Bob Ballard

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"If you plan it out, and it seems logical to you, then you can do it. I discovered the power of a plan."

Robert Ballard was born in Kansas, but grew up in San Diego, California, where a childhood fascination with tidal pools and marine life led him to study marine geology. In 1962, when he was only 19 years old, his father, a missile scientist at North American Aviation, helped him get a job at the aerospace company's Ocean Systems Group. The company was competing for a contract to build a three-man deep-ocean submersible. In later years, Ballard was to spend much if his career in such a vessel, known as ALVIN. Young Ballard earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry and geology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. While at Santa Barbara he participated in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and earned an army commission. When he was called to active duty during the Vietnam War, he requested a transfer to the Navy, to make better use of his training as a marine geologist. The Navy assigned the young geologist to Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Institute in Massachusetts, where he continued his work in deep submergence. After leaving the Navy, he returned to Woods Hole as a research fellow. He earned a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics in 1974 and went to work at Woods Hole as a full-time marine scientist. His first major expedition, Project Famous, was the first to perform successful field mapping underwater. For more than a decade he spent four months a year at sea, logging countless hours underwater, exploring the uncharted mountain ranges of the ocean floor. Ballard and his team explored the undersea mountain range known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and descended 20,000 feet in the Cayman Trough. In these expeditions, Ballard discovered that the entire volume of the earth's oceans is, over a period of years, recycled through the earth's crust. This phenomenon explained the mineral composition of seawater for the first time. This stage of Ballard's career climaxed with the landmark discovery of thermal vents off the Galápagos Islands. Ballard and his crewmates were astounded to find an abundance of plant and animal life in the deep-sea warm springs. Plants found here synthesize food energy chemically, rather than from sunlight, through photosynthesis, as all other vegetation on land and sea does. This discovery has enormous implications for the possibility of life on other planets, as well as here on earth. Ballard was also among the first to see the "black smokers," submarine volcanoes in the Pacific Rise, whose emissions are hot enough to melt lead. Not satisfied with the possibilities of undersea research offered by the slow-moving submersible ALVIN, Ballard developed ANGUS (Acoustically Navigated Geological Underwater Survey), a submersible camera which could remain at the ocean floor for 12 to 14 hours, and take up to 16,000 photographs in a single lowering. In 1980, Ballard took a sabbatical from Woods Hole to teach at Stanford University in California. While there, he conceived a new automated system, for undersea exploration: a maneuverable, remote-controlled photographic robot which broadcasts live images to a remote monitor, where a large team of scientists can survey the ocean floor continuously and maneuver the remote camera. By now, Ballard had earned tenure at Woods Hole, where he had the opportunity to assemble a top-notch team to build such a system. But like all team leaders at Woods Hole, he was required to find his own funding for the project. Ballard took his proposal to the U.S. Navy, and received the go-ahead from Navy Secretary John Lehman in 1982. Ballard and his crew embarked on a mission that was to make headlines around the world. Ballard had resolved to find the sunken hulk of HMS Titanic, the supposedly "unsinkable" ocean liner which had sunk, with massive loss of life, after she struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage in 1912. Drawing on all of Ballard's accumulated expertise in undersea exploration, he and his crew located the wreck, more than two miles beneath the waves of the North Atlantic, on September 1, 1985. Ballard was then forced to wait an excruciating year for weather conditions favorable to a manned mission to view the wreck at close range. The next year, he and a two-man crew, in the ALVIN submersible, made the two and-a-half hour descent to the ocean floor to view the wreck at first-hand. Over the next few days, they descended again and again and, using the Jason Jr. remote camera, recorded eerie scenes of the ruined interior of the luxury liner. On subsequent expeditions, Ballard perfected the Argo-JASON system, using it to locate the German battleship Bismarck, sunk in World War II, and the passenger liner Lusitania, sunk by a German torpedo during World War I. in 2002, he located the wreck of John F. Kennedy's PT-109, the craft commanded by the future president in World War II. To date, he has conducted more than 120 undersea expeditions, pioneering the use of the latest in submarine technology to plunge ever deeper into the mysteries of the ocean. In 1989, Ballard founded the JASON Project to bring the wonders of the earth, air and sea to classrooms around the world. More than 1.7 million students have participated in JASON programs, learning about natural phenomena -- from volcanoes to storm systems – and viewing live transmissions from JASON robots as they explore the undersea world. Dr. Ballard has received numerous awards and honors for his discoveries, including the Lindbergh Award, the Explorers Medal and the Hubbard Medal of the National Geographic Society. In 2003, President George W. Bush presented him with the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal in a ceremony at the White House. Today, Robert Ballard is President of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut; Scientist Emeritus at Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution; and Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. In the last-named post, he is bringing his daring and ingenuity to bear on ancient mysteries, uncovering the history that has been lost for centuries beneath the waves.

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