National Geographic : 2004 May
character-and Hercules begins snuffling the gelatinous muck off the amazingly well preserved wood. If the ROV kicks up too much mud, obscuring Gregory's view, he can still operate acoustically, using three-dimensional ultrasound sensors on Herculesto peer through the dark. This time they aren't needed. "Sarah designed her nozzle so well it sucks up the dirt as soon as it's dislodged" Ballard says. "It's absolutely elegant, like watching someone play a musical instrument." Eventually a large stash of amphorae comes into view, 15 centuries falling away like magic. As Ballard has hoped, the level of preservation provided by the anoxic layer is such that you can still see the beeswax splatter formed when the jugs were sealed on an ancient dock. Indeed, every key facet of the operation, from the surgical delicacy of Hercules'mechanical arm to the movie-set lighting provided by the trailing sled Argus to the dazzling clarity of the high definition images broadcast live via satellite, has unfolded pretty much as Ballard envisioned 22 years before in the December 1981 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. Watching the big plasma screen is like looking out the window of the Nau tilus in Jules Verne's Twenty Thou sand Leagues Under the Sea, the science fiction classic that inspired Ballard as a boy to dream of peering into the deep. And yet on this night Ballard is the least transfixed spectator in the room. Sitting in the back with Jack Orben, he fidgets and jokes like an unruly student dis rupting his own class.