Explorers from the Edge: Robert Ballard

I love sunken ships and the sea and I have Robert Ballard to thank for that.

When I was a kid, my dad owned a video store. He loved movies, so it was a natural fit, and the fringe benefit of being a kid of a man who loves movies was that he would bring home loads of them. I had access to hundreds of films and documentaries, but the videos that really stuck with me (Other than Die Hard and Back to the Future) was a National Geographic box set of three sunken ships.

The box set had the Titanic, the Bismark, and the ships from Guadalcanal; all three expeditions were headed by Robert Ballard.

Seeing the stories of these ships fascinated me as a kid. Watching these three tapes over and over again made me want to learn more about the ocean. Robert Ballard was not only telling me the stories of these ships but showing me what it was like to invent something new and try it out. In order to find the Titanic, he developed Argo, an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) which was basically an underwater drone. Having this machine dragged along the bottom of the ocean lead to the iconic image of the Titanic’s bow creeping out of the shadows.

There’s been some build-up.

Think about that: This guy used telegraph messages from 1912 and logs from various ships in the area in order to find a possible area where the ship had sank (Roughly a few hundred miles wide). He then patrolled the area for weeks while pulling a camera mounted on what was essentially a Toypedo, and found one of the most storied wrecks in maritime history.

Best part, the Titanic wasn’t even the mission. The original mission was a secret from the U.S. Navy, and that was to find two sunken WWII nuclear submarines: The USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher. Meaning, finding the Titanic was a bonus.

That was and still is the coolest damn thing, to me anyway.

He made it his mission to preserve the wreak sites as he found them; but the only one he didn’t protect was the Titanic. An error he has gone on record as saying was a huge mistake.

As I grew up, I heard less and less from Ballard in my daily life. The videos I watched were pretty old and frankly no one was talking about Robert Ballard, but then again, no one was talking about the oceans either. These huge pools of water are important for life to even exist on our planet and today they are in danger of acidification.

Side note: I’m really pissed off that I can’t mention a fact remotely close to climate change without having to take a moment about whether or not that will alienate my audience. Guess what? Facts tell you things you don’t like sometimes. Question it, sure, but we’re past the “This new information must be questioned” point now. Also, you’re not a liberal idiot for thinking facts are correct; facts don’t care about politics, people do, and that’s why people are stupid.

Back to the subject: Another reason why we don’t hear about the oceans as much is because the topic isn’t sexy. Space is sexy, as many entertainment mediums have promoted the promise of having sex in space to audiences for decades now. Oceans are seen as horrific, pee filled places that want to murder you the first chance it gets; but you know what else will murder you? The cold, unfeelingly vacuum of space, but since zero G boning is a possibility, we look past that.

Thanks SyFy.

Robert Ballard hasn’t gone away. In fact, he’s done a TED talk where he highlights how NASA’s current budget (In 2008 dollars) could fund NOAA’s ocean research for a thousand years. He’s founded the Ocean Explorers Trust, a group dedicated to mapping the ocean floor around the U.S. in order to show that exploring the ocean is worth something (Meaning, rare minerals can be found on our planet rather than shooting a rocket into space and mining asteroids) because money gets people to care.

Side note: I love the idea of asteroid mining. Let’s make the space miners from Armageddon a reality; minus the death asteroid, of course.

The oceans are an important piece of our planet and we need more cool explorers and scientists showcasing how freaking cool it is. I wouldn’t have cared half as much about the sea if Ballard wasn’t there stoking the fires of my developing childhood brain. Between Ballard, Wyland, Jacques Cousteau, The Abyss (Which we still need a Blu Ray of!), and Lego Aquazone I wouldn’t have given a damn about the ocean.

Without scientists and fiction telling us to care about the sea, it will eventually die, and it will take us along with it.

Thought that ending was going to be fun, didn’t you?

Originally published at ironcladwords.com on February 23, 2017.




I write made-up fun and factual stories. Fighting sea monsters for donuts. Find the rest of my work at www.NickMazmanian.com.

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Nick Mazmanian

Nick Mazmanian

I write made-up fun and factual stories. Fighting sea monsters for donuts. Find the rest of my work at www.NickMazmanian.com.

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