It had been five hours since my intrepid robot Gilligan left its garage on the front of the submersible Mir 1 and disappeared inside the cavernous shipwreck. Our sub was parked on the upper deck of the most famous wreck in history, surrounded by eternal blackness and over 5,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, both thanks to a two-and-a-half-mile column of water over our heads.
Safe inside the Mir, I flew the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with gentle nudges of the joystick, its thrusters maneuvering it into the ship’s treacherous interior. The “bot” had penetrated to F Deck, paying out a thin fiber-optic cable like Theseus in the labyrinth, with only Ariadne’s twine to guide him back. Though the tiny vehicle was now seven decks below me, I felt as if my consciousness were inside the bot, its cameras my eyes, staring down the corridors of the ship. Its jeopardy was also mine, and my pulse raced with each new hazard. Turning a corner, I barely escaped being pinned by a falling “rusticle,” one of the stalactite-like formations created by the bacteria that are slowly devouring the steel of the ship.
As I passed through an entrance, suddenly revealed in my lights were sparkling reflections off a wall of gleaming blue and green tiles. Teak chaise lounges lay upturned on the floor, incredibly well preserved, and above them was an arabesque dome covered in gold leaf. I had entered the elegant spa on the most luxurious ship of its time. “Tell them we’re in the Turkish baths,” I said to Mike Arbuthnot, the marine archaeologist sitting next to me. He keyed the microphone and relayed the message up to the surface.