Author Topic: Dr. Robert Ballard blasts space exploration on "The Colbert Report"  (Read 9436 times)

Offline Ronsmytheiii

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http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/218488/february-10-2009/robert-ballard

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Robert Duane Ballard (born June 30, 1942 in Wichita, Kansas) is a former commander in the United States Navy and an oceanographer who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology. He is most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, and the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998. Most recently he discovered the wreck of John F. Kennedy's PT-109 in 2003 and visited the Solomon Islander natives who saved its crew.

I used to have allot of respect for him, however he seems to be extremely bitter about the amount of funding and attention that space exploration gets versus that of oceanic exploration.
« Last Edit: 02/11/2009 02:49 PM by Ronsmytheiii »

Offline Ronsmytheiii

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Decided to send him an email in protest:

Dear Dr. Robert D. Ballard:

Since my childhood I have enjoyed reading about your research/discoveries, and had grown to admire you as an academic.  However, I have to say that I was appalled by your comments about the negatives of NASA versus that of NOAA.  Indeed, NOAA is underfunded,  but that is a symptom of the general apathy that the Federal government has toward science. The solution is not to cannibalize the budget of another science agency, it is to raise awareness as well as funds for the entire science community.

On the "Colbert Report" you mentioned Martian exploration compared to oceanic exploration.  The truth is that both agencies are involved in planetary exploration and can benefit one another.  The recent launch of the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft, the upcoming launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to monitor carbon dioxide, as well as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System both represent joint systems that benefit both NASA and NOAA.

I do not want to go on a rant, but merely point out that both agencies benefit tremendously from one another.  Exploration should not involve fighting over funding, rather it should be cooperating to expand the sphere of human knowledge and improving civilization whether it be from space, the ocean, or both.

Offline dhanners

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I saw it and didn't interpret his comments as a knock on NASA in particular or space exploration in general. The guy is, after all, an explorer, distinguished scientist and a popularizer of science; I suppose he's the Carl Sagan of oceanography.

It seemed to me his argument was more one of balance and relevance. He was saying that the spending figures for space exploration compared to studying the oceans were perhaps out of balance. And since the oceans represent 72 percent of the planet WHERE WE ACTUALLY LIVE, then maybe there's an argument to be made for his position.

There was a certain bias that could be inferred from Colbert's question about why we spend so much on NASA and so "poorly" on studying the oceans, but that was Colbert, not Ballard.

Besides, Ballard is an oceanogrpher, and this is something he's devoted his life to. Do you expect him to go on TV and NOT be an advocate for his chosen field of study?

Sadly, the way the populace looks askance at government spending these days, the whole debate has devolved into an us-vs.-them, either-or argument. We should be spending richly on space exploration AND oceanography. Then again, we just got rid of an administration that labored under the belief that the Earth was 6,000 years old, so these attitudes can't be changed overnight.
« Last Edit: 02/11/2009 10:22 PM by dhanners »

Offline Analyst

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He was saying that the spending figures for space exploration compared to studying the oceans was perhaps out of balance. And since the oceans represent 72 percent of the planet WHERE WE ACTUALLY LIVE, then maybe there's an argument to be made for his position.

A very valid point. Whenever I read "mining the Moon or asteroids" I always think: Why not start here on earth at places (deep sea) we don't even know yet, which are a few miles away and don't require massive delta v?

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Online wannamoonbase

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I'll cut the guy some slack.  He's frustrated as are many NASA and other government people.

The only thing being fully funded is the debt payments.

The debt in the US, federal, state, city and personal is beyond all reason.
I know they don't need it, but Crossfeed would be super cool.

Offline renclod

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. . .

Whenever I read "mining the Moon or asteroids" I always think: Why not start here on earth at places (deep sea) we don't even know yet, which are a few miles away and don't require massive delta v?


Why not stop mining the earth to death for a change ?

Why not leave the oceans, seas, lakes and deltas alone before we morph them to a lethal soup of brownish shit ?

Why don't we go change luna and mars into earths in stead of changing earth into a lunar/martian landscape ?

Why don't we fly now the seed outposts to luna and to mars, before we run out of resources here on earth, while we can still launch a rocket without killing a square mile of life for it ?




Offline DMeader

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. . .

Whenever I read "mining the Moon or asteroids" I always think: Why not start here on earth at places (deep sea) we don't even know yet, which are a few miles away and don't require massive delta v?

Why don't we go change luna and mars into earths in stead of changing earth into a lunar/martian landscape ?

Why don't we fly now the seed outposts to luna and to mars, before we run out of resources here on earth, while we can still launch a rocket without killing a square mile of life for it ?

I hope I am not hearing you say "let's stop crapping our planet and go start crapping another planet instead". Why not let Luna and Mars STAY Luna and Mars, but still use their resources in a responsible manner? After all, when we have mined them to death, where else do we go next? Venus is awfully hot most times of the year.

Offline renclod

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I hope I am not hearing you say "let's stop crapping our planet and go start crapping another planet instead". Why not let Luna and Mars STAY Luna and Mars, but still use their resources in a responsible manner? After all, when we have mined them to death, where else do we go next? Venus is awfully hot most times of the year.

Not mine Luna and Mars to death, but fill them with life. I don't care if we spoil the current beautiful martian and lunar landscape with rectangular habitats. I do care that the terrestrial rain forest is beginning to look like small rectangular patches surrounded by large swaths of corn fields or something.

« Last Edit: 02/11/2009 07:00 PM by renclod »

Offline NUAETIUS

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I'll cut the guy some slack.  He's frustrated as are many NASA and other government people.

The only thing being fully funded is the debt payments.

The debt in the US, federal, state, city and personal is beyond all reason.

History books are filled with only 3 things, Murder, Manipulation, and Science.  Science is the only thing that has ever improved the world long term.  The world needs astronomers, oceanographers, biologists, and mathematicians more than we need another JFK or Jesus.  I hate to see scientists fight over the table scraps the world gives them for their work.  NASA, USGA, and NOAA has done more for the world by predicting tornado, tsunami, earthquakes,and hurricanes than any political party ever has.

Better question on the part of Colbert would have been how long could be fund both NASA and NOAA off the ANY countries military budget for one year.
« Last Edit: 02/11/2009 07:30 PM by NUAETIUS »
“It has long been recognized that the formation of a committee is a powerful technique for avoiding responsibility, deferring difficult decisions and averting blame….while at the same time maintaining a semblance of action.” Augustine's Law - Norm Augustine

Offline William Barton

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Isn't the Colbert Report supposed to be a comedy-satire send up of news interview shows? Not my preferred brand of humor (I'm more of a Lewis Black type), but whenever I happen to watch, it seems like he deliberately asks assinine questions in order to provoke his guests into making fools of themselves.

Offline kch

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Isn't the Colbert Report supposed to be a comedy-satire send up of news interview shows? Not my preferred brand of humor (I'm more of a Lewis Black type), but whenever I happen to watch, it seems like he deliberately asks assinine questions in order to provoke his guests into making fools of themselves.

Thank you, sir!  I've been wondering when someone would notice (the "Comedy Central" logo on his web page *is* a bit of a giveaway).  :D

Offline Ronsmytheiii

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It does not bug me that he compared NOAA to NASA, it was that he never tried to state that the apathy toward science was the problem.  Not one time did he say anything redeeming about space exploration, it was all a matter of "poor ocean science does not get any money while space gets it all"

Offline Blackstar

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I used to have allot of respect for him, however he seems to be extremely bitter about the amount of funding and attention that space exploration gets versus that of oceanic exploration.

Where do you get "extremely bitter" from?  Can you cite a specific quote?  Is his tone angry?  Does he throw things?  I'd like to know how you arrived at "extremely bitter" based upon that clip.

Offline Ronsmytheiii

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I used to have allot of respect for him, however he seems to be extremely bitter about the amount of funding and attention that space exploration gets versus that of oceanic exploration.

Where do you get "extremely bitter" from?  Can you cite a specific quote?  Is his tone angry?  Does he throw things?  I'd like to know how you arrived at "extremely bitter" based upon that clip.

Bad cold and sleep deprivation..... perhaps bitter is too strong.  However he at least seemed annoyed.

Offline Blackstar

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Several observations:

-Ballard didn't rant and never said anything nasty.  The first post is overly defensive.  Questioning how much money is spent on space exploration versus ocean exploration is entirely valid.  In fact, the question gets asked all the time.

-you will note that Ballard was responding to _questions_ asked by somebody else.

-nothing Ballard said was inaccurate.

-the comments he made are in fact comments that undersea explorers make ALL THE TIME.  I've seen exploring the oceans compared to space exploration (negatively) in a lot of books.  For starters, see "Dark Waters: An Insider's Account of the NR-1."  Clearly this is a common opinion by oceanographers.  And they are in fact right.

-Ballard offered an explanation for why we spend more money exploring space than the oceans.  Simply put, everybody can see the night sky, but not everybody can see the ocean (it's rather hard if you live in the desert, for instance).

-no matter what he says, the space community owes Ballard a depth of gratitude.  If you watched that clip you saw the "new life forms" that Ballard helped discover at the bottom of the ocean.  His work helped revolutionize the study of biology and the discovery of "extremeophiles."  That has contributed substantially to the development of the field of astrobiology.  One of the reasons why NASA is considering sending a mission to Europa is because Ballard and other scientists made discoveries that indicate that it might be possible for organisms to live in extreme environments. 

The space community owes him.

Offline zerm

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Just my 2 cents here- but as someone on this site who is actually in the profession of maritime history and research (13 books published so far and #14 in work), I'll just add that in such circles, Ballard is not as highly placed as his PR team would have you think. He's basically the Elliot Ness of maritime exploration- he makes good use of any camera he can get near and only goes after high profile targets. He has little or no intrest in important sites that will not result in big publicity. A few other researchers try and cling to his shirt tales, but the highly respected ones do not. If you want Ballard to take notice- you'd better have a camera crew... and a fat checkbook.

Offline gladiator1332

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While the guy is amazing for his discoveries, I have to agree with the post above. I just finished reading "Titanic's Last Secrets" which chronicles the expeditions of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler at Titanic.

When they found a piece of what turned out to be Titanic's bottom, Ballard was one of the first to speak out against their work, saying that all that there is to know about Titanic was already found. Hardly what science and history teaches us. It turns out that Kohler and Chatterton made an important discovery, and had they listened to Ballard, we would never know about things like the "low-break" theory of how Titanic split apart.

Offline grdja

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Geologically surface of continents differs from ocean floor and while some minerals can be located in profitable quantities on sea floor... its not comparable to surface.

And if you disregard the costs of getting "there" and back, space is less hostile than ocean bottom, if you can haul same mass as support infrastructure.

In best of all worlds either in '70es or after Challenger USA would have created a open contest  "build any space vehicle that drops launch prices bellow $1000/kg, no matter what type of vehicle" and placed a $20-30BN prize on it.

Offline SpaceCat

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While my degree is in ocean technology and I've spent lots of time working underwater projects, I've also put a number of years in the space program.
If I might just contribute one paragraph from my autobio, in this case talking about 1971......


"By then, most
every major aerospace corporation had formed an ocean technology division and were developing experimental submersibles.  Among many were Lockheed's "DeepQuest," North American's "Beaver," Reynolds' "Aluminaut," Lear Siegler's "Benthos," Grumman's "Ben Franklin," General Motor's "DOWB," and General Dynamics' "Star" series.  Westinghouse had their "DeepStar" series of subs and had worked with Jacques Cousteau on the development of his Diving Saucers.  General Electric had built their "Tektite" undersea habitat with NASA and the Dept. of the Interior.  Then as now, I'd sometimes run into people who felt ocean and space exploration were in competition with each other for funding and prestige- particularly ocean scientists who resent NASA's much larger budget- but I always felt they went hand in hand.  Many of these cool new subs had been built with profits from Apollo- evidenced by the fact that most ended up on the scrap heap once the Apollo/Skylab era ended."




Now, I've seen a number of ocean scientists watch a Shuttle, or even Saturn launch and complain that a single manned launch represents about 10 years of funding to them.... or as one put it, 'think of what we could do with the money from one space mission.'  There may be some merit to that- but it would seem much more could come of cooperation than competition.  Yes, the space program "owes" Ballard, but in the long run, Ballard 'owes' the space program because much of the technology for the robotic submersibles he has championed came from space 'spinoffs'.

Everyone on this board is familiar with the 'Manned VS. Robot' arguement for space exploration.... ocean exploration had a similar arguement; and robots won.  Today, with the recent retirement of the NR-1, you can count the number of manned deep ocean submersibles operating globally on one hand.  This end-result was driven more by Lloyd's insurance premiums than technology; governments can afford the risk of spaceflight, but the universites and private institutions pushing submersibles around can't afford the overhead for manned operations.  Robots aren't cheap, but they don't die and leave families to support.

Speaking as an 'insider,'  well, mostly a retired insider now, the ocean science community has a tendency to shoot itelf in the foot on a regular basis.  In the early '70's after the Stratton Commission recommended the formation of NOAA- most of us were expecting a "wet NASA"--- a big agency that would coordinate national ocean exploration and exploitation and like NASA, would contract out tons of work, spreading lots of money into the private sector.  Instead, NOAA became a very closed agency tucked into the DOT, doing most of its work in-house.  I've heard it said, if NOAA could effectively manufacture its own toilet paper for in-house use, it would.

I've known plenty of ocean scientists who have woked with great dedication, in relative obscurity with meager budgets for decades- and most have never whined about space getting more bucks (until they have a pet proposal shot down :)  )   Ballard's a great guy, I'm friends with several of his very talented staff- but even they have noted that going out and finding all these wrecks has made some great TV and brought in money- but not a lot of science and no sustainable business.  Well, that's OK- Jacques Cousteau didn't do a lot of science either- but he sure spread ocean awareness.... even to folks in the middle of Iowa. :)

Offline MATTBLAK

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Isn't the Colbert Report supposed to be a comedy-satire send up of news interview shows? Not my preferred brand of humor (I'm more of a Lewis Black type), but whenever I happen to watch, it seems like he deliberately asks assinine questions in order to provoke his guests into making fools of themselves.

You'd be surprised how many people take it seriously. Colbert and his sidekicks are treated as serious journalists by the many people who form their political opinions from the humorous back-and-forths and analysis. The popularity and quotability of the show is proof of this, isn't it?

And Dr Ballard, whom I respect, isn't saying anything new, though. I wish it weren't 'either/or' funding for space and the sea. One of the reasons space and ocean science funding is hard to come by it this:

The same people who think that funding for space exploration is frivolous -- their mindset is similar against ocean exploration.

And "Nerwin" (NR-1) has been retired? That's a real shame! But I guess it was getting old.
« Last Edit: 02/14/2009 09:06 PM by MATTBLAK »
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