TULALIP — Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the sunken wreckage of the Titanic in 1985, but rather than rest on his laurels he’s started programs designed to allow future generations to make far more significant discoveries after he’s gone, and he wants to give the kids at the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club a chance to count themselves among those explorers.
Ballard spoke to children and adults alike at the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday, April 17, about how their club’s Immersion and Tech Center will let them join him at the bottom of the ocean this summer, when he sends out a fleet of underwater robots to serve as their eyes and ears in environments that are deeply inhospitable to humans.
“We’re not designed for the oceans,” Ballard told the crowd of children in the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club gymnasium, as he compared the process to putting his mind into the body of a Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar. “I wanted to send my spirit out at the speed of light. By sending my own avatar down to the depths, other people can take over its operations when I go to bed, so I never have to bring it back up.”
Not only did Ballard proudly declare that he appreciates this remote technology because “I like being at home with my children on the beach,” but he boldly predicted that such high-speed communication will eventually allow most people to work from home, in his case while being able to teleconference with his researchers on the water 24 hours a day.
“With signals beaming off those ships in real time, you’ll see them here at the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club the exact same moment that I see them,” Ballard said. “God bless the Tulalip Tribes for investing in high-bandwidth Internet.”
Ballard made no attempt to conceal his goal of recruiting some young people from the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club to take part in his ships’ next voyage, and noted his progressive policies of not only maintaining a mandatory minimum of 55 percent women in positions of leadership and authority on his teams, but also deliberately diversifying the education levels of his team members.
“A football team has about 50 members, but only about three of them are quarterbacks, because you need people who can play all sorts of other positions,” Ballard said. “I see people with PhDs the same way. If I had a boat full of nothing but PhDs, it would run aground. I need an entire cornucopia of talent, and I want to brag about you guys to other people.”
When Ballard met with Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. and Vice Chair Deborah Parker, Ballard and Parker expressed similar sentiments about the spiritual nature of his explorations, with Parker pointing out Ballard’s decision to leave the remains of the Titanic in place.
“I’ll admit, there was that devil sitting on my shoulder when I found a safe in the Titanic, but ultimately I decided that would have been grave-robbing,” Ballard said. “You don’t go to Gettysburg with a shovel.”
Tulalip Resort Hotel and Casino President and COO Ken Kettler, who helped run Ballard’s audiovisual presentation to the children, received praise for the proceeds that made the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club’s Immersion and Tech Center possible.
“We have more children in school now than at any time in our nation’s history,” Ballard said. “Their generations will explore more of this Earth than all the previous generations. They’re not the mop-up crew, but the vanguards of history. One of my grandma’s sayings was that a great person plants a tree knowing he’ll never get to sit in its shade.”