Dr. Robert Ballard discusses his expeditions to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean to investigate the wreckage of the RMS Titanic.
Discoverer of Titanic Wreckage on His Findings
PAT MITCHELL, anchor:
Oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard returned earlier this week after leading in the second expedition, 12,500 feet down to the ocean floor and the remains of the liner Titanic. As you can see, Dr. Ballard came back with some pretty spectacular pictures, thanks to a three-man submarine named Alvin, and a robot camera named Jason, Jr. The Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk on her maiden voyage in April of 1912, more than 15 hundred passengers lost their lives. Dr. Ballard joins us this morning on TODAY to share his experience with us. Welcome, Dr. Ballard. Not long ago you described the Titanic and this recovery process, this discovery process, as somewhat of an obsession with you. How are you feeling now?
ROBERT BALLARD (Oceanographer): Well, I’m glad it’s over with. I look forward to finishing the documentation of it and presenting it to the public. We’re doing a television program and a beautiful article with National Geographic, and once we get that done and really put it to rest then I’ll feel the project’s been put to rest.
MITCHELL: But you know, it’s obvious what you saw visually, and fortunately the rest of us will get to see all of that as well, but you said something about discovering the soul of that ship, what did you mean by that?
BALLARD: Well initially I looked at the Titanic as a challenge technologically, could one really go down to 12,500 feet, literally sit on the deck and then send a little R2-D2 robot down the staircase deep into the ship and get beautiful imagery. But in the process of preparing for that technological fleet, one really becomes captivated by the Titanic legend and so when you first got there and actually landed on the deck you really felt it.
MITCHELL: What were you feeling?
BALLARD: Well, it was just going back into time. Because up in the bow section it was like, people could still walk the deck, and you really felt this, it’s sort of like a ghost ship, if you will, and you know, prior to that it was very abstract, but when you looked out your windows and saw it, then it became very real.
MITCHELL: Were there any big surprises for you?
BALLARD: Well, the loss of the wood. I had really hoped that the beautiful-- the beauty of the Titanic was in its woodwork but all the little critters ate the wood, and so that was gone. But I was also surprised at how many of the artifacts were in beautiful condition, typical if they were crystal or porcelain or made out of brass or bronze or copper. They looked brand new.
MITCHELL: And unopened wine bottles, too, I understand.
BALLAR: Well, there were corks in them.
MITCHELL: Well, of course that always bring up the question, now, salvagers and oil man Jack Grimm is certainly threatening to go back on a salvage expedition.
BALLARD: Well we still haven’t divulged the location so one will still have to find it. And the second is, is that most of the artifacts are in the very dangerous part of the wreckage down in the stern area and the ship itself is buried itself into the bottom. You’re not going to pull the ship out. It’s just deeply buried. The bow is forty-some feet into the bottom, so, I’m-- it’s sort of protecting itself. I’m not really taking any of that serious.
MITCHELL: You’re very opposed to it, though?
BALLARD: Very much, yeah.
MITCHELL: And you don’t think it’s possible?
BALLARD: I don’t think you can raise it, you can certainly scavenge it, but let’s hope that someone doesn’t do that.
MITCHELL: Let’s do hope that. You left a plaque there yesterday.
BALLARD: Yeah, a very nice one, from the Titanic Historical Society, which commemorated the people that died and we went down with a submarine and when we located the stern section we set it right on the very after part of the stern section where most of the people really jumped to their death from that part of the ship so we felt that was the best place to put it.
MITCHELL: And speaking of danger, certainly you were encountering some danger being 12,500 feet under the ocean. Were there moments of fear for you and that three-man crew in that submarine?
BALLARD: Well actually, we made eleven dives, and I made nine of them and I was the most nervous when I wasn’t down there because I was afraid for the other people.
MITCHELL: But there was danger involved?
BALLARD: Yeah, there was danger.
MITCHELL: You also almost lost Jason, Jr. yesterday. He got entangled somehow.
BALLARD: Well better him than us. No, Jason made some very deep penetrations and in couple of cases, got its cable wrapped around some of the wreckage and had to come back and untie its own knot. But, we--
MITCHELL: Which you did successfully. And to add just one more moment to the legend of the Titanic, Jason, Jr. is called Jason, Jr. because there’s going to be a Jason senior?
BALLARD: Yeah, a much larger one with a dual manipulator. Jason, Jr. is sort of a swimming eyeball but the next one will be a much more sophisticated robot.
MITCHELL: Not for the Titanic but for future--
BALLARD: For basic exp--
MITCHELL: Explorations. Dr. Ballard, thank you very much for being with us.