Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Robert Ballard is probably the most famous deep-sea explorer in the past 100 years. While he is best known for his historic discovery of the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic which sank to the bottom of the sea in 1912, he also discovered the wreckage of the Bismarck and the Yorktown. Over his career, Dr. Ballard has completed over 120 deep-sea journeys and continues to push exploration to new depths with new technologies and strategies. His new high-tech Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island links scientists all over the world and makes it possible to identify new discoveries in real-time.
NG Kids: What were you like as a kid?
Ballard: I was a very “active” kid with lots of interests including sports (football, basketball, and tennis), scouting (Club Scouts, Boys Scouts, and Explorer Scouts), YMCA Club, fishing, and studies.
NG Kids: Do you have a hero?
Ballard: My hero was Captain Nemo [from the book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne] and his submarine the Nautilus.
NG Kids: What do you daydream about?
Ballard: I dream about undersea exploration.
NG Kids: How did you get into your field of work?
Ballard: It started with a scholarship to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, in the summer of 1959 when I was a junior in high school. That summer, I went to sea on two separate expeditions and a field assignment in Baja California with various oceanographers.
During one of those expeditions, I met Dr. Robert Norris, a Scripps graduate with a Ph.D., in marine geology who invited me to come to the University of California, Santa Barbara where I ended up getting my undergraduate degree in Geology and Chemistry with minors in Math and Physics.
NG Kids: What’s a normal day like for you?
Ballard: If I am lucky like today, 50% of the time, I spent in my home office with the fire roaring having just taken my daughter Emily Rose to school. I spent the morning doing as much as I can via the Internet working with my distributed staff all across New England. Nearly 25% of the time I travel between my office in Mystic, Connecticut, at my Institute for Exploration, where my personal staff work and my office at the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography interacting with my graduate students and scientific colleagues planning our next expeditions or working on the results of the last ones. [And] 25% I am traveling either on our ship of exploration, the E/V NAUTILUS or raising funds to support my work. When home, I end the day with my wife discussing our day and then dinner with the family including my son Ben if he is home from boarding school.
NG Kids: What do you do for fun?
Ballard: [We love] to go on vacations to the Bahamas, Jackson Hole, and Block Island.
NG Kids: What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?
Ballard: I would have to say my favorite place on Earth is Bora Bora [in French Polynesia].
NG Kids: What’s the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you that you can share with us?
Ballard: Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone talk you out of them.
NG Kids: Do you have any good conservationist jokes?
Ballard: I am a geologist. I prefer sayings over jokes. My favorite is, “Never get into the thick of thin things."
NG Kids: What’s the one thing that you can’t travel without?
Ballard: I can’t travel without Sudoku [puzzles].
Text by Anne McCormack