Robert Ballard: 50 Years Exploring Deep Waters Deep-sea voyager Robert Ballard has discovered everything from 10-foot-tall tube worms to the Titanic on his ocean expeditions around the world. Ballard discusses his underwater finds and how new robotic technology allows scientists to explore the sea from ashore.
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Robert Ballard: 50 Years Exploring Deep Waters

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Robert Ballard: 50 Years Exploring Deep Waters

Robert Ballard: 50 Years Exploring Deep Waters

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You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow. My next guest, underwater explorer Robert Ballard. He has probably passed more time on the bottom of the ocean than most of us have probably spent swimming in it.

His work day, a typical work day, may include a two-and-a-half hour commute each way to the ocean bottom in a cramped submersible, but what he's found down there in five decades of exploration has changed the way we look at the oceans and our planet.

Think of the things that he has discovered. You know, he's discovered those hydrothermal vents, the super-heated hot springs on the ocean floor, the creatures living there that - they certainly rival any mariners' tales of monsters or mermaids.

You've got those 10 feet long tube worms, football-sized clams with blood red bodies. He's found all kinds of stuff down there, all in the darkness, where no one thought any living thing could survive.

But he's also made great scientific discoveries, as he has. He's also an underwater archaeologist, and in 1985, Dr. Ballard found the wreck of the Titanic, which is probably the thing he's most famous for, but probably not the biggest scientific advance that he's done.

He's also - soon after that he found a Nazi warship, and lately he's been doing other underwater excavations, looking for evidence of ancient civilizations underwater in the Americas, searching for Byzantine merchant ships in the Black Sea.

Where's he going next? What's left to find? What kind of new technology is he using? Well, for the rest of the hour we're going to be talking about those expeditions with our modern-day Captain Nemo.

Robert Ballard is president of the Institute for Exploration. He's explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic Society. He's also the director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and he joins us from Waterford, Connecticut. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Ballard.

Dr. ROBERT BALLARD (President, Institute for Exploration; Explorer-in-residence, National Geographic Society; Director, Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography, University of Rhode Island): Oh, it's a pleasure to be back. It's been a while.

FLATOW: I think I used up 40 minutes just saying what you've done.

Dr. BALLARD: Well, there's a lot left to be done, fortunately.

FLATOW: Do you think of yourself as like a modern-day Captain Nemo?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, I hope so. I mean, that was my dream as a little kid, and it's been my driving engine for years and years. "20,000 Leagues," as you remember, was not down to the bottom of the ocean, it was driving along the bottom of the ocean in a submarine, looking out of that big window, and that's what I'm doing. So I think I might have pulled it off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: When did you first - how young were you? When did you first discover that this was your career, this was what you wanted to do?

Dr. BALLARD: Oh, very early. When I grew up in San Diego, I was a little kid, and I lived by the ocean, and that was my play yard, and back then, the parents simply said, you know, get home before it's dark, and I would spend the day in the tidal pool. So I had to learn the tides, and I remember the movie "Robinson Crusoe," and I wanted to see those footprints of Friday in the sand.

So I just began extremely early, and then I got a big break when I was in high school. I got a - in fact, it was 50 years ago this month, and on my first oceanographic expedition at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I had a scholarship there with the - by the National Science Foundation, and we went out, and we got in a huge storm.

We got hit by a rogue wave, and we got rescued by the Coast Guard, and I was 17 and so, you know, too young to realize I was supposed to die, and it was just an incredible experience, and I became hooked on going out to sea on expeditions, and in the 50 years since, I've done about 125, 130, and we're getting ready to do it again next month when we head into the Black Sea in the Mediterranean on our own ship, the first time I've ever had my own ship, and guess what its name is? Naturally, we've named it the Nautilus.

FLATOW: Wow, are we going to see a TV series on cable with you in it?

Dr. BALLARD: Absolutely. National Geographic Television and National Geographic Channel are producing, and it's going to take us about two-and-a-half years to produce a series called "Oceanus," and it's going to be about exploration of the world's oceans, it's…

FLATOW: Whoop, did we lose you? I think we lost Dr. Ballard. We'll get him back. 1-800-989-8255 was our number. We'll get him back on the phone or on our magical lines that…

Dr. BALLARD: …on planet Earth.

FLATOW: Without a beat. Can you hear me, Dr. Ballard, okay?

Dr. BALLARD: I certainly can.

FLATOW: Okay, that's good. Tell us about that - tell us about this adventure that you're about to go on. What are you going to be looking for? What's it involve?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, these two ships will both be going on their maiden voyage this year, the Okeanos in the Pacific Ocean, and the Nautilus will be in the Aegean, and then my favorite spot right now is the Black Sea, and what's really wonderful about these ships is because they're going where no one has gone before, and we don't know what we're going to find, we've had to come up with a whole new paradigm that we call telepresence, a way of bringing experts to the scene of a discovery minutes after it's taken place, and so for the last 28 years, actually it was 28 years ago, we published this dream in National Geographic magazine.

FLATOW: We have a copy right here, actually.

Dr. BALLARD: Absolutely.

FLATOW: We do. We have it right here.

Dr. BALLARD: Yeah, December, 1981 issue, and the idea behind that is that you have these ships out exploring, but they're connected by high bandwidth satellite from the bottom of the ocean to a new center. It's a new building. We just dedicated it at the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI. It's called the Inner Space Center, and it's sort of like Houston is to outer space, we have for inner space, and we are operating our vehicle 24 hours a day, and what they see is being beamed back to this Inner Space Center.

And then from there, using this new, wonderful Internet2, this new high-bandwidth Internet that's sweeping the country right now, we're connecting all of the oceanographic institutions to the Inner Space Center so that we can actually bring a scientist aboard the ship, take him down to the bottom of the ocean in a matter of seconds.

CONAN: So you've named this inner space as opposed to outer space, right?

Dr. BALLARD: Absolutely. It is inner space. It's the largest living volume on the planet. It's the world's oceans.

CONAN: Is that a challenge to NASA? Are you poking them a little bit?

Dr. BALLARD: Absolutely. I mean, I love NASA. My father was an aerospace engineer and worked for North American Aviation. They built the Apollo spaceships, and so I was brought up on the space program, but I love outer space, and I love the fact they're studying the heavens, and I hope to go there someday, but right now I'm on Earth. And I want to know about the planet that I'm living on, and we have better maps of Mars than our own planet. So I'm interested in exploring Earth.

CONAN: So when you have - let's talk about this telepresence. So if somebody finds something, and it goes back to the hub, can you wake somebody up, say hey look, we found something, you know?

Dr. BALLARD: That's the idea. We're going to run it sort of like the way a hospital runs the emergency room. You know, a hospital has no idea what an ambulance is going to bring in Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m., so they have what's called the doctors on call.

They have physicians that can respond to a hospital within 20 minutes if they're needed. So we're setting up this 20 minute response by connecting the oceanographic institutions, which can move at the speed of light through the Internet2. We're building remote consoles so that we can literally call someone up. Imagine, call them up 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, wake them up. They'll be very angry at that moment, but then we'll tell them we made a discovery and that they're on call, and they won't be angry.

Imagine they're laying in bed. They'll take their laptop. They'll pop it open. They're naturally wireless in their homes, and we will then patch the phone to the pilot who's navigating this underwater vehicle in 20,000 feet of water thousands of miles away, and they'll talk to the pilot and take over the con and then make a decision.

They'll decide, you know, if they - if we discovered something that wasn't that important. You know, they'll say take an aspirin and call me in the morning, but if it's really important, they'll jump out of bed, they'll get in their car, and they have to be within 20 minutes of one of these remote consoles, and while they're in their car they're going to be calling their friends and their graduate students, because they need to take over the ship for the next couple days.

So they'll need five or six other scientists, and then they'll all run to their consoles, and they'll all be patched in, and then they'll all take over. It's really cool.

FLATOW: And so what area will you be looking at, and what will you be looking for?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, in the Pacific, we had a big get-together at National Geographic - who have been really helpful in all of this. We had a workshop, working with NOAA, and we brought in experts that have passion for the Pacific.

About 40 different groups of scientists submitted white papers and said, you know, if you're ever in the Pacific, and you want to discover something, go here, and so we got this map of the Pacific, and it's got boxes all over it, and then what we're going to do is we're going to move around from box to box, but then we're going to wander along the way.

We call it the box-and-stick strategy. I think most of the exciting discoveries will be done between boxes, as we're navigating our way from A to B, and so we have that plan. They're now developing a schedule for the Okeanos, and it'll begin really in earnest in May. Most of what's going on right now are sea trials.

FLATOW: But the Pacific is a big spot.

Dr. BALLARD: A third of the Earth.

FLATOW: Well, so which part of the Pacific do you look in?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, they're in Seattle right now, and they're going to work their way across. They're going to work their way to the Indian Ocean, I mean, to the - excuse me. They're going to start in Seattle. They're going to work towards the Hawaiian Islands. They're going to explore that entire seamount chain. Then they're going to end up - by May of next year they'll be in Indonesia, in the Western regions of the Pacific, and then they'll work their way back. While they're doing that, our ship the Nautilus, will start its campaign actually next month. We're doing a program for National Geographic on the Battle of Gallipoli in the Dardanelles and then we're going to come down the Sea of Marmara. It's a very fascinating body of water. If you know your geography, if you up though the Aegean and you go though the Dardanelles and that's where the Helspont is, where the Persian armies crossed on their way to battle the Greeks. This is also where the Germans and the Turks fought the British in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. BALLARD: And there's all sorts of warships that were sunk there. And there's a particular British submarine they'd like us to find called E-20(ph) and it's in the Sea of Marmara, which is a sea between the Aegean and the Black Sea. And it's anoxic like the Black Sea and it's also the same body of water that Jason and the Argonauts traversed in search for the Golden Fleece. So, we know that it's had maritime trade for thousands and thousands of years and we hope to find perfectly preserved ancient shipwrecks while we're looking for this U-20 submarine. So, that's the first mission.

Then we're going to come down the Aegean coast to an area called Yalikavak Bodrum in the eastern Aegean. And we last year found several ships from the time of Imperial Rome. We're going to be going back and imaging those and continuing our search. And then we're going to double back up through the Bosphorus and go into the Black Sea in early September, working with the Ukrainian Academy of Science. We're working off of the Crimea, which is - there used to be ancient Greek colonies there. One in particular called (unintelligible). And just off of that ancient Greek colony the bottom of the ocean plunges down to 6000 feet.

And the water there is poisonous, it's completely anoxic. It's the largest reservoir of hydrogen sulfide on Earth and there we expect to find the most perfectly preserved ancient shipwrecks in the world.

FLATOW: Because there's no oxygen there.

Dr. BALLARD: Exactly. There's no one to eat anything. In fact, we have already found a beautifully preserved Byzantine shipwreck on the other side of the Black Sea, off the Turkish coast at a place called Sinope. And we found in 15,000 feet of water, we came in with our robots and there was a ship's mast with rigging on it. And we dropped down 40 feet and there was this ancient ship perfectly preserved.

FLATOW: Do you raise these ships, go and bring these up?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, it has been done. I mean, certainly in typical marine archeological programs they try to recover everything. That's not our strategy. Our strategy is actually to build underwater museums in place. And about - not only around the ship off Turkey but we also found a Byzantine shipwreck off the Crimea and we're building underwater museums. And the reason for that is very simple. A lot of these ships had a lot of the same thing. They're sort of bulk carriers, like stopping a truck on the I-95 and it's got a thousand of these things and a thousand of those things. We really don't want all of that stuff.

We just need a representative sample. So, what we're doing is we're actually storing everything down there because it's happy down there. It's equilibrated and we don't want to go through the expensive process of conservation and preservation. And then have to take care of these objects for in perpetuity, which is a long time. As…

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I get it.

Dr. BALLARD: As Yogi Berra would say. So…

FLATOW: Let me just remind everybody that this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow talking with Bob Ballard about his explorations. So, you leave this stuff down there. You know - I know how you feel about the Titanic and I've been seeing more exhibits about things being brought up and shown around the country.

Dr. BALLARD: Right.

FLATOW: And that does upset you, doesn't it?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, for a number of reasons. One, it's - the primary motivation of this is making money. So, I mean this is not being done for, you know, for like a research program. They're down there to make money. And we've had these kinds of people since they built the pyramids. So, this is something that society has dealt with for a long, long time. My saddest moment was when I went into the pyramids of Egypt and everything was gone. Already go to the - I think the Belgium marble should be back in Athens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. BALLARD: That's where they belong or the Rosetta Stone. And so, it's sort of like taking belt buckles off the Arizona. I think that that's just something you don't do, it's - you don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel. I think there are certain sites, I'm not saying you preserve everything, but certain sites that deserve to be preserved. And now with the technology of Telepresence, we can take you there. We did, with National Geographic a few years ago, we did a live broadcast from the deck of the Titanic.

And what - some day you're going to actually wire the Titanic and it's going to be a place you visit electronically. Because Telepresence technology that we're sort of pioneering is really the beginning of electronic travel. You're going to have in your home certainly within the next 10 years a room, and we used to call it the den, and when you turn on the room the walls will come on. And you'll sit, probably spherical, so it isn't square-like walls but you'll be in a spherical room and you'll rent a robot from Hertz and you'll go for a drive in the Serengeti and spend the afternoon driving around.

And it'll be very inexpensive compared to flying to the Serengeti. What's really neat about these installation of remote cameras, we've been doing it in the National Marine Sanctuaries, particularly Monterrey. We went in and installed underwater cameras on cables so they could ride through the sanctuary. And what we found was when we were installing the cameras, everyone ran away. But as soon as we left, all the creatures came back out, went up and poked their noses into the cameras.

And we were able to see things that drivers wouldn't see. And, you know, this is something you can do in Yellowstone Park. You can, you know, go wire up Yellowstone. They've already got the ring rode in there. And you'll be able to see creatures that would normally run away like the packs of wolves. So, Telepresence is really going to change our lives. We're going to do more and more from home. I think what's wonderful about Telepresence, because it's impacting on my personal life, is it's reinventing the family. You're able to spend much, much more time at home. Even in my business of exploration, I'm spending now more time at home than anytime in my life. And I'm exploring more than anytime in my life. So, it's a really a plus, plus.

FLATOW: Talking with Robert Ballard about his explorations, about Telepresence. We have to take a short break, we'll come back, take more of your questions. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Also, you can Tweet us. We like your Tweets at SciFri, @scifri. Send in those questions. We'll be finishing up the hour with Dr. Ballard. So, stay with us. We'll be right back.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about exploring the depths of our oceans and the seas with my guest Robert Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration. He is explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic Society and director of the -Center for Ocean Exploration and Archeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Dave(ph) in Tallahassee. Hi Dave.

DAVE (Caller): Hello.

FLATOW: Hi there.

DAVE: Dr. Ballard you worked with my mother on the Black Sea shipwreck. The surname is Dr. Sheryl Ward(ph).

DR. BALLARD: Oh of course, yes I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVE: We've met a couple of times, too. I just wanted to say it's a lot of your work and her work that inspired me to be a mechanical engineer. I went to Johns Hopkins where I worked with Louis Whitcomb.

Mr. BALLARD: Yeah, a neat guy. He worked a lot with us at Woods Hole when I was there years ago.

DAVE: Well, what I was wondering was, sort of the inspiration that you gave to me, I was wondering if you have any ideas where you could, you know, get more of the public involved in maritime exploration and things like that. Because it seems like it's sort of a hush-hush topic in the world.

Mr. BALLARD: Well, what's really neat about this new inner space center at the University of Rhode Island is that we now, thanks to National Geographic and funding from NOAA and the state of Rhode Island, we're building a complete television production studio. And with that we're able to then broadcast live our discoveries to schools and organizations all across the country. We have two programs, as you know, the Jason Project, which is a distant learning program for middle school kids at National Geographic. And then we also have another one at the Sea Research Foundation called Immersion Presents.

And we do a lot of informal broadcasting to kids at risk, boys and girls clubs and museums and aquariums all across the country. And so, through exploration we want to use the excitement of exploration and discovery to motivate young people, particularly kids in middle school, because that's where the battle for a scientist and an engineer is won or lost, to get them turned on by exploration and then maybe turned on to take those extra classes that are maybe a little tougher than the other ones.

FLATOW: Thanks Dave, for calling. Have a good weekend.

DAVE: Thanks a lot, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. In your early career, you were doing all these scientific pursuits - you would go down to the hydrothermal vents, the underwater earthquakes and the sea mounts. And then in the '80s, you began searching for sunken ships. What made you decide to shift gears at that time?

Mr. BALLARD: Well, you know, in many professions you progress up the chain of command.


Mr. BALLARD: I, for example, was a naval officer for 30 years. And you start out as an Ensign and you move up the ranks. And everyone wants to be an Admiral someday. And I actually refused promotion above a Commander because I knew that if you got above a Commander, you got out of the battle. And…


Mr. BALLARD: I wanted to stay in the game.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. BALLARD: And in academia, I always stayed within the research game. I didn't want to become a chairman of a department or a dean because then again you leave the battlefield. And so, I've always try to stay in the game but I wanted to be energized by it. And I sort of tried to re-invent myself about every 10 or 15 years to take on a whole new genre so that I would be excited by it and motivated by something new but still stay in the field of exploration.

And fortunately, when I went to University of California at Santa Barbara I had a quadruple major in math, physics, chemistry and geology. So, I have a broad based background. And I feel comfortable in a lot of different things and I certainly feel comfortable working with engineers. And most recently I began working with social scientists because I always actually loved history as a kid.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BALLARD: …thinking that my passion for history would be just something that would, you know, fall by the way side as I went into the physical sciences and got my doctorate in oceanography. But through this re-invention and through the creation of this new field, which is very exciting new endeavor, archaeological oceanography, which is taking oceanographers, engineers and social scientists and going into the deep oceans where we think there's probably more history in the deep sea…


Mr. BALLARD: …than all the museums of the world combined. And we're only now opening those doors to those museums. And so, that's very exciting and that's why I changed my course…


Mr. BALLARD: …just stay alive and young.

FLATOW: Would it be possible to actually find fossils that may be millions of years old, buried under water?

Mr. BALLARD: Oh, definitely.


Mr. BALLARD: In fact, the issue you have to deal with is at depth below about 3000 feet, you pass below what's called the calcium carbonate compensation depth. And the water in the deep sea is under saturated in calcium carbonate, which is mostly, you know, what bones are made of. For example, on the Titanic and on the Bismarck, those ships are below the calcium carbonate compensation depth. So once the critters eat their flesh and expose the bones, the bones dissolve.

Now, in the Black Sea, because there's no critters to eat, the bones should not be exposed. So you should have perfectly mummified fossils. You should actually have perfectly mummified ancient mariners in the Black Sea. And we expect someday, as we're excavating these ships, to actually come across crewmembers who will look like they're asleep.

We've seen, for example, dolphins down there that have died a natural death and they're on the bottom, and they look like they're asleep. And so they're not only fossilized, they're perfectly preserved.

Now, a million - you know, to get a fossil, though, you know, you're talking about millions and millions of years. I actually have a meeting coming up next week with Paul Sereno, who's another explore-in-residence for the National Geographic Society. And he's interested in me finding completely fossilized dinosaur bones that were lost on a ship.

And there, they're not calcium carbonate. There, they've been replaced, in most cases, by silica. And silica will be preserved. So, yes, you should be able to find fossils that are no longer calcium carbonate-based fossils, but silica-based fossils.

FLATOW: I was at a meeting recently of archeologists, people actually studying hominids. And there's the one scientist that was talking about his theory, and this has been - this theory's around for a while, that some hominids may have made their way, apes may have made their way to live on the seashore of Africa, in Eastern Africa, and that we - you know, the problem is you can never find the fossils of these people or these - not people.

Dr. BALLARD: Well, if they've been truly fossilized…


Dr. BALLARD: …where you've replace the calcium carbonate with silica, for example, then yes, the fossil should be there.

And, in fact, if you go down off of Miami - and I've been diving down there. There's a place called Miami Terrace. And there, everything has been fossilized by phosphates. And you can find fossils down there, and we have. So we have found fossils under the ocean.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Jessica in Boston. Hi, Jessica.

JESSICA (Caller): Hi. How are you? Thank you for taking my call.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

JESSICA: Well, first, I want to thank you, Dr. Ballard, for all that you do. I think you've done a phenomenal work, and I've followed you for many years.

Dr. BALLARD: Well, thank you.

JESSICA: I have two daughters now, and I'm hoping that - to get them interested into, you know, oceanography as a whole. And I was wondering, I seem to remember you speaking about possibility of colonization of the ocean or doing some sort of floating something where people can be on the ocean. Is that something that I recalled or…

Dr. BALLARD: No, you're right. Because, as you know, 72 percent of the earth is oceans.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. BALLARD: And we only live on 18 percent of the planet, (unintelligible).


Dr. BALLARD: Because we don't live at the polar regions. We don't live in extreme desert regions. So if you really look at where people are living, that's a pretty small percentage of the planet. So naturally, the ocean is an obvious possibility, particularly as our population continues to rise, and particularly as sea level rises, we're going to have more of it underwater.

So what we're adopting is that - is called a spar buoy concept. In fact, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California built years ago, a boat called FLIP. And it's a really cool boat. And it was developed by the Office of Naval Research to do a acoustical work. And the reason for that is it looks like a big cigar, a big, long telephone pole. And then it's about 300-some-odd feet long. And it's towed out to sea, and then if floods tanks and it flips and it goes vertical.

And like an iceberg, most of it's underwater. But the part that's above water is very stable. And oceans cannot really excite it. As waves go by, you know, a big wave, a 30-foot wave, for example, would only make it move about three feet.

And, in fact, oil companies are now using that spar buoy concept for their offshore platforms. They've taken a bunch of these buoys and put them all together, and they built a platform out of them.

So it's very possible that we can build individual homes. I'd love to have a condominium that was offshore, and it's best on the West Coast, because you'd need about 300 feet of water for this to work.


Dr. BALLARD: And you need - West Coast, it goes deep fast. And I've always thought, since I grew up in California, that it would be wonderful to have one of these off of Catalina or off of Los Angeles, look back at the skylight, but then have the privacy. And then take these 300-foot-long houses and actually grow aquaculture on the side. You can do all sorts of thermal exchanges for air conditioning. You can rotate it systematically so it's always seen - solar panels are always seeing the sun.

One of these days, you know, when I get present project out of my hair and into the hands of the next generation, I would like in my final - my wife's not so sure if she wants to live on it. But I got her to agreed at least vacation on it once in a while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, Bob, you know, oceans are rising, right? I mean…

Dr. BALARD: Absolutely.

FLATOW: …we need to be ready for - have more kinds of ideas like this. Because even in the United States…

Dr. BALLARD: Well, you know…

FLATOW: …isn't the water - we're going to be rising over the next century?

Dr. BALLARD: Well, it's going to be rising for a long, long time because all the ice is actually going to melt, unfortunately. It's going to not melt. Everything is going to melt. And sea level's going to rise.

But even if it doesn't rise, there's just so much real estate that's inhabitable. And you, know, you can build these in such a way that, you know, your bedroom is underwater, like it's a giant aquarium underwater, and you can then be up on the top. And I like say, you can control it so you're always in the shade on one side.

It's - I've actually done designs. I did a program with Alan Alda on the "American Experience." And they actually - on PBS. And they actually created a beautiful model of my ship, and it's sort of cool. So if you want to learn more about it…

FLATOW: There you go.

Dr. BALLARD: …look up Alan Alda's program "American Experience."

FLATOW: I just want to interrupt with a little news bulletin from the NPR News desk.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced that she'll step down. She's resigning later this month, and she's handing all the reigns over to lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor - we'll hear more about that in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, following SCIENCE FRIDAY. So you'll want to stay tuned for that.

So where do you go now immediately, Bob? What's your next - you have the boat…

Dr. BALLARD: Well, right now?

FLATOW: …you have the boat going out, you have two boats. You have one that I'm near, with the Nautilus. You have the other one going to the Pacific?

Dr. BALLARD: That's right. Well, I'm taking - in fact, in the studio, here -I'm looking at him right now - is my son, Benjamin. And he's 15 years old. And he's been waiting and waiting and waiting. And I told him when he could first talk, and he said, dad, I want to go on one of your expeditions. And I said, Ben, you can't go till you're 15. Well, he's 15.

And so, he's going to be Jason Argonaut on our expedition. And he's going on a Nautilus with me in August on the maiden voyage out of the Bosporus into the Sea of Marmara and down to the Gallipoli. So that's my next expedition. We'll be in the Aegean, and then we're going to end it up in the Black Sea.

So I'm right now getting ready to go to Block Island so we can - we always go there as a family, and we love to live off the sea. And so we're going to do a lot of fishing and clamming and just enjoying New England. Finally, the sun actually comes out…


Dr. BALLARD: …once in a while this year. June was the most dreary June I've ever seen in my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I know. I mean, Connecticut's right next door. We're talking with - I'm talking with Bob Ballard this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

I know that - just in the couple of minutes I have left, tell me what's it like to have to be your own salesperson, right? You're an entrepreneur. You've spent your whole life…

Dr. BALLARD: Yeah.

FLATOW: …having to sell your ideas and then get them…

Dr. BALLARD: Yeah, but then you get to live them.


Dr. BALLARD: I think that comes with the turf. If you really want to be free, you're going to be alone. I mean, freedom is - most people said they want to be free, but real freedom is, you wake up and it's a blank sheet of paper. And most people would like to have it written.

And I love the freedom. I love dreaming up things. And fortunately, I have great sponsors like National Geographic, like the Navy, like NOAA, who bet on my horse over the years. And I just enjoy doing things that have never been done before. I enjoy the freedom of an explorer to literally go where no one has gone before. I'm confident that the Nautilus and the Okianis(ph) explorer are going to make incredible discoveries. How can we fail?

Most of my really important discoveries were done by accident. The discovery of hydrothermal vents, black smokers, et cetera, all were found while looking for something else. And when I think about how many wonderful discoveries we've made and then realized how little real estate we made them in, the potential for discovery on our planet is amazing. What's hard is to convince sponsors.

See, most sponsors want to know what you're going to discover and when. Well, those are sponsors I talked to very much because they don't understand. I can't tell you what I'm going to discover or when I'm going to discover it, but I can show you an incredible track record of making discoveries. And if you'll just bet on our horse, I'll bet you we're going to make discoveries. And so that's what we're off - the next year, to me, is going to be the year of ocean discovery because we finally, actually have ships that are dedicated to the process of exploring.

FLATOW: You don't have to borrow someone else's ship?

Dr. BALLARD: Nope. We got our own now.

FLATOW: Don't have to beg, borrow and steal. You have the resources.

Dr. BALLARD: We have the resources. And Congress has been very generous in this last go-around. The House and Senate were extremely generous in increasing - we hope. We have to go through conference between the House and Senate. And then President Obama has to sign it. But I think we have a group of people now in charge that actually get the - get it. They understand the importance of science and they understand the importance of exploration.

And so I'm very optimistic, because I believe many of our discoveries are going to have commercial impact upon our country. There's vast resources that have yet to be discovered. The Easter Bunny didn't put them just on the land part. There's vast resources to be discovered, living and non-living resources, pharmaceuticals, on the list goes.

So I'm confident that this process of discovery that we're just beginning will not only lead to great science and big discoveries and motivate kids to want to be explorers, but actually impact on the economy of our country.

FLATOW: Well, we wish great luck to you, Robert Ballard…

Dr. BALLARD: Thank you.

FLATOW: …in those - and we hope that we can be part of your discoveries, you'll come back and talk to us when you discover something new.

Dr. BALLARD: Well, stay tuned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. BALLARD: The game has just begun, 'cause my best stuff is in front of me, not behind me.

FLATOW: The best is yet to come. All right. Thank you very much. Bob Ballard is the president of the Institute for Exploration and explore-in-residence for the National Geographic Society, also director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. Happy holiday to you, Bob.

Dr. BALLARD: Thank you, sir.

FLATOW: Good luck to you.

That's about all the time we have for our program today.

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