Robert Ballard, an oceanographer who pioneered the science and adventure of deep-sea diving, is best known for his discovery of the Titanic wreckage in 1985. But what many don't know is that the famous North Atlantic expedition doubled as a government-classified reconnaissance. Before getting to the Titanic, the Navy assigned Ballard to find two nuclear-powered subs, the U.S.S. Scorpion and U.S.S. Thresher, which sank in the 1960s.
Ballard had wanted to keep the site of the Titanic a secret, fearing that others might attempt to pillage the wreckage in search of sunken treasure, a fear that later became true. He refused to take anything. He saw the underwater archaeology for what it was — a cemetery.
“Do you take belt buckles from the Arizona? Do you go to Gettysburg with a shovel?" he asked at the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences on the Eisenhower Campus. "There's nothing to be learned."
With more than 150 expeditions to his name, Ballard, who grew up in San Diego, now runs a graduate research program at University of Rhode Island and spoke Tuesday as part of the Rancho Mirage Speaker's Series. His speech and subsequent Q&A touched on some of his biggest finds, the threat to the human species posed by climate change — the Earth, he said, “will be very glad to get rid of us” — and the state of scientific education and funding, much of which comes from the federal government.
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