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02/27/2012

Part I of a chat with Dr. Robert Ballard, who's no longer "on a boat!"

P_0001Dr. Robert Ballard is the Indiana Jones of oceanography. Dr. Ballard is scheduled to be the next speaker at the Maverick Speakers Series at Texas-Arlington. He will lecture at 7:30 p.m. on March 6 at Texas Hall on the UTA campus. Tickets are available.

Dr. Ballard is known for discovering Titantic long before James Cameron made Kate and Leo uber famous. I was a middle schooler when Ballard found the wreck, and the subsequent National Geographic issue and documentary narrated by Martin Sheen captivated my flea-like attention span ever since.

Here is part I of this interview.

The Big Mac Blog: What are you busy with today?
Dr. Robert Ballard: I have my own ship now. I have been at this for 52 years and on 130 expeditions and during that time I said, 'Never own a ship'. In this latter part of my career and got my own ship. That changed my life. Historically I would go out and do my expeditions in the summer because the weather is good. Then I got this ship. I'm doing a lot but in many different areas. 
You'll see that it's three (things):
One is explaratory technology. I've been doing that for forever. I had to build my own toy. This has been an on going thing for me, and it's changed. The first was to use manned submersables. The second was not to use manned submersables and use robots. The third is you don't go yourself at all. It's just technology.
 
Deep-sea-explorationThe Big Mac Blog: Don't you miss actually going on the water to do this research and the feel of it?
Dr. Robert Ballard: I'll give you this analogy. Every year I go Jackson Hole, Wyoming and I ride a horse. But I ride a car to work. I'm trying to get something done as opposed to having a nice trip. Submarine, you spend all of your time going up and down an elevator and very little time exploring. Maybe but two hours. You are crammed inside a sphere you can die; you are looking outside a small window and no one else can see what you can see because they are looking out a different window.
There is no bathroom. It's cold. You are hitting your head. You get headaches. Do I enjoy diving? Yeah. I do it once in a while like horseback riding. But when I want to get work done I want to do it the best way. 

Nautilus-XL_0The Big Mac Blog: Is it true the the best days of owning a boat is the day you own it, and sell it; will that be true with you?
Dr. Robert Ballard: Not really. I'm having a ball. It's really focused my life. I'm very Nautilus centric. It's simplified my life, and made it more complex. My reign of exploration has increased dramatically. We are getting the amount of work I did in five years completed in one. 
So if you are in a hurry before you die, and I turn 70, I am in a hurry. I know there is a lot of amazing things yet to be discovered that I want to find. I know that I am playing this statistical game - it boils down to math. You don't live forever and the older you get the harder it is to go to sea.  And I also know we have seen so little of the ocean.  
And I know that most of my major discoveries - not the Titanic, we didn't discover that, we just found it - it was when we were looking for something else and found it. If you don't know it's there you can't tell people you are going to find it.
The silliest question I get asked is, 'What are you going to find next?' I don't have a clue because I don't know what it is I'm going to find.
And people don't realize how unmapped this world is. Seventy two percent of the planet is water. The ocean literacy of the American people is abominable. 

The Big Mac Blog: In terms of global warming, has the water you explored changed dramatically since you began your career?
Dr. Robert Ballard: No. I'm at great depth. The average depth of where I go is 12,000 feet. It's pitch black. The world I go to is forever dark, and forever under pressure and forever cold. Cold water sinks there. It will be the last place on the planet that will get warm.

@MacEngelProf
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Comments

Jim S

Mac,

Whoever wrote your title needs some help with grammar. 'Whose' should be 'Who is' or 'Who's'.

Jim

James

Great great great interview. Love it. Keep up the good work. This guy is a total stud.

shelter island yachts

This is an awesome interview. I have always wanted to own a ship or a yacht. I grew up seeing a lot of yacht in Shelter Island, New York. I miss the place.

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