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Great Expectations

Institute for Exploration / Ocean Exploration Trust

Greetings Nautilus Nation! Educator at Sea Jason Pittman here. On a few occasions in my life, I've come across well known public figures, and found myself somewhat disappointed with these larger than life characters in the flesh. As a kid, I idolized “The Fonz” from re-runs of the sitcom Happy Days. I bumped into “Fonzie,” Henry Winkler, at a fund-raiser event a few years ago, and was less than impressed with his inability to turn on a jukebox with a kick and total lack of cool leather jacket. I was hoping for one of his signature, “Eeehhyy,” moments that let the TV veiwers know: things just got awesome. Instead, meeting Fonz was a little, “Meh.”

 
Three days ago, I met Dr. Robert Ballard. I've seen just about every documentary created about his scientific discoveries and searches for lost vessels. In my classroom, I even use media from The JASON Project that features Dr. Ballard. And I've logged nearly as many hours watching Dr. Ballard as I have watching Happy Days. Dr. Ballard's public persona is one of excitement for new discoveries, commitment to bringing those discoveries to the world, and an unselfishishness in the pursuit of the advancement of human understanding. To my students and I, Dr. Ballard is “The Fonz” of the Sea. Could this legendary explorer be expected to produce the same sort of energy and enthusiasm in every day life, much less while spending a month in a cramped vessel in the Mediterranean?
 
I'll put it this way: Dr. Ballard boarded the ship, kicked the metaphoric juke box, and set the ship rocking with excitement. Whether we're sitting in the control van narrating a dive for the Nautilus Live viewers or sharing stories at dinner, Dr. Ballard never dials down his enthusiasm for the Nautilus mission. It motivates the entire team. It energizes the long hours spent at the watch. And I can't wait to take this infectious enthusiasm back to my students.
 
At the same time, it's easy to feel like you're under a lot of pressure being on this team. No one wants to be the weak link and even though everyone is remarkably supportive and encouraging, I'd hate to ever feel like I let Dr. Ballard or his team down. Everyone here is so smart and talented, and even when things are going well, I want to give 110% towards what's been asked of me. PLUS there are thousands of people listening and watching our every move!!!
 
This morning I attended a mission briefing with Dr. Robert Ballard and astronaut Cady Coleman aboard one of the most advanced science exploration vessels in the world. The meeting also included a staff of not only some of the top people in their fields, but people who are exceptionally good natured and professional to work with. We were briefed, we each gathered resources and information needed to do our jobs, and then we headed out to the control van to operate some of the coolest and most cutting edge tools in the world. After almost forty hours of hard work and very little sleep, we finished our survey line, found the specimen we were looking for (in this case, tube worms), and gathered an enormous amount of data along the way. We had accomplished our mission.
 
This is one of the biggest Fonz “Eeeehhhyyy” moments in my life so far. I'm probably never going to break from a huddle and go win the Super Bowl, but right now this feels just as good. To be clear, it's not a feeling of celebrity awe, but rather a true motivation to reinvest every day in a love of science. Dr. Ballard seems to live this way, and his example certainly is to the benefit of all of us who have had the privilege and pleasure of working on his team.