GALVESTON — Hanging on a wall in the crew lounge of Robert Ballard’s ship, the E/V Nautilus, is a picture of its namesake — the fictional submarine commanded by Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

Ballard, 73, is the man who found the Titanic and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s sunken World War II torpedo boat — PT 109.  

Nemo was his hero, Ballard said Tuesday aboard the ship.

So it’s appropriate Ballard’s modern scientific exploration ship is named after Vernes’ classic one, and Ballard hopes his ship can provide inspiration like those old stories did of him.

“Our mission is to explore, and then we take the technology and what we do to turn on kids,” Ballard said.

The E/V Nautilus, a 209-foot research vessel, is docked at the port of Galveston. Earlier this week it completed a six-day voyage in the Gulf of Mexico, where it explored biologic, geologic and archaeological sites. 

For the past three years, Ballard and his crew has been exploring areas of the ocean within 200 miles of the U.S. coast. It’s the area a recent episode of the CBS TV news program “60 Minutes” called the “Unknown America.” 

The Nautilus’ expeditions have uncovered ship wrecks and discovered new forms of life.

But beyond that, the ship and crew have connected those explorations with classrooms around the world.

The ship has a state of the art studio on board. No matter where the ship is in the world, it can broadcast video recorded by robotic exploration vehicles.

That video is shown on the Nautilus’ website (nautiluslive.org). When a new discovery is made, the crew of Nautilus notifies on-land experts and immediately begins a webcast, allowing students and other interested people to watch the science happening in real time.

The ship takes part in other educational endeavors as well. Through a partnership with the energy company CITGO, teachers from around the country take a tour on the ship to work and learn from the crew as they explore the depths. When the ship returns to shore, students are invited to come on board for a tour, as they did this week in Galveston.

“We have a lot of people watching us that can enter a chat room,” Ballard said. “We can reach every kid in every community if they just plug and play.”

The most recent voyage included teachers from St. Charles, La., Corpus Christi and Chicago. 

The teachers took practical lessons from the ship’s experiments, about wave actions and robotic systems, but also found other inspirations they hoped to pass on to their students.

The need to work together as a large group in order to achieve goals was particularly enlightening, one teacher said.

“As a middle school teacher, teaching kids to work together in groups is difficult,” said Amanda Boudreaux, a physical science teacher and robotics club leader from Louisiana. “The collaboration, the communication and the teamwork that took place between all of them was impressive.”

The Nautilus will spend a few more days in Galveston before beginning a trip through the Panama Canal to the Galápagos Islands and, eventually, the coast of California.


Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

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