Navy’s Newest Ocean Explorer Honors Officer Who Found Titanic

December 21, 2022Carl Prine
On Dec. 21, 2022, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced that the next Pathfinder-class ocean exploring vessel would be named in honor of Robert D. Ballard, the famed discoverer of hydrothermal vents and the sunken ocean liner Titanic. US Navy photo.

On Dec. 21, 2022, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced that the next Pathfinder-class ocean exploring vessel would be named in honor of Robert D. Ballard, the famed discoverer of hydrothermal vents and the sunken ocean liner Titanic. US Navy photo.

The US Navy’s next oceanographic survey ship will honor the famed explorer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced Wednesday, Dec. 21, that the future Pathfinder-class vessel will be christened Robert Ballard.

A retired Navy commander, Ballard, 80, is a tenured professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

“Dr. Ballard’s career, explorations, research and focus on teaching the next generation of oceanographers is remarkable, and I am pleased to name T-AGS 67 in his honor,” said Del Toro in a prepared statement. “One of my enduring priorities is building a culture of warfighting excellence, and that includes lifelong learning amongst [Department of Navy] personnel. The name Robert Ballard displayed across the stern of this ship will serve as an inspiration to all who see it while highlighting the results of commitment to education and exploration.”

Del Toro also appointed Barbara Earle Ballard, the president of Odyssey Enterprises and the oceanographer’s spouse, as the ship’s sponsor.


Military Sealift Command's oceanographic survey ship Pathfinder at sea in 2004. US Navy photo.

In 1985, Ballard and his team deployed the underwater probe Argo roughly 12,000 feet below the North Atlantic to find the debris trail left by the ocean liner Titanic after it sank 73 years earlier. He returned the next year on board Atlantis II to fully detail the wreck.

“I am humbled to have the US Navy’s oceanographic ship, USNS Robert Ballard (T-AGS 67) as a namesake,” Ballard said in a prepared statement. “As a 17-year-old, in 1959, I went on my very first oceanographic cruise, and very early in my oceanographic career, the US Navy placed a central role and continues to do so to this day. It is indeed an honor to know that the USNS Robert Ballard will continue to explore the oceans long after I am gone.”

Ballard grew up in a Navy town, San Diego, but he started his military career in 1965 as a US Army Reserve officer.

Two years later, the Pentagon approved his request to transfer to the Navy as an active-duty officer.


Robert Ballard, a deep-sea explorer and underwater archaeologist best known for his discovery of the wreck of the liner Titanic, speaks at the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Virginia, on Feb. 226, 2009. US Navy photo by John F. Williams.

Posted as a liaison to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Ballard embarked on a lifelong quest to perfect deep-submerged exploratory vehicles, beginning with the Alvin project.

After becoming a US Navy reservist in 1970, he completed his doctorate in marine geology and geophysics at the University of Rhode Island.

He’s also credited with leading teams that discovered the World War II wrecks of the aircraft carrier Yorktown, the cruiser Quincy, and President John F. Kennedy’s PT-109.

Although it will be owned by the US Navy, the future Robert Ballard will be operated by Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office.

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Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

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