In a career that has spanned more than 60 decades, Robert Ballard has conducted over 150 underwater expeditions and made innumerable important scientific discoveries.
However, the renowned oceanographer says he has made peace with the reality he will likely always be called”the guy who discovered Titanic.”
Based on Ballard, his mother predicted he’d never have the ability to escape that”rusty old ship” when he needed to tell her he had found the famous shipwreck in 1985.
In his forthcoming memoir,”Into The Deep,” Ballard recalls walking to the premiere of the 1997 movie”Titanic” with the movie’s director James Cameron, who turned to him and said”You go . You found it.”
“Mothers are always right,” he tells CNN Travel. “I’m convinced my obituary is written’guy who discovered the Titanic died today.’
“In most ways it is sort of freed me up to dream other dreams. I really feel emancipated in a lot of ways.”
And those”other fantasies” are still evolving following decades of researching the deep sea.
“When kids ask me’what is your greatest discovery,’ I always tell them’it’s the one which I’m going to create,” he says.
Although Ballard accepts he’s not likely to add another 100 expeditions to his tally, he plans to”keep knocking off several” while he’s still able to.
“I flip 79 in June. This was just the perfect time [to tell my story,]” he says of the book, which was composed with the assistance of New York Times investigative journalist Christopher Drew.
“And we had the pandemic, ” I was not going to sea. I had a lot of time in my hands.”
Ballard’s fascination with the sea began at an early age. From 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” if he grew up.
“This was the moment when I decided I needed to be not merely an oceanographer, however, a naval officer,” he states.
“Something which I have never talked about a lot is that I am dyslexic, and that I learn differently. I didn’t read’Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,’ I watched the film produced by Disney.”
After being called for military action from 1965, he transferred to the US Navy and assigned to the Deep Submergence Group at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where he assisted to develop Alvin, a three-person submersible using a mechanical arm.
He spent a lot of the seventies exploring the ocean in Alvin, reaching 2,750 meters to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, as well as linking an expedition that found thermal vents in the Galapagos Rift.
By now he was prepared to accept the huge task of trying to locate the British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912.
Though Ballard admits he was never a”Titanic enthusiast,” he became fixated on finding the wreck after witnessing several unsuccessful efforts by other explorers.
“Titanic was clearly the large Mount Everest at the time,” he explains. “So many others had tried. Many that I believed would have triumphed, or if have succeeded but didn’t.”
He left his initial attempt to locate the boat in October 1977, using heavy sea salvage vessel Seaprobe, a drillship with sonar gear and cameras attached to the end of the drilling pipe.
But, Ballard was forced to admit defeat once the drilling pipe broke.
Once he returned from the expedition, he started developing robots that may roam the sea floor accumulating pictures and data.
“The Titanic was actually the very first time we introduced this kind of technology,” he explains. “In each one the expeditions leading up to it, I physically got to submarines.
“To get there [the deepest depth of the ocean] took half and two hours. So that is a five hour commute. I once went 20,000 ft, which took me six hours and almost got me killed.”
Once Ballard was convinced with the robotic submersible technologyhe knew he’d be able to return to the website and survey the ocean floor for many hours and hours without having to enter a sub.
However there was the little matter of increasing the funding required to support this kind of costly and important expedition.
Only in the past few years has Ballard managed to be totally truthful about the now-declassified occasions that led to his discovery of the infamous wreck.
Before agreeing to this mission, that was signed off by then US President Ronald Reagan, he inquired if he could look for Titanic when he had finished the top secret task.
While he wasn’t explicitly granted permission to start looking for the infamous wreck, Ballard says he had been told he would pretty much do what he wanted once he had discovered the nuclear submarines.
“I must sayit was challenging for me since I could not tell the truth for many, many, many years about who really paid for this,” he admits.
After completing the mission with 12 days to spare, Ballard and his staff set out in search for Titanic on Argo, a deep-sea vehicle using a remote-controlled camera which sent live pictures from the bottom of the sea into a control area on Knorr, the towing research vessel they had been on board.
While he originally observed the discovery, the enormity of the catastrophe, which brought about the deaths of over 1,500 individuals, rapidly overwhelmed Ballard and everybody onboard Knorr.
“About 2 a.m., someone remarked that we were coming the period of night when Titanic had sunk into a sea as serene as the one we had now,” he writes in”Into the Deep.”
“It was not until this stage that the emotion of the tragedy completely hit me. I know this sounds odd, but it was rather unexpected.
“I’d never been a Titanic groupie. Sure, I had wanted to find it, and I’d been really aggressive about that.
“However a universe tragedy had played itself out on this place, and now the website itself took hold of me. Its emotion filled me rather than let go.”
He goes on to describe his horror at the”Titanic mania” that ensued if the positioning of this wreck was created public and”investors saw dollar signs.”
“Without understanding, we had opened this up when we had found the mess, and it had turned into an ugly carnival, an affront to the fate of Titanic and all those who lost their lives in her last hours,” he writes.