Dr. Robert Ballard When Robert Ballard was young, his favorite book was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He admired the hero, Captain Nemo. He wanted to go where no one had ever gone before. The book inspired him to become an explorer. Captain Nemo
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He grew up near the ocean in San Diego. He loved the beach, the pier, the boats, the snorkeling, the bodysurfing, the scuba diving, the deep-sea diving. He said the ocean was his constant friend. There were always new things to find.
Pacific Ocean, San Diego, California
When Robert grew up, he wanted to find the wreck of the Titanic, the ship that sank in 1912. In 1985, he and his crew set sail to the North Atlantic Ocean to look for the Titanic.
He also brought a sled called Argo. It has special equipment to help find the wreck. Argo has a video camera that can send signals to the surface and make a videotape of the ocean floor. Argo's pictures are sent up the cable to a video screen.
The ocean floor looked a little different from usual. Instead of the usual curves and ripples of the mud and sand, the scientists saw pieces of man-made things.
what the scientists saw
boiler from Titanic
putting Alvin into the ocean
bow of the Titanic
Dr. Ballard has discovered other important shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and most recently John F. Kennedy's boat, PT-109.
Click on the Yorktown picture (above) to go to a web page that will show you how far down the ship was.
In 1977, Dr. Ballard used Alvin to discover super-hot areas on the ocean floor called deep-sea hydrothermal vents. He discovered organisms living there that no one knew existed.The organisms do not get their energy from the sun. Their energy comes from the earth itself.
Alvin’s arm collects a tubeworm at a hydrothermal vent
Dr. Ballard fixes the cable
National Geographic interviewed Dr. Ballard in 2004. They asked him what was the most important trait that an explorer needs? He answered, “Curiosity. I'm interested in everything. I love physics, anthropology, art. The ocean has a cornucopia of subject matters. It's just inexhaustible. And I like to understand. I love coming back with a discovery and sharing it. That is as exciting as making the discovery. I was always the kid who ran home to tell my mom what I had found that day.”
Robert, age 7, with his first fish
When Dr. Ballard came back from the Titanic in 1985, his mailbox was filled with letters from students wanting to learn about what he found. Dr. Ballard knew that kids are curious. He set up a way for scientists to help students learn about the world.
He thought about the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. In their quest for the golden fleece, they they explored, solved problems and discovered, just like scientists. He decided to name his project JASON.
Archbold, Rick. Deep-Sea Explorer. New York: Scholastic, 1994.