One particular accomplishment will place him squarely back into the spotlight this month, when, on April 14, the world marks the 100th anniversary of the one of the most romanticized tragedies of all time, the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic – the remains of which Dr. Ballard discovered on Sept. 1, 1985, at 12:48 a.m., 12,450 feet below.
"It was a very difficult hunt," Ballard, 69, recently said, with great understatement, at the Explorers Club in Manhattan. What he also announced is a soon-to-open interactive exhibition slated for Connecticut's Mystic Aquarium, devoted to his search for the wreckage of the ill-fated, "unsinkable" ship.
"The exhibit will literally put yourself in my shoes," said Ballard, who unearthed notes he hadn't looked at in decades and which will be displayed once the exhibit opens on April 12, marking 100 years since the Titanic left Southampton, England, on her one and only voyage. The Mystic experience will also contain an iceberg encounter and video walls tracing both the sinking and Ballard's remarkable discovery.
Ballard is quick to point out that no artifacts from the ship will be included in the exhibit, as he views the Titanic as "a living artifact" and her final location a "sacred resting ground."
"The deep sea is the biggest museum on our planet, yet there is no lock on the door," he said.
Old Secrets RevealedWhile Ballard's full story of the discovery appeared in PEOPLE in 1998, around the time the movie Titanic swept the Oscars, new details have emerged since then.
Among them is Ballard's being secretly commissioned by the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1985 to search for the nuclear reactors and weapons systems on two nuclear submarines that had gone down in the '60s, one off Massachusetts and the other in the Azores. Those explorations ended up financing his search for the Titanic.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Ballard's later discoveries also included the wreckage of the German battleship Bismarck (which Ballard found in 1989), the luxury liner Lusitania (in 1993) and John Kennedy's WWII patrol-torpedo boat PT-109 (in 2002).
An Auction, TV Shows – and That MovieAlong with April's Mystic exhibit, Titanic commemorations all over the map are due to include the April 4 theatrical re-release – this time in 3D – of James Cameron's Titanic with Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet; an April 5 Smithsonian Channel special, Titanic's Final Mystery; and an April 11 Manhattan auction of 5,000 items recovered from the ship.
There also will be a two-week excursion to St. John's, Newfoundland, where the Titanic sank 350 miles offshore, as well as walking tours of Titanic sites, both in Belfast, Ireland, where the $7.5 million ship was built, and in Manhattan, where the 705 survivors of the ship's approximately 2,200 passengers were brought following their rescue (the last survivor died in 2009).
On April 14, ABC is debuting a four-part dramatic miniseries about the voyage and its passengers, written by Downton Abbey creator-writer Julian Fellowes. And for those curious to see if they had relatives aboard the vessel, Ancestry.com is offering a free link to its records collection from April 9 -15.
"There will be a lot of Titanic in the news," Ballard admits, "but what we have to tell is a very exciting story."