On a cold April night in 1912, the magnificent new liner R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg and sank beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The following day the words 'TITANIC LOST' shocked the world. Seventy-three years later, on September 1, 1985, the headline would proclaim 'TITANIC FOUND' as explorer Dr. Robert Ballard and his team found this mighty legend in its watery grave 12,000 feet down.
A descendant of Wichita gunfighter Bat Masterson, Ballard was born in Wichita, Kansas, where his grandfather, a U.S. Marshal, was killed in a gunfight - explaining why he sometimes refers to himself as a high-tech cowboy.
He is a graduate of the University of California with a degree in geology and chemistry and with a Commission in Army Intelligence. Later his Commission was transferred to the U.S. Navy, where he remains a Commander in the Naval Reserve. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii's Graduate School of Oceanography, and received his Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island.
He is presently president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut, professor of Oceanography at the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, a scientist emeritus in the Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, member of the Presidential commission on Ocean policy and founder of the JASON Foundation for Education.
During his long career, Ballard has led or participated in over 110 deep-sea expeditions and logged more hours in the deep than any other marine scientist in the world. Beginning in the early 1970's, Ballard undertook a series of increasingly daring expeditions to places on the ocean bottom that had never been seen by human eyes. These expeditions included: the first manned exploration of the Mid-Ocean Ridge, the discovery of warm water springs and their exotic animal communities in the Galapagos Rift, and the first discovery of high temperature 'black smokers' and important mineral deposits. Insight, which has helped to understand the early origins of life on our planet and the possibility of finding life elsewhere within our solar system.
Interestingly, these significant contributions to science, while heralded by the scientific community were not widely recognized by the general public because their significance was not fully understood. However, the public did fully understand, appreciate, and respond enthusiastically to his discovery of the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic - much to the surprise of the scientific community.
The story goes that it all started with a cryptic message from Ballard's research vessel to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The message simply stated 'Tell the director that we found the ship'. It was Labor Day weekend in 1985 and the director was relaxing with his family. So with typical Woods Hole nonchalance, the guard who took the message decided not to disturb the director, who eventually learned of the discovery by reading the London Observer.
But the word was out and quickly spread and the discovery of the Titanic became front-page news in newspapers around the world. And it remained on the front page for two weeks - until Ballard and his crew aboard the research vessel returned to Woods Hole. Upon his arrival, he found the research dock jammed with press and the parking lot filled with satellite dishes. For the next two days Ballard's infectious grin was seen by millions beneath his blue Woods Hole baseball cap. After years of dangerous and significant expeditions, the world finally knew Bob Ballard.
As one reporter stated: "Bob Ballard has become a spokesman for the oceans, and science couldn't have selected a better person. Enthusiastic, visionary, and a self-proclaimed ham, he can catch and keep the public's attention the way no other ocean scientist has been able to do before."
His book about his Titanic discovery was number 1 on The New York Times best seller list as well as #1 on The London Times list and his television special with National Geographic is still the highest rated in history of cable television for a documentary film. National Geographic then asked Ballard to host their weekly program Explorer for the next two years.
Since finding the Titanic, Ballard has gone to discover the German Battleship Bismarck which also earned him a #1 best seller for The New York Times and London Times and #2 for television specials for National Geographic. In fact, National Geographic presented him with their highest award, the Hubbard Medal, whose previous recipients include Charles Lindbergh and Neil Armstrong.
His discoveries of the Titanic and his exploration of the Lusitania, Britannic and Andrea Doria have lead recently to a beautifully illustrated book entitled Lost Liners.
In his book, The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration, Ballard combines science, history, spectacular illustrations and first-hand stories from his own expeditions in a uniquely personal account of how twentieth-century explorers have pushed back the frontiers of technology to take us into the midst of a world we could once only guess at.
Ballard's latest books are Archaeological Oceanography and Titanic: The Last Great Images.
But now Ballard's interests have turned to ancient lost history beneath the sea including his discovery of the largest concentration of ancient Roman ships ever found in the deep sea.
As you can imagine, his list of honors and awards is incredibly lengthy and impressive including the Explorer's Club prestigious Explorer's Medal, and more recently he was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Bush in 2003. He is author of 16 books and over 50 scientific articles and publications. In fact, at any given time, one could describe Ballard as one or more of the following: oceanographer, explorer, author, lecturer, television host, hero, leader, ham, romanticist, little boy in a baseball cap, hard-driven professional, laid back beach lover, scientist of rare distinction and perhaps most of all an educator and role model for young explorers of the future.