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If you like Robert Ballard's story, you might also like:
Lee Berger,
James Cameron,
Tom Clancy,
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Edmund Hillary,
Donald Johanson,
Meave Leakey,
Richard Leakey,
William McRaven,
Kent Weeks and
Chuck Yeager

Robert Ballard's recommended reading: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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National Geographic
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Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard
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Robert Ballard Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Discoverer of the Titanic

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  Robert Ballard

You and your crew were the first people to see the Titanic for how many years after it hit that iceberg?

Robert Ballard Interview Photo
Robert Ballard: Well, the Titanic hit the iceberg April 14, 1912, at 11:40 P.M. It sank the next morning at 2:20 A.M., April 15. And we were there on, September 1, so it was over 73 years since it had vanished.

Did you feel at that point that history kind of struck you in the face?

Robert Ballard: Of course. You know, it's interesting, when you look back into time. In 1912, the very early moving picture cameras were around, but the world was black and white. When you think of the past, you think of it as if there was no color, and it sort of distances you from that. Black and white always sort of distances you. Even when we first found the Titanic in 1985, our cameras were black and white cameras. So it was still black and white. It wasn't until I saw it in color that it zoomed from the past to the present, like a lightning bolt, and there it was in today's reality.

The real thing that got me, when the goose bumps were having goose bumps, was after we fixed the submarine and came down on the second dive. That's when we made love. Because we came in on the bow and landed, and it was clunk, clunk. It was like Armstrong on the moon. And you took on the ten-degree list of the Titanic. It was listing to the starboard, and you listed. You just sat there. "We... are... on... the... deck of the Titanic. Oh my God!" And you just looked out the windows and just looked at it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Did the discovery of the Titanic change your life in any way?

Robert Ballard: Dramatically, in good ways and bad ways. Mostly good ways.

I had a chance to warm up to success. I had that ego thing that you go through of being on television and newspapers, and all of that sort of thing when the media has their meal with you. I had done that on a smaller scale. So, when this big thing came, I think I had a proper frame of mind about it. A lot of people who succeed, the ones that do it overnight, it can ruin them. But the ones that work at it for a long, long time, like some stars who get discovered after a 30-year career, they tend to handle it better than the people that are a star in their first movie. I'm thankful that I was prepared, as much as you could be, for something like that. It still was quite an experience, but I think I kept my feet on the ground through it all. You can't take it too seriously when the spotlight, to some degree arbitrarily, says "Now you are famous." You say, "Well I don't feel any different." The key is: don't act any different then.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Robert Ballard Interview Photo
It's one thing to climb to the top of the mountain, it's another thing to stay there. To stay there, you have to be pretty stable about it, and know what you are up against, and use it in a productive way. I think finding the Titanic has helped my career because people believe me when I say I have a new dream. Some people say "Why did you find the Bismarck?" To some degree, to prove it wasn't luck.

Was it anticlimactic, in a way, going for the Bismarck?

Robert Ballard: The Bismarck was more difficult technically, not anticlimactic. I didn't expect the Bismarck to be on the Richter scale of the Titanic, but it registered pretty strong. I think the television special we created on the Bismarck -- which won an Emmy for the best documentary -- was a better film. I think the book we did on the Bismarck was a better book. It was more difficult, but I accept the fact that it isn't the Titanic.

I don't want on my gravestone: "Bob Ballard, Discoverer of the Titanic." I want "Bob Ballard, Explorer." I've got many years to prove that point still left ahead of me. The Titanic is going to help me, but I don't want to stop right now.

Presumably the Bismarck helped you too, in some ways, didn't it?

The Bismarck helped with the momentum. It showed it wasn't luck. I am now embarked upon several major programs of that ilk, that are being funded by National Geographic. I can't wait to get started. I am looking into the future, not the past. I can't wait to get going in the next project.

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This page last revised on Oct 12, 2010 12:27 EDT
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