September 25, 2012
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the nation’s newest research vessel will be named the R/V Neil Armstrong, after the renowned astronaut and the first man to set foot on the moon. The ship will be operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
“We are honored,” said WHOI President and Director Susan Avery. “Neil Armstrong is an American hero, whose ‘small step’ provided humanity with a new perspective on our planet. When he stood on the moon and looked back at the Earth, he saw mostly ocean – the last unexplored frontier on Earth. The R/V Neil Armstrong will carry on its namesake’s legacy of exploration, enabling the next generation of oceanographic science and discovery.”
Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War, before moving to NASA’s predecessor agency as an engineer and test pilot, and later an astronaut and administrator. Despite all his accomplishments, in 2000 Armstrong described himself this way: “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.”
The R/V Neil Armstrong is the first oceanographic research vessel named for a space explorer, but the link between space exploration and ocean science is not new. Each of NASA’s space shuttles was named for a famous oceanographic vessel, including the space shuttle Atlantis, whose namesake, the WHOI ketch Atlantis, was the first U.S. ship built for ocean research.
In May 2010, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research informed WHOI that it had been selected to operate AGOR-27 (Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research), one of two new research vessels that will now be known as the “Armstrong-Class,” to be built by the U.S. Navy. Both are being constructed by the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard in Anacortes, Wash.
“The 238-foot R/V Neil Armstrong will serve a pressing need for a new general-purpose research vessel based on the East Coast of the United States and will be deployed for a wide variety of oceanographic and ocean engineering missions. The R/V Neil Armstrong is also expected to support new initiatives in ocean observing in high latitudes, as well as new efforts to study North Atlantic ecosystems and their sustainability,” said WHOI Vice President for Marine Operations Rob Munier.
R/V Neil Armstrong will provide a number of enhanced capabilities for scientists working on board. These include advanced over-the-side handling systems and state-of-the-art hull mounted bottom mapping and acoustics transducers. These systems were designed to improve the safety of scientific operations on board the R/V Neil Armstrong and enable the vessel to effectively operate in higher sea states thanexisting vessels of this size.
Of the new ship’s name, Bob Frosch, WHOI Life Trustee and Guest Investigator, and NASA’s fifth Administrator said, “From time to time crew and oceanographers can look up at the moon and wink at it in remembrance of their ship’s wonderful namesake.”
The vessel is scheduled to launch in early 2014 and be ready for service in 2015.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with Earth and humanity, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.