Meet Undersea Explorer Robert Ballard
National Geographic: 5 Questions for Robert Ballard
Name: Dr. Robert D. Ballard
Place of Birth: Wichita, Kansas
Occupation: Undersea explorer/earth scientist and oceanographer
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be Captain Nemo and explore the world beneath the sea.
How did you get started in your field?
When I was 16 years old (50 years ago) I wrote a letter to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography telling them I wanted to be an oceanographer some day and asking them what I should do. They wrote back and told me about a summer scholarship given to juniors in high school, which I was, that I could apply for. I did and received the scholarship to spend the summer at Scripps. I was further selected from a group of about 20 or so kids to go to sea on research ships. During my second cruise that summer our ship was struck by a rogue wave that almost sank the ship. I was hooked for life.
What is a typical day like for you?
When I am at home I get up and do a power walk down to the river and back, which takes about 45 minutes. I enjoy watching the forest and wetlands change over the seasons and all of the wildlife that lives around us. While walking I think about what I am going to do. Either I stay at home all day or most of the morning to work in my office and look out across the wetlands to the river, go into my office at the Institute for Exploration in Mystic to meet with my staff and plan all of the things I have do over the next several weeks, or make plans for our visitor center, or drive to my office at the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography to meet with my graduate students and research colleagues to plan the exploration plan for our new ship of the exploration the E/V Nautilus. Or I am on the road raising money to support these worlds. And if I am really lucky, I am aboard the Nautilus doing what I really love—exploring.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to the ocean?
I am really dedicated to understanding the planet/creature on which we live and know that means I must go beneath the sea to see 72 percent of what is going on.
What has been your favorite experience in the field?
Working with a great team of scientists and engineers that are smarter than me but also dedicated to exploring the Earth like me and also interested in using the excitement of our explorations to capture the imagination of the next generation of explorers that are presently in middle school.
Do you have a hero?
Other than Captain Nemo I would have to say my father, who was an orphan and cowboy who overcame all sorts of obstacles to become the Chief Engineer of the Minuteman Missile Program, and my mother, who is now 93 years old and still taking care of my younger, 64-year-old sister.
If you could have people do one thing to help the ocean, what would it be?
I think the most important thing people can do to save our planet and the human race is to empower women! And that’s a long story!