The Seafaring Life Of ‘Modern-Day Captain Nemo,’ Robert Ballard

29:33 minutes

the bow of a sunken ship covered in crustaceans and corrosion
The wreckage of the RMS Titanic, which was first discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985. Credit: NOAA/IFE/URI

In 1985, oceanographer Robert Ballard was sent on a secret deep-sea search operative with a very specific mission: to seek two sunken nuclear submarines. Ballard, who by then had explored the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and helped design deep-sea research submersibles, was assigned by the U.S. Navy to investigate and take images of the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion. But locating these two wreckages wouldn’t bring him to fame—instead, it was another watery grave he would find along the way. After he located the two subs, Ballard had time left in the mission to satiate a hunt he had begun nearly a decade prior: He discovered the R.M.S. Titanicwhich sank into the North Atlantic 110 years ago.

While the Titanic might be his most publicized finding, the famed marine archaeologist has adventured beneath the waves on more than 150 expeditions that have broadened our understanding of the oceans and the planet. “We think there’s probably more history in the deep sea than all of the museums of the world combined—and we’re only now opening those doors to those museums,” he says. Ballard has recorded the activity of hydrothermal vents, the ecology of hot springs on the ocean floor, and the diversity of incredible marine creatures.

In excerpts from two conversations in the Science Friday archives (originally recorded in 2000 and 2009), Ballard describes the 1985 expedition in which he discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He also discusses the value of combining the efforts of oceanographers, engineers, and social scientists to study the world’s deep oceans. Plus, Ballard elaborates on his belief that some undersea finds should be left preserved and protected, and his work in expanding access to ocean research via telepresence and computer links

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Segment Guests

Robert Ballard

Robert Ballard is a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large and a Professor of Oceanography in the Center for Ocean Exploration at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. And I can’t think of a better way to recall the tragedy than to resurrect a conversation with the man who found the ocean liner in its final resting place, Robert Ballard. His team located the wreck back in 1985. And I’m going to play a conversation with him from the year 2000 about the discovery and some of his other amazing underwater finds.

Looking at underwater explorer Dr. Robert Ballard’s resume, it seems hard to believe that it’s all the work of just one person. He trained dolphins, discovered sunken Nazi warships, discovered giant worms in volcanoes called black smokers at the bottom of the ocean, he’s explored places as diverse as the Mediterranean Sea, Lake Ontario, the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea, and the Galapagos. And through his JASON Project, he has virtually taken hundreds of thousands of kids with him on his fantastic adventures via computer.

But most people will think of Bob Ballard by one thing. They’ll know him as the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic. And this hour, we’re going to be talking with Bob Ballard. Robert Ballard is the director of the Institute for Exploration at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, and a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. He’s also the author with Will Hively of The Eternal Darkness– A Personal History of Deep Sea Exploration, published by Princeton University Press. And he joins us today from Providence, Rhode Island. Thank you for being with us, Dr. Ballard.

ROBERT BALLARD: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve listened to you so often. It’s nice to be at this end of the game.

IRA FLATOW: Very kind of to say so. So many questions, so little time. Let me get to some of the questions that everybody’s been asking over the years. And that is, and I read it in your book, that in searching for Titanic, you said that you’ve always been interested in searching for underwater ships, and especially the Titanic.

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, I became fascinated, actually, in human history when the US Navy asked me to survey the Thresher and the Scorpion. Up until that time, everything I had explored was natural history, volcanoes and life forms, like I just talked about. But when I came upon the wreck of the Thresher and the Scorpion, even though it was sad, because as a Naval officer, I was in the Navy during those two tragic sinkings, I was fascinated by the state of preservation of many of the objects.

And certainly when we went on to find the Titanic, again, finding her bow upright on the bottom, I can remember landing on the bow of the deck up there and reading off the bollards and the capstans the manufacturer’s name. And as we explored the promenade seeing a little brass sign said “First Class Entrance.” And that was amazing.

And, as you know, went on to find the German battleship Bismarck. And that was very chilling, to come up over that ship at 16,000 feet and see this swastika still painted on the deck of the ship. So I went on several years of exploring contemporary history beneath the sea.

IRA FLATOW: What I find fascinating about the Titanic especially was that you basically were doing a– exploring the Thresher for the Navy. And then you had extra time left on your mission. You had 11 days left on the use of the equipment. And you said, let’s go find the Titanic with it. Is that basically right?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, pretty god darned close.

IRA FLATOW: You had a collaboration with the French. You had a French team that was helping you at the same time.

ROBERT BALLARD: That’s right.

IRA FLATOW: But you basically were piggybacking on a Navy exploration project.

ROBERT BALLARD: Exactly right. In those days, you couldn’t say, well, you know what I want to do is I want to go out and find the Titanic. Everyone thought you were loony. And you had to be more serious, quote unquote.

But I had this passion. And I wanted to demonstrate that our new robots that we were building the ARGO/JASON system was going to revolutionize undersea exploration. And it seemed to me a good way of demonstrating that to the public, was to go after something the public would find interesting.

But the Navy were the sponsor of it. And so I said to the Navy, I said, look, I’ll be more than glad to do what you want me to do. In fact, you can have all sorts of Naval officers out there with me. But when I’m done, can I have the extra time?

And they said, well, if you can finish your job and our guys will sign off on it, then yes, you can use the other remaining time. Just don’t lose anything, were the instructions. And don’t spend any more money than we’ve already given you.

And those were pretty much my marching orders, sort of sail in the interest of the queen. And I like those kinds of marching orders. And that led to the discovery of the Titanic.

IRA FLATOW: And basically, you came up with a problem. I see it through the book and you wrestled it with yourself over the years, is whether it’s better to explore with a submersible, like the Alvin, that you pioneered and spent hundreds of– or to use a robotic little what you call an eyeball on a tether, whether to have a robot go instead. And you’ve now arrived at the conclusion it’s better now. We’re done with the age of the manned deep sea underwater exploration vessel.

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, many people will argue with me. But I feel, I’ve spent 40 years doing it. And I’ve done it both ways. And I’m confident robotic technology is not only equal, but superior.

Now, the reason I think it’s superior, you have to realize that unlike Neil Armstrong, when he landed on the moon on the LEM, he got to get out. He got to get out and walk around. When you go down beneath the sea, you don’t to get out. So you’re not really down there. I mean, you’re having to look through a window and you’re having to operate manipulators. Your hands aren’t out there.

So if you could move the window– and that was the whole strategy, simply move the window. Remember that the average depth of the ocean is 12,000 feet down. It takes you two and a half hours in Alvin to get down to 12,000 feet. And then it takes you two and a half hours to get home at night. So at a minimum you have a five-hour commute.

The average bottom time of Alvin over its history has been 3.8 hours, 3.8 hours with a pilot, and generally a novice, and one scientist. With the robotic technology, you can put it down and leave it down and operate around the clock, 24 hours a day. You can use satellites to network people in, as we do with the JASON project, where we bring hundreds of thousands of children down to the bottom of the ocean at the speed of light with this technology.

Also, you can have as many cameras as you want. And now that we’re moving into high-definition cameras, and we’re building a new robot. We’re going to test it Monday. It’s called Little Hercules. And it’s going to be a system we’re using with National Geographic this summer in the Black Sea. And that vehicle will by the end of the year be a high-definition vehicle. And I venture to say that the new vehicles will just be breathtaking to use.

IRA FLATOW: And what are you going to be searching for in the Black Sea?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, we have two missions. National Geographic wants me to do two things there. There was a wonderful book that came out by two of my colleagues at Columbia University. It was at Lamont-Doherty. Bill Ryan and Walter Pittman, who are two marine geologists, earth scientists, wrote a book called Noah’s Flood.

And in that book, they postulated that a great cataclysmic flood occurred about the time of the legend of Noah and at about the right place, the Black Sea. Last summer, we went in to see if there was evidence of a Great Flood. And sure enough, we found the ancient shoreline that they postulated would be found if you went 550 feet underwater in the Black Sea.

We found it. We went along that ancient fossilized beach. And on the beach were shells. We picked up the shells. We had them analyzed.

We were told that we had two collections of shells. We had a collection of saltwater shells, which is no surprise. The Black Sea is saltwater. And its closest relatives were in the Mediterranean, which is no surprise, because they’re connected by way of the Bosphorus.

It was the second collection of shells that were really fascinating. They were freshwater shells. And they were extinct. And when we had the carbon-14 age dates done on them, we found that the Black Sea, if you go back into time, was a saltwater ocean until it abruptly converts back to what it used to be 7,000 BP, before present, or about 5,000 BC. It used to be a freshwater lake.

And so there was a cataclysmic change. This summer we’re going in to go along that ancient shoreline, move inland a little, and see if we can find evidence of human habitation, of the people that were living there before the flood happened. That’s our primary mission.

Our secondary mission, although I must say they’re both interesting to me, is the Black Sea is the only major body of water that has no oxygen on the bottom. 7,000 feet down to the bottom of the Black Sea, when you get down there, there’s no oxygen. And as a result, you don’t have wood-boring organisms. Now, one of the problems I’ve encountered as I’ve moved from contemporary history to archaeological history and ancient history, I’ve been finding ancient ships. My first expedition found the largest concentration of Roman ships ever discovered in the ocean. And last summer I found two Phoenician ships from the time of Homer.

But in the case of all these ships, because they were made of wood, wood borers had found them and eaten the exposed wood portions of the ships, which is all the fascinating upper part of the ship. In the Black Sea, however, there shouldn’t be any wood borers. And if that’s true, we should find the most preserved ships of antiquity ever discovered in the deep sea there.

IRA FLATOW: And have you moved into the ship discovery phase back again?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, I’ve become convinced that the ocean, the deep ocean has more history in it than all the museums of the world combined. I venture to say there’s close to a million ancient ships in the deep sea. Think about it, a million time capsules.

Every chapter of human history is probably in the bottom of the deep sea. And we’re just now looking for those chapters of history. And I think you’re going to find over the next decade or two tremendous discoveries about our ancient history.

IRA FLATOW: What about going back to Antarctica for the famous Ernest Shackleton ship? Are you going to do that?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, that is really, to me, a technological challenge. If you look at my expeditions, some of them I do because the subject matter in itself is intrinsically fascinating, whether it’s for scientific purposes, historical purposes, or archaeological purposes. But the Shackleton, as you know, I don’t know, I’m sure a lot of the viewers know the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team aboard the Endurance. They were going to make the first ocean-to-ocean through the South Pole crossing. This was in the early 1900s, just before World War II broke– World War I broke out.

And their ship, a wooden ship, bound for the Antarctic landmass, on its way it entered what’s an ocean called the Weddell Sea. And as they were just about to get to the surface where they could offload and begin their trek, they got locked up in the ice. And their ship then drifted for more than a year in a big clockwise rotation around the Weddell Sea.

And halfway around that rotation, the ship was crushed and sank in 9,000 feet of water. They watched it sink. They say her stern rose into the air and then she slid beneath the waves, much like ships sink. So we know that she’s probably intact. But it’s where she’s at that’s challenging.

IRA FLATOW: That conversation with oceanographer and undersea archaeologist Robert Ballard was recorded back in 2000. Oh, by the way, that wreck of the Endurance, they finally found it this year. After the break, we’ll leap ahead to 2009 for more conversation with Bob Ballard. Stay with us.

This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Continuing a conversation with oceanographer and undersea archaeologist Robert Ballard recorded in July of 2009, where he talks about his disappointment with the looting of the wreck of the Titanic.

I know how you feel about the Titanic and I’ve been seeing more exhibits about things being brought up and shown around the country. And that does upset you, doesn’t it?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, for a number of reasons. One, it’s the primary motivation of this is making money. So, I mean, this is not being done for a research program. They’re down there to make money. And we’ve had these kinds of people since they built the pyramids. So this is something that society’s dealt with for a long, long time.

My saddest moment was when I went into the pyramids of Egypt and everything was gone, or to go to the– I think the Elgin marbles should be back in Athens. That’s where they belong, or the Rosetta Stone. And so it’s sort of like taking belt buckles off the Arizona. I think that that’s just something you don’t do. You don’t go to Gettysburg with a shovel.

I think there are certain sites– I’m not saying you preserve everything, but certain sites that deserve to be preserved. And now with the technology of telepresence, we can take you there. We did with National Geographic a few years ago. We did a live broadcast from the deck of the Titanic. And someday you’re going to actually wire the Titanic, and it’s going to be a place you visit electronically, because telepresence technology that we’re pioneering is really the beginning of electronic travel.

You’re going to have in your home, certainly within the next 10 years, a room, and we used to call it the den, and when you turn on the room, the walls will come on. And you’ll sit– it’s probably spherical, so it isn’t square like walls. But you’ll be in a spherical room. And you’ll rent a robot from Hertz. And you’ll go for a drive in the Serengeti and spend the afternoon driving around. And it’ll be very inexpensive compared to flying to the Serengeti.

What’s really neat about these installation of remote cameras, we’ve been doing it in the national marine sanctuaries, particularly in Monterey, we went in and installed underwater cameras on cables so they could ride through the sanctuary. And what we found was when we were installing the cameras, everyone ran away. But as soon as we left, all the creatures came back out, went up and poked their noses into the cameras. And we were able to see things that divers wouldn’t see.

And this is something you can do at Yellowstone Park. You can go and wire up Yellowstone. They’ve already got the ring road in there. And you’ll be able to see creatures that would normally run away, like the packs of wolves.

So telepresence is really going to change our lives. We’re going to do more and more from home. I think what’s wonderful about telepresence, because it’s impacting on my personal life, is it’s reinventing the family. You’re able to spend much, much more time at home.

Even in my business of exploration, I’m spending now more time at home than any time in my life. And I’m exploring more than any time in my life. So it’s really a plus plus.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to Dave in Tallahassee. Hi, Dave.

DAVE: Hello. Dr. Ballard, you worked with my mother on the Black Sea shipwreck. Her name is Dr. Cheryl Ward.

ROBERT BALLARD: Oh, of course. Yes, I did.

DAVE: We’ve met a couple of times, too. I just wanted to say it’s a lot of your work. And her work that inspired me to be a mechanical engineer. I went to Johns Hopkins, where I worked with Louis Whitcomb.

ROBERT BALLARD: Yeah, a neat guy. He worked a lot with us at Woods Hole when I was there years ago.

DAVE: Well, what I was wondering was, sort of the inspiration that you gave to me, I was wondering if you had any ideas where you could get more of the public involved in Maritime exploration and things like that, because it seems like it’s a hush-hush topic in the world.

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, what’s really neat about this new Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island is that we now, thanks to National Geographic and funding from NOAA and the state of Rhode Island, we’re building a complete television production studio. And with that, we’re able to then broadcast live our discoveries to schools and organizations all across the country. We have two programs, as you know, the JASON Project, which is a distant learning program for middle school kids at National Geographic.

And then we also have another one at the Sea Research Foundation called Immersion Presents. And we do a lot of informal broadcasting to kids at risk and Boys and Girls Clubs and museums and aquariums all across the country. And so through exploration, we want to use the excitement of exploration and discovery to motivate young people, particularly kids in middle school, because that’s where the battle for a scientist and engineer is won or lost, to get them turned on by exploration and then maybe turned on to take those extra classes that are maybe a little tougher than the other ones.

IRA FLATOW: Thanks, Dave, for calling. Have a good weekend.

DAVE: Thanks a lot, Ira.

IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome. In your early career, you were doing all these scientific pursuits down. You would go down to the hydrothermal vents, the underwater earthquakes in the seamounts. And then in the ’80s you began searching for sunken ships. What made you decide to shift gears at that time?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, in many professions, you progress up the chain of command. I, for example, was a Naval officer for 30 years. And you start out as an ensign and you move up the ranks and everyone wants to be an admiral someday. And I actually refused promotion above a commander because I knew that if you got above a commander, you got out of the battle. I mean, I wanted to stay in the game.

And in academia, I always stayed within the research game. I didn’t want to become a chairman of a department or a dean, because then, again, you leave the battlefield. And so I’ve always tried to stay in the game. But I wanted to be energized by it.

And I tried to reinvent myself about every 10 or 15 years, to take on a whole new genre so that I would be excited by it and motivated by something new, but still stay in the field of exploration. And, fortunately, when I went to University of California at Santa Barbara, I had a quadruple major in math, physics, chemistry, and geology. So I have a broad-based background. And I feel comfortable in a lot of different things. And I certainly feel comfortable working with engineers.

And most recently, I’ve begun working with social scientists because I always actually loved history as a kid, thinking my passion for history would be just something that would fall by the wayside as I went into physical sciences and got my doctorate in oceanography. But through this reinvention and through the creation of this new field, which is a very exciting new endeavor, archaeological oceanography, which is taking oceanographers, engineers, and social scientists and going into the deep oceans, where we think there’s probably more history in the deep sea than all the museums of the world combined. And we’re only now opening those doors to those museums. And so that’s very exciting. And that’s why I changed my course just to stay alive and young.

IRA FLATOW: Would it be possible to actually find fossils that may be millions of years old buried underwater?

ROBERT BALLARD: Oh yeah, oh, definitely. In fact, the issue you have to deal with is at depth below about 3,000 feet, you pass below what’s called the calcium carbonate compensation depth. And the water in the deep sea is undersaturated in calcium carbonate, which is mostly what bones are made of. For example, on the Titanic and on the Bismarck those ships are below the calcium carbonate compensation depth. So once the critters eat their flesh and expose the bones, the bones dissolve.

Now, in the Black Sea, because there’s no critters to eat, the bones should not be exposed. So you should have perfectly mummified fossils. You should actually have perfectly mummified ancient mariners in the Black Sea. And we expect someday, as we’re excavating these ships, to actually come across crew members who will look like they’re asleep.

We’ve seen, for example, dolphins down there that have died a natural death. And they’re on the bottom and they look like they’re asleep. And so they’re not only fossilized, they’re perfectly preserved.

Now, to get a fossil, though, you’re talking about millions and millions of years. I actually have a meeting coming up next week with Paul Sereno, who’s another Explorer in Residence for the National Geographic Society. And he’s interested in me finding completely fossilized dinosaur bones that were lost on a ship.

And there they’re not calcium carbonate. There they’ve been replaced in most cases by silica. And silica will be preserved. So yes, you should be able to find fossils that are no longer calcium carbonate-based fossils, but silica-based fossils.

IRA FLATOW: I was at a meeting recently of archaeologists, people actually studying hominids. And there’s one scientist who was talking about his theory, and this has been, this theory has been around for a while, that some hominids may have made their way, apes may have made their way to live on the seashore of Africa, in Eastern Africa. And the problem is you can never find the fossils of these people or these now people.

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, if they’ve been truly fossilized, where you’ve replaced the calcium carbonate with silica, for example, then yes, the fossils should be there. And, in fact, if you go down off of Miami, and I’ve been diving down there. There’s a place called Miami Terrace.

And there everything has been fossilized by phosphates. And you can find fossils down there. And we have. So we have found fossils under the ocean.

IRA FLATOW: Do you think of yourself as a modern-day Captain Nemo?

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, I hope so. I mean, that was my dream as a little kid. And it’s been my driving engine for years and years. 20,000 Leagues, as you remember, was not down to the bottom of the ocean. It was driving along the bottom of the ocean in a submarine looking out of that big window. And that’s what I’m doing. So I think I might have pulled it off.

IRA FLATOW: When did you first– how young were you? When did you first discover that this was your career, this is what you wanted?

ROBERT BALLARD: Oh, very early. When I grew up in San Diego, I was a little kid and I lived by the ocean. And that was my play yard. And back, then the parents simply said, get home before it’s dark.

And I would spend the day in the tidal pool. So I had to learn the tides. And I remember the movie Robinson Crusoe. And I wanted to see those footprints of Friday in the sand. So I just began extremely early.

And then I got a big break when I was in high school. In fact, it was 50 years ago this month I went on my first oceanographic expedition at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I had a scholarship there by the National Science Foundation.

And we went out. And we got in a huge storm. We got hit by a rogue wave. And we got rescued by the Coast Guard. And I was 17, and so too young to realize I was supposed to die.

And it was just an incredible experience. And I became hooked on going out to sea on expeditions. And in the 50 years since, I’ve done about 125, 130. And we’re getting ready to do it again next month when we head into the Black Sea and the Mediterranean on our own ship, the first time I’ve ever had in my own ship. And guess what its name is? Naturally, we’ve named it the Nautilus.

IRA FLATOW: This conversation was recorded in July of 2009. You’re listening to Science Friday from WNYC Studios. So where do you go now immediately, Bob? What’s your next–

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, right now–

IRA FLATOW: You have the boat. You have a boat going out. You have two boats. You have one with the Nautilus. You have another one going to the Pacific.

ROBERT BALLARD: That’s right. Well, I’m taking, in fact, in the studio here, I’m looking at him right now, is my son, Benjamin. And he’s 15 years old. And he’s been waiting and waiting and waiting. And I told him when he could first talk, and he said, Dad, I want to go on one of your expeditions. And I said, Ben, you can’t till you’re 15.

Well, he’s 15. And so he’s going to be a JASON Argonaut on our expedition. And he’s going on the Nautilus with me in August on her maiden voyage out of the Bosphorus, into the Sea of Marmara, and down to Gallipoli. So that’s my next expedition.

We’ll be in the Aegean. And then we’re going to end it up in the Black Sea. So I’m right now getting ready to go to Block Island. So we always go there as a family. And we love to live off the sea.

And so we’re going to do a lot of fishing and clamming and just enjoy New England. Finally the sun actually comes out once in a while this year. June was the most dreary June I’ve ever seen in my life.

IRA FLATOW: I know, I live in Connecticut. So I’m right next door. Just in the couple of minutes I have left, tell me, what’s it like to have to be your own salesperson, right? You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve spent your whole life having to sell your ideas and then get them.

ROBERT BALLARD: Yeah, but then you get to live them. I think that comes with the turf. If you really want to be free, you’re going to be alone. I mean, freedom is, most people say they want to be free. But real freedom is you wake up and it’s a blank sheet of paper. And most people would like to have it written.

And I love the freedom. I love dreaming up things. And fortunately I have great sponsors, like National Geographic, like the Navy, like NOAA, who bet on my horse over the years. And I just enjoy doing things that have never been done before. I enjoy the freedom of an explorer, to literally go where no one has gone before.

I’m confident that the Nautilus and the Okeanos Explorer are going to make incredible discoveries. How can we fail? Most of my really important discoveries were done by accident. The discovery of hydrothermal vents, black smokers, et cetera, all were found while looking for something else.

And when I think about how many wonderful discoveries we’ve made and then realize how little real estate we made them in, the potential for discovery on our planet is amazing. What’s hard is to convince sponsors. See, most sponsors want to know what you’re going to discover and when. Well, those aren’t sponsors I talk to very much because they don’t understand.

I can’t tell you what I’m going to discover or when I’m going to discover it. But I can show you an incredible track record of making discoveries. And if you’ll just bet on our horse, I’ll bet you we’re going to make discoveries. And so that’s what we’re up. The next year to me is going to be the year of ocean discovery, because we finally actually have ships that are dedicated the process of exploring.

IRA FLATOW: Mhm. You don’t have to borrow someone else’s ship. You don’t have to beg, borrow, and steal.

ROBERT BALLARD: Nope, we’ve got our own now.

IRA FLATOW: You have the resources.

ROBERT BALLARD: We have the resources. And Congress has been very generous in this last go around. The House and Senate were extremely generous in increasing, we hope– we have to go through conference between the House and Senate. And then President Obama has to sign it.

But I think we have a group of people now in charge that actually get it. They understand the importance of science. And they understand the importance of exploration. And so I’m very optimistic, because I believe many of our discoveries are going to have commercial impact upon our country.

There’s vast resources that have yet to be discovered. The Easter Bunny didn’t put them just on the land part. There’s vast resources to be discovered, living and nonliving resources, pharmaceuticals. On the list goes. So I’m confident that this process of discovery that we’re just beginning will not only lead to great scientific discoveries and motivate kids to want to be explorers, but actually impact on the economy of our country.

IRA FLATOW: Well, we wish great luck to you, Robert Ballard.


IRA FLATOW: And we hope that we can be part of your discoveries. You’ll come back and talk to us when you discover something new.

ROBERT BALLARD: Well, stay tuned. This game has just begun. My best stuff is in front of me, not behind me.

IRA FLATOW: The best is yet to come. All right, thank you very much. Bob Ballard is president of the Institute for Exploration and Explorer in Residence for the National Geographic Society, also director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.

ROBERT BALLARD: Thank you, sir.

IRA FLATOW: Good luck to you. That conversation with Robert Ballard recorded in July of 2009.

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