Tuesday, November 22, 2005

 

For Titanic explorer, technology and awe go together

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The Virginian-Pilot
By Lauren Roth
November 19, 2005

NORFOLK — When Robert D. Ballard led an expedition to find the remains of the Titanic in 1985, museum displays, movies and soundtracks were far from his mind.

“I wasn’t driven by a need to find the Titanic. I was driven by a need to demonstrate our technology,” said Ballard, whose ocean-floor discoveries and technological advances have ushered in a new era of deep-sea archaeology.

Ballard was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the Maritime Heritage Education Conference , held at Nauticus . Most of his audience members were education specialists from national parks, museums or governments.

Ballard has focused his career on creating and using technology to explore the bottom of the sea.

He has led more than 125 undersea expeditions, exploring shipwrecks including the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown, the battleship Bismarck, Phoenician ships and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 .

But for the past 16 years, Ballard also has been capitalizing on children’s fascination with his deep-sea work to get middle-schoolers interested in science.

His Jason Project , named after the mythical explorer who sought the golden fleece with the Argonauts, includes an annual expedition students can experience through video feeds and the Internet. Based in Ashland , the Jason Project has worked with 1.5 million students and 20,000 teachers since 1989 .

In February, Hampton Roads students took part in the Disappearing Wetlands curriculum, which explored how levees and barrier islands affect marshes in the Louisiana Bayou .

Nauticus hosted students from Norfolk and Newport News public schools and Norfolk Academy, who watched the broadcast in the auditorium . Nauticus plans to invite students and teachers to participate in 2007’s expedition, which will focus on oceans.

Ballard said he tries to create “jaw drop” moments of awe through technology. One example is self-guided tours of underwater protected areas called marine sanctuaries. He also has helped students tag along on deep-sea visits via video feeds.

Those possibilities intrigued 8-year-old Ben Smith, a second-grader at Kingston Elementary School in Virginia Beach. One of a few members of the public in the audience, Ben said he has considered the Titanic one of his favorite things for half his life.

Ballard, a former commander in the Naval Reserve , called on the United States to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea . The 1982 document would provide an international constitution for the oceans. Ballard said almost all shipwrecks would be protected.

Ballard also has been a vocal part of the debate over salvaging the Titanic. He said during his speech the ship should be preserved, much like an old house.

“We should seriously be looking at conserving and preserving the Titanic,” he said. “We preserve things on land. It would be a piece of cake to clean and paint the Titanic .”


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