expedition, along with a who’s who of underwater scientists and organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Organizers said the new scientific data and images ultimately will be accessible to the public.

“For the first time, we’re really going to treat it as an archaeological site with two things in mind,” David Gallo, an expedition leader and Woods Hole scientist, told the Associated Press on Monday. “One is to preserve the legacy of the ship by enhancing the story of the Titanic itself. The second part is to really understand what the state of the ship is.”

The Titanic struck ice and sank on its maiden voyage in international waters on April 15, 1912, leaving 1,522 people dead.

Since oceanographer Robert Ballard and an international team discovered the Titanic in 1985, most of the expeditions have either been to photograph the wreck or to gather thousands of artifacts, like fine china, shoes and ship fittings.

“Titanic” director James Cameron also has led teams to the wreck to record the bow and the stern, which separated during the sinking and now lie one-third of a mile apart.

RMS Titanic made the last expedition to site in 2004. The company, a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc. of Atlanta, conducts traveling displays of Titanic artifacts, which the company says have been viewed by tens of millions of people worldwide.

“We believe there’s still a number of really exciting mysteries to be discovered at the wreck site,” said Chris Davino, president of and chief executive officer of Premier Exhibitions and RMS Titanic. “It’s our contention that substantial portions of the wreck site have never really been properly studied.”

RMS Titanic is bankrolling the expedition. Mr. Davino declined to state the cost of the exploration other than to say that it will be millions of dollars.

The “dream team” of archaeologists, oceanographers and other scientists want to get the best assessment yet on the two main sections of the ship, which have been subjected to fierce deep-ocean currents, salt water and intense pressure.

Although the rate of Titanic’s deterioration is not known, Mr. Gallo said, the expedition approaches the mission with a sense of urgency.

“We see places where it looks like the upper decks are getting thin, the walls are thin, the ceilings may be collapsing a bit,” he said. “We hear all these anecdotal things about the ship is rusting away, it’s collapsing on itself. No one really knows.”

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