The theory of continental drift involves beggaring concepts -- convection currents in the earth's mantle, thousands of kilometers of ocean floor rising from undersea ridges to disappear like doormats under the edges of continental masses, and occasionally these same masses -- plates -- bashing into one another to form great crumpled mountain ranges. Oddly, as scientists have increasingly come around to the idea, the general public has lost interest, and the Glomar Challenger -- that remarkable sea-probing vessel -- has been as casually attended as the Mariners and other later vehicles of technological teamwork. This is not so surprising though, considering the romance and the sensational prospects that were opened up in earlier phases of the debate. First, polar explorers of the 19th century died amassing evidence so out of kilter with accepted earth history that it seemed only the direct and most unacceptable explanations could serve, such as those of Velikovsky and H.A. Brown. But in the '50's, with the Cold War and lavishly extended research budgets, the idea was taken up by Harry Hess and the American Miscellaneous Society (an offbeat NSF advisory group specializing in ""calamitology, triviology, and etceterology,"") and the character of the investigation changed in keeping with the fraternity style of the Woods Hole oceanographic installation, operation Mohole, the Ring of Fire (remember all the volcanic sci-fi). . . . What comes after -- refinements of the model and episodes at sea (trying to maneuver the probe ship so as to wriggle free miles of piping in time to escape an iceberg) and possibilities for future exploration -- is ideal for Sullivan, who knows exactly how and when to shift ground and could probably write a riveting history of podiatry. If this doesn't get the public, we don't know what will.