While the ship with all the gadgets and underwater rovers was stationed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the scientists directing the expedition sat in rooms thousands of miles (kilometers) away.
The scientists and technicians, at universities in Rhode Island, Washington state and New Hampshire, watched 42-inch (107-centimeter) plasma television screens in awe as unmanned submersibles poked around the Lost City hydrothermal vents a two football field-sized forest of limestone chimneys on the ocean floor.
Wearing headsets, the expedition's leaders stationed at the University of Washington told engineers on the ship where to send the robotic vehicles and its high-definition video cameras, and what to explore next.
"We're treated like the chief scientist on the ship that makes the decision about it. It's just that we're not there," said Deborah Kelley, a geology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and the expedition's co-leader.
Supporters said the trip, which ended Aug. 1, has broad implications for future exploration of the oceans, which cover about 70 percent of Earth but remain mostly unexplored. For one, it shows ships can stay out at sea for as many as eight months of the year, since the scientists no longer need to be on board.
"No scientist will sit on (a ship) for that long, reading a book and eating popcorn for the whole time, no way," said Robert Ballard, the founder of the Titanic who's credited with dreaming up the technology used on the Lost City expedition.
A combination of technology helped pull off the feat. The expedition used fiber-optic cables, satellite feeds, and a special, high-speed Internet connection to transmit images by the roving submersibles' lights and cameras at Lost City within 1.5 seconds essentially live to the three "control" rooms.
The images broadcast to the land-based scientists were stunning, said Jeffrey Karson, a geology professor at Duke University and the expedition's co-leader. Karson, who explored Lost City in dives in 2000 and 2003, said the two submersibles, one shining a bright light over a wide area and the other filming with a high definition camera, gave scientists a more panoramic view of the vent field.
"It was more like we could see the whole building, instead of just a room," Karson said, reports the AP.