Dr. Robert Ballard
Confident that "life shaking" discoveries are still to be made, Dr. Robert Ballard, presenting Mount Union's Schooler Lecture during the 2004 Spring Semester, spoke with the excitement of a curious child about the future of deep-sea exploration.
To open those doors, Ballard said, he wants to increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) budget from the less than the one-tenth of one percent of NASA's budget with which it is currently operating. "I am in favor of space exploration," Ballard said, "but we already have better pictures of Mars than we do of Earth."
He indicated he will recommend through the President's Commission for Ocean Policy, which is responsible for developing a comprehensive national review of ocean and coastal activities, that major undersea exploration begin. "We have not done a Lewis and Clark expedition," he said. "How can we think we've seen everything?"
He expects the current generation to continue turning assumptions on their heads. "The generation of explorers in classes now," he said, "will explore more of the Earth than all other generations combined."
Ballard believes this will happen through dramatic advances in technology. "We don't even have to [deep sea dive] now," he said, noting the development of fiber optics, high-definition television and Internet 2.
Internet 2, as he described, will allow people to travel electronically. Through the use of fiber optics, he can see the bottom of the ocean from his office in Connecticut. He said this program is superior to actual travel because when the explorers reach the bottom of the ocean, the only sense they have is vision, which would be virtually unlimited through the use of Internet 2. "We can't touch, can't smell, can't hear. So why bother?" Ballard asked.
The biggest response to one of his discoveries came from finding the Titanic, his 70th of 120 deep-sea expeditions. "We had discovered plate tectonics and new life systems, but I didn't receive one letter from a kid until I found a rusty old ship," Ballard said. He then received 16,000 letters.
The most common question he said he's been asked for the past 18 years is "How did you feel when you found the Titanic?" Ballard said they didn't find the sunken liner until the 57th day of a 60-day expedition. "We were down there the last few days and I thought we were going to fail."
Then, around 2 a.m., they found it. "It was explosive," he said, "until someone pointed out that the ship would have sunk in about 20 minutes." The ship sunk at 2:20 a.m.
The most moving experience he described from the discovery was the shoes of all of the victims. "The shoes were still there as though they were attached to a person," he said. To this day, Ballard has never taken anything from the site, but added two plaques - one asking that nobody take anything from the ship and another honoring the people who died.