Robert Ballard has conducted over 150 underwater expeditions and made countless significant scientific discoveries, but his biggest find is the Titanic. Now, more than 35 years after locating the famous shipwreck, he's embarking on a new mission.
In a career that's spanned more than 60 years, Robert Ballard has conducted over 150 underwater expeditions and made countless significant scientific discoveries, but his biggest find has always been the Titanic.
Emory Kristof/National Geographic Image CollectionHe delves into his astonishing career in the memoir released later this month, and also opens up about some of the most defining moments in his personal life, including the tragic death of his son."I turn 79 in June. This was just the perfect time [to tell my story,]" he says of the book, which was written with the help of New York Times investigative journalist Christopher Drew.
"And we had the pandemic, I wasn't going to sea. I had a lot of time on my hands."Ballard's fascination with the ocean began at an early age. By the time he was 12, he'd decided he wanted to be Captain Nemo from Jules Verne's classic science fiction novel"Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" when he grew up.
"That was the seminal moment when I decided I wanted to be not only an oceanographer, but a naval officer," he says."Something which I've never really talked about a lot is that I'm dyslexic, and that I learn differently. I didn't read 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,' I watched the movie produced by Disney." headtopics.com
Ballard went on to gain degrees in both chemistry and geology and a Master's in geophysics from the University of Hawaii.After being called for military action in 1965, he transferred to the US Navy and assigned to the Deep Submergence Group at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where he helped to develop Alvin, a three-person submersible with a mechanical arm.
He spent much of the seventies exploring the ocean in Alvin, reaching 2,750 meters to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, as well as joining an expedition that uncovered thermal vents in the Galapagos Rift.Related contentThe Titanic will be protected by a treaty between US and UK
Titanic journeyBy now he was ready to take on the huge task of trying to locate the British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912.Although Ballard admits he was never a"Titanic fanatic," he became fixated on finding the wreck after witnessing several unsuccessful attempts by other explorers.
"Titanic was clearly the big Mount Everest at the time," he explains."So many others had tried. Many that I thought would have succeeded, or should have succeeded but didn't."He made his first attempt to locate the ship in October 1977, using deep sea salvage vessel Seaprobe, a drillship with sonar equipment and cameras attached to the end of the drilling pipe. headtopics.com
However, Ballard was forced to admit defeat when the drilling pipe broke.Once he returned from the expedition, he began developing robots that could roam the ocean floor gathering images and information."The Titanic was actually the first time we introduced this kind of technology," he explains."In all of the expeditions leading up to it, I physically got into submarines.
"To get there [the deepest depth of the ocean] took two and half hours. So that's a five hour commute. I once went down 20,000 feet, which took me six hours and almost got me killed."Once Ballard was confident with the robotic submersible technology, he knew he'd be able to return to the site and survey the ocean floor for several hours and hours without ever having to get into a sub.
But there was the small matter of raising the funding required to support such a costly and significant expedition.Only in recent years has Ballard been able to be completely honest about thenow-declassified eventsthat led to his discovery of the infamous wreck.
The expedition was part of a secret US military mission to recover two wrecked nuclear submarines, the Thresher and Scorpion, which had sunk to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.Secret missionIn 1998, Ballard and his crew found the wreckage of aircraft carrier USS Yorktown 56 years after it sank. headtopics.com
David Doubilet/National Geographic Image CollectionBefore agreeing to the mission, which was signed off by then US President Ronald Reagan, he asked if he could search for Titanic when he'd completed the top secret task.While he was never explicitly given permission to look for the infamous wreck, Ballard says he was told he could pretty much do what he wanted once he'd found the nuclear submarines.
"I must say, it was hard for me because I couldn't tell the truth for many, many, many years about who really paid for this," he admits."It was a top secret mission I was on in the height of the Cold War. We were duking it out with the Soviet Union and this [the Titanic search] was a cover."
After completing the assignment with 12 days to spare, Ballard and his team set out in search for Titanic on Argo, a deep-sea vehicle with a remote-controlled camera that transmitted live images from the bottom of the sea to a control room on Knorr, the towing research vessel they were on board.
On September 1, 1985, they realized they'd located debris from the sunken ship that hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland during its maiden voyage.While he initially celebrated the discovery, the enormity of the tragedy, which brought about the deaths of over 1,500 people, quickly overwhelmed Ballard and everyone onboard Knorr.
"Around 2 a.m., someone remarked that we were approaching the time of night when Titanic had sunk into a sea as calm as the one we had now," he writes in"Into the Deep.""It wasn't until this point that the emotion of the tragedy fully hit me. I know this sounds odd, but it was quite unexpected.
"I had never been a Titanic groupie. Sure, I'd wanted to find it, and I'd been very competitive about that."But a world tragedy had played itself out on this spot, and now the site itself took hold of me. Its emotion filled me and never let go."
He goes on to describe his horror at the"Titanic mania" that ensued when the location of the wreck was made public and"investors saw dollar signs.""Without realizing it, we had opened all this up when we'd found the wreck, and it had turned into an ugly carnival, an affront to the fate of Titanic and all those who lost their lives in her final hours," he writes.
Related contentAtmospheric shot of circling sharks scoops Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021Underwater museum plansThe explorer and his team returned to Titanic in 1986 in order to photograph every inch of the wreck.Robert Ballard and Martin Bowen/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
In the years after he found the ship, Ballard met several of the survivors, many of whom were just babies when it sank, and says he feels honored to be"part of that history."While he believes the site should be left alone, he understands why people are so desperate to see it.
It's for this reason that he plans to set up underwater museums for both Titanic and its sister ship Britannia, which sank in the Aegean Sea in 1916, to allow visitors to travel to both wrecks electronically."We have the technology that makes it possible for you to literally hook yourself up to the Titanic," he explains.
"So I'm very confident that within a decade we'll be able to do it. Because it's not going anywhere."They say it's falling apart. But it really isn't. It's being loved to death by visitors more than mother nature is attacking it."Read more: CNN »
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How old is this man No his biggest discovery was finding many new forms of life in the deep oceans and also whatever the government paid him to do undercover secretly to pay for the titanic search. most unpopular video on YouTube today.