Robert Ballard : biography
Robert Duane Ballard (born June 30, 1942) is a former United States Navy officer and a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology: maritime archaeology and archaeology of shipwrecks. He is most known for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, and the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998. He discovered the wreck of John F. Kennedy's PT-109 in 2002 and visited Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, who saved its crew. Ballard leads ocean exploration on E/V Nautilus.
TED 2008]] While Ballard had been interested in the sea since an early age, his work at Woods Hole and his scuba diving experiences off Massachusetts spurred his interest in shipwrecks and their exploration. His work in the Navy had involved assisting in the development of small, unmanned submersibles that could be tethered to and controlled from a surface ship, and were outfitted with lighting, cameras, and manipulator arms. As early as 1973, Ballard saw this as way of searching for the wreck of Titanic. In 1977, he led his first expedition, which was unsuccessful.
In the summer of 1985, Ballard was aboard the French research ship Le Suroît, which was using the side scan sonar SAR to search for Titanic's wreck. When the French ship was recalled, Ballard transferred onto a ship from Woods Hole, the R/V Knorr. Unbeknownst to some, this trip was financed by the U.S. Navy for secret reconnaissance of the wreckage of two Navy nuclear powered attack submarines, the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher, which sank in the 1960s, and not for Titanic. Back in 1982, Ballard approached the Navy about his new deep sea underwater robot craft, the Argo, and his search for Titanic. The Navy was not interested in financing the search for the large ocean liner. However, they were interested in finding out what happened to their missing submarines and ultimately concluded that Argo was their best chance to do so. The Navy agreed it would finance Ballard's Titanic search only if he first searched for and investigated the two sunken submarines, and found out the state of their nuclear reactors after being submerged for such a long time, and whether their radioactivity was impacting the environment. Ballard was placed on temporary active duty in the Navy, in charge of finding and investigating the wrecks. After the two missions were completed, time and funding permitting, Ballard was free to use resources to hunt for Titanic.
After their missions for the Navy, Knorr arrived on site on August 22, 1985, and deployed Argo. When they searched for the two submarines, Ballard and his team discovered that they had imploded from the immense pressure depth. That implosion littered thousands of pieces of debris all over the ocean floor. Following the submarines' large trail of debris led Ballard and his team directly to both of them and made it significantly easier for them to locate the submarines than if they were to search for the hulls directly. Ballard already knew that Titanic imploded from pressure depth as well, much the same way the two submarines did, and concluded that it too must have also left a scattered debris trail. Using that lesson, Ballard and his team had Argo sweep back and forth across the ocean floor looking for Titanic's debris trail. Ballard's team took shifts monitoring the video feed from Argo as it searched the monotonous ocean floor two miles below.
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1985, observers noted anomalies on the otherwise smooth ocean floor. At first, it was pockmarks, like small craters from impacts. Eventually debris was sighted as the rest of the team was awakened. Finally, a boiler was sighted, and soon after that, the hull itself was found.
Ballard's team made a general search of the vessel's exterior, noting its condition. Most significantly they confirmed that Titanic had in fact split in two, and that the stern was in far worse shape than the rest of the ship. Ballard's team did not have much time to explore, as others were waiting to take Knorr on other scientific pursuits, but his fame was now assured. Ballard originally planned to keep the exact location a secret to prevent anyone from claiming prizes from the wreck. He considered the site a cemetery, and refused to desecrate it by removing artifacts from the wreck.
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