Robert Ballard: Titanic’s Titan

In this post, reprinted from the pages of the April 2011 National Geographic magazine, get a first-person view of life in the field from Explorer-in-Residence, Robert Ballard.

MISSION To explore and inspire discovery in the world’s oceans

I saw the search for the Titanic as a scientific challenge. But it was not until I actually discovered it—on September 1, 1985, at 1 a.m.—that it spoke to me in a way that surprised me. I’d entered a piece of history. I feel connected to it now, the memory of it, but I’m more tied to the people than to the ship: the people of Belfast who built it, those who lost their lives on it, and survivors like Eva Hart, a seven-year-old passenger who lost her father. She died at 91 as one of the oldest survivors. We became friends. “That’s my father’s grave,” she once told me. “Don’t disturb it.” And I agree. Why desecrate the site? Technology will let us explore it remotely someday. The Titanic is more than what people who bring up artifacts for display see. The place is just as important as an object from the place.

These days, my deep-sea work goes at a faster pace than ever. My ship of exploration, the E/V Nautilus, is giving us an unprecedented view of the oceans. We found 40 wrecks in the past two seasons alone. In the Black Sea we were finding one each day, including perfectly preserved wrecks from the Greek classical era. We’ve accelerated discovery. I haven’t a clue what else we’ll find—but that’s just it. I’ll discover whatever is there. We’ve seen one-tenth of one percent of what’s out there, and maybe I’ll find one percent. It’s a continuum, and Titanic was a step along the way. —Robert Ballard

To learn more about about where the next adventure lies, follow Bob’s ship, the E/V Nautilus on Twitter. Don’t forget to also check photos, videos and radio interviews on his NG Explorers Bio Page.

Changing Planet