This special issue of Oceanography on Scientific Ocean Drilling: Looking to the Future celebrates the more than 50 years of investigating the subseafloor of the world’s ocean and seas that began in the summer of 1968 with Leg 1 of the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP, 1968–1983). Since those early years, scientific ocean drilling has evolved from a US-only program to a fully fledged international one, now including more than 26 countries. It transformed from a focus on exploration during DSDP to more targeted, hypothesis-driven science aimed at understanding fundamental processes during the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP, 1985–2003), the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP, 2003–2013), and the current International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP, 2013–2023). Together, these programs have recovered more than 490 km of core and engaged more than 5,000 scientific participants from around the globe. The drilling vessels Glomar Challenger (1968–1983; see Spotlight 1) and JOIDES Resolution (since 1985; see Spotlight 4) have been the workhorses, carrying out 90% of the science missions, whereas the Chikyu (since 2007; see Spotlight 7) provides specialized capabilities to reach very deep targets, and mission-specific platforms (since 2004; see Spotlight 11) allow individual expeditions in locations where drilling is challenging, for example, in ice-covered seas or in waters that are too shallow for JOIDES Resolution. Analysis of cores and geophysical data collected by scientific ocean drilling have yielded insight into first-order questions about how our planet works, and have resulted in more than 11,000 peer-reviewed publications (see Spotlight 9), with more than 500 appearing in the leading Nature and Science journals.