Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard, an acclaimed deep-sea explorer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence is launching cutting-edge technology – a series of autonomous underwater vehicles that will remodel the search for more than three million shipwrecks that lie scattered across ocean floors, as estimated by Unesco.
According to the United Nations, around 3 million shipwrecks, a few of them even millennia-old — are distributed across the oceans around the planet. “The sea is the largest museum in the world,” says Dr Bob Ballard. Each wreck is like a time capsule offering an insight into the past civilizations, glimpses of their lives on board, hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
Titanic discoverer Bob is particularly excited by the latest technology as it is far cheaper to operate. It consists of a mobile system that can go on smaller ships or work from the shore, costing a few thousand pounds a day, rather than tens of thousands. It can travel to the deepest depths (which is not possible as a diver) and stay down for days on end and save a lot of time.
With the help of these deep-sea robots (that have their own intelligence), the field of marine archaeology is going to get revolutionized to a great extent. “We’re going to be finding them (shipwrecks) like crazy. It’s going to be a rapid discovery because of this technology. New chapters of human history are to be read” said Titanic discoverer Bob.
Bob does happen to know a thing or two about shipwrecks for he’s the man behind the discovery of the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985. But that’s just half the story as it was revealed that the Titanic search was an undercover narrative for a then-classified US Navy mission to trace two nuclear subs that got lost in the 1960s.
For a very long time, Ballard had dreamed of exploring the wreck of the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage back in 1912. He finally got the opportunity to pursue it in 1985 during a top-secret navy assignment to explore sunken nuclear subs.
The 1997 movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead roles dramatized but recaptured the tragedy in all its essence. It also covered bits of the exploration that led to the discovery of the remains. Titanic discoverer Bob says that he and the Oscar-winning director, James Cameron are “very good friends”. On the sets of the Titanic movie, referring to the Titanic, he said, “I knew what the old lady looks like in her grave, James showed me the young beautiful lady that sailed from Southampton.”
When asked if he would have found it sooner with this latest technology, Titanic discoverer Bob said: “Oh God, yes.”
He is among the coveted group of marine archaeologists, geophysicists, and scientists associated with a new “Dive & Dig” podcast series, presented by historian Bettany Hughes. The series is funded by the Honor Frost Foundation. Bob also worked as a consultant on Steven Spielberg-produced sea exploration series ‘seaQuest DSV’, starring Roy Schneider. Seaquest had a distinct Star Trek feel, but with an underwater setting deviating from the outer space feel. “It was a lot of fun working with Spielberg. Our job was to stretch reality, not break it,” Titanic discoverer Bob recalls.
He is a renowned American marine geologist and deep-sea explorer who discovered the remarkable Titanic, as well as the German battleship Bismarck in the Atlantic and many other impressive historic sunken vessels all around the world. Other all-time ‘greatest hits’ of Titanic discoverer Bob include the discovery of the hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos island and the remains of John F Kennedy’s WWII patrol boat PT-109 in the Solomon Sea. He even set out on the search for Amelia Earhart’s aeroplane, among many others.
Many of Ballard’s fascinating maritime adventures have been revisited in the just-out Nat Geo documentary called ‘Bob Ballard: An Explorer’s Life’. Although a one-hour documentary hardly scratches the tip of the iceberg of the remarkable career he has had over the years, it certainly offers a peek into his rich life and feats. His memoir ‘Into the Deep: A Memoir from the Man Who Found Titanic’ is going to be published by National Geographic this month.
In the book, he writes about his passion for ocean exploration that was inspired by Nemo, the fictional captain of the submarine Nautilus in Jules Verne’s classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He watched Disney’s screen adaptation of the same at the tender age of 12. “It blew my mind … I wanted to be Captain Nemo. I wanted to walk on the ocean floor” he recalls.
Through his memoir, An Explorer’s Life, Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard says his mission is to rekindle everyone’s curiosity in Mother Nature. “I’m hoping to continue pouring fuel on everyone’s pilot light, so it doesn’t go out. The ocean is going to play a critical part in our survival because we will not be able to feed the planet in 2050,” Ballard warns us. “Then we’ll have to turn to the sea where we are literally clear-cutting the life in the ocean”. Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard just turned 79 and he is on his 158th expedition to conduct a scientific exploration of the deep sea in the Pacific.