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Robert Ballard

Oceanographer. Born June 30, 1942, Wichita.

Robert Duane Ballard lived in Kansas only as a young boy. Born on June 30, 1942, in Wichita, his family soon moved to San Diego where Ballard became interested in the ocean, and what might lie under it. He often watched sea creatures trapped in rock pools as a child, and learned to scuba dive as teen so as to see more. He later attended the University of California and received degrees in chemistry and marine geology.

When the Vietnam war began Ballard was called to active duty by the Army, but requested transfer to the Navy so as to put his under water experience to use. The Navy placed him with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1967 where he aided in research on submersion. After exiting the Navy Ballard stayed with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. While there he worked on many important projects, such as Project Famous, which was one of the first to successfully field map under water.

While at WHOI Ballard began diving with the Boston Sea Rovers, one of the oldest diving clubs in the U.S. It was through this club that Ballard’s interest shifted from the ocean itself to the shipwrecks that lay within it. In 1973 Ballard began searching for the Titanic. Ballard was using a small submersible to do research. He realized that if he found the Titanic, it would bring funding to WHOI.

The search turned out to be long and arduous. His early research was done in submersibles, but Ballard quickly recognized the hazard and insensibility of this method. So in conjunction with the Navy, he created the Argo system. This system had robots attached to fiber optic cables, which could prowl the depths safely, while scientists watched real-time images safely from the ships above.

On September 1, 1985, this system allowed Ballard to get his first vision of the Titanic. The Argo system snapped numerous pictures of the Titanic, allowing the world to see this long lost “unsinkable” shipwreck. Not long after Ballard made the first manned excursions down to explore the wreck.

After he had located the Titanic, Ballard's fame grew, but, more importantly, he proved the value of the Argo system. He went on the use the system to discover other wrecks in the sea such as the Bismarck, sunk in World War II, and the passenger liner Lusitania, sunk by a German torpedo during World War I.

In 1989 Ballard founded the JASON Project, which was designed to bring the wonders of the natural world into the classroom for students around the world. Ballard has received numerous awards both for his contributions for science, as well as to humanity. Currently Ballard is President of the Institute for Exploration; Scientist Emeritus at Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution; and Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. He continues his research, now searching for history which the sea may be covering. Ballard is proud to claim his Kansas roots.

Entry: Ballard, Robert

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: April 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.