Dr. 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.
This lengthy interview with Dr. Ballard is a three-parter.
Here is Part III:
The Big Mac Blog: When you speak of being able to do all of your research from a computer screen are you not missing anything of actually being in that location?
Dr. Robert Ballard: Is this because I want to pick some roses and smell them or do I want to make a living? I have a job, or a vacation? Which are we talking about. I was able to pick my son up at school, and if I was in my telecommunications center I'd be at the bottom of the ocean.
It's a question, do I miss watching people vomit? No. Do I miss being away from my family? No. Do I miss a sunset at sea? Yes. Do I go to sea? Yes. Do I go to sea less than I used to? Absolutely. Do I discover more? Yes. I am trying to have my cake and eat it too and I think I pulled it off.
The Big Mac Blog: People ask you about discovering The Titanic but you said you found it ...
Dr. Robert Ballard: The discovery wasn't that I found it it was that the rate of preservation was so high. That lead me on to this road to finding lots of ancient ship wrecks. That was the discovery. It was that the deep sea is the largest musuem on earth. We are now realizing what destroys human history and what perserves it and where to find it and accelerating our discovery of it. The first time I looked for an ancient shipwreck I spent a month and found one. Now I find one every 11 hours becuase I cracked the Rosetta Stone.
The Big Mac Blog: Is there any ship or wreck that is on your bucket list?
Dr. Robert Ballard: Yeah. I have children write me who ask, 'Will you stop so there are some left for me.' I don't mind that I left some on the table. The ones that seem to be high on people's list are treasure ships. I have no interest ships. The ones you hear about are Shackleton's ship The Endurance. We know where it is, it would just take money to get to it. Certainly the Indianapolis is a famous ship that has never been found. Everybody has been going after Amelia Earhardt's airplane.
I am more interested in that unknown ship of the bronze age that is perfectly perserved in the Black Sea with the crew draped over the oars. That would be cool.
The Big Mac Blog: Does the Marianis Trench do anything for you?
Dr. Robert Ballard: We are going to send cameras down there in a couple of days. I am moving my ship that area next year. I like the Western Pacific; it has the greatest chance of discovery. We are going to wonder around there probably for the rest of the year.
The Big Mac Blog: When did you recognize that your discovery of Titanic had changed your life to allow you do things that previously you may not have considered?
Dr. Robert Ballard: Well, after Titanic I came home and there were 16,000 letters from children that buried my desk. When my TV show got the No. 1 rating in the history of cable TV which it still holds. When my book was No. 1 on the NY Times best seller list and London Times. I was not anticipating any of that.
The Big Mac Blog: Why did Titanic resonate with so many of us, kids especially?
Dr. Robert Ballard: It depends upon which button it pushed. It pushed all the buttons people have. Start with kids, who are brought up if they are lucky in a garden of eden of innocence. The Titanic was this giant parental screwup. Kids it was sticking their finger in a flame; kids couldn't quite process doing something like sinking a ship. For women, it was the grandeur and celebirty of it. The stars of society back then were not news anchors or athletes they were the super wealthy - the Astors, the Strausses, the Guggenheims. And they died.
For men, it was the largest moving object on the planet. It was the highest tech thing we had.
And it didn't just sink it took a while. It was theater played out on a deck. The whole thing was straight out of central casting. You could not have written a better book than Walter Lord's book.
The Big Mac Blog: Do you ever tire of talking about?
Dr. Robert Ballard: A little. I accept that I am wedded to it. And that it's allowing me to talk about other things. People come to hear me, and I do mention it, but it's embedded in a larger story and they won't feel cheated and they walk away knowing more than just Titanic.
The Big Mac Blog: What are your greatest hopes and fears for your profession after you are done?
Dr. Robert Ballard: I have picked a successor. I have a new generation of people who are in place. That is gratifying. I am ready to let the new generation go and have fun.
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