The man who found the Titanic is on a new quest

CNN  — 

In a career that’s spanned more than 60 years, Robert Ballard has conducted over 150 underwater expeditions and made countless significant scientific discoveries.

But the renowned oceanographer says he’s made peace with the fact that he will probably always be known as “the man who found Titanic.”

According to Ballard, his mother predicted he’d never be able to escape that “rusty old boat” when he called to tell her he’d located the famous shipwreck in 1985.

In his upcoming memoir, “Into The Deep,” Ballard recalls walking into the premiere of the 1997 movie “Titanic” with the film’s director James Cameron, who turned to him and said: “You go first. You found it.”

“Moms are always right,” he tells CNN Travel. “I’m sure my obituary is written ‘man who found the Titanic died today.’

“In many ways it’s sort of freed me up to dream other dreams. So I feel emancipated in many ways.”

And those “other dreams” are still evolving after decades of exploring the deep sea.

“When kids ask me ‘what’s your greatest discovery,’ I always tell them ‘it’s the one that I’m about to make,” he says.

Although Ballard accepts he’s unlikely to add another 100 expeditions to his tally, he plans to “keep knocking off a few” while he’s still able to.

Childhood dream realized

Oceanographer Robert Ballard celebrates the discovery of Titanic with photographer Emory Kristof in 1985.

He delves into his astonishing career in the memoir released later this month, and also opens up about some of the most defining moments in his personal life, including the tragic death of his son.

“I turn 79 in June. This was just the perfect time [to tell my story,]” he says of the book, which was written with the help of New York Times investigative journalist Christopher Drew.

“And we had the pandemic, I wasn’t going to sea. I had a lot of time on my hands.”

Ballard’s fascination with the ocean began at an early age. By the time he was 12, he’d decided he wanted to be Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” when he grew up.

“That was the seminal moment when I decided I wanted to be not only an oceanographer, but a naval officer,” he says.

“Something which I’ve never really talked about a lot is that I’m dyslexic, and that I learn differently. I didn’t read ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,’ I watched the movie produced by Disney.”

Ballard went on to gain degrees in both chemistry and geology and a Master’s in geophysics from the University of Hawaii.

After being called for military action in 1965, he transferred to the US Navy and assigned to the Deep Submergence Group at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where he helped to develop Alvin, a three-person submersible with a mechanical arm.

He spent much of the seventies exploring the ocean in Alvin, reaching 2,750 meters to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, as well as joining an expedition that uncovered thermal vents in the Galapagos Rift.