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Atlantis Launched February 1

February 1, 1996

The first ship in the United States’ academic research fleet to be built as a platform for both manned and unmanned deep-sea exploration was launched in Pascagoula, Mississippi, February 1. The 274-foot Research Vessel Atlantis will be operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and will be among the most sophisticated research vessels afloat, capable of supporting both submersible operations and general purpose oceanographic research throughout the world.

The U.S. Navy, which is funding construction of the new vessel, recently announced that the Atlantis will be the new support vessel for the three-person submersible Alvin, also operated by WHOI. The 23-foot Alvin is the nation’s most active deep-diving manned submersible, with more than 3,000 dives to depths up to 15,000 feet to its credit. Alvin’s current support vessel, the 210- foot Research Vessel Atlantis II , will be retired from the Institution fleet later this year after a 33-year career. The new Atlantis will also support unmanned tethered and autonomous exploration vehicles, including the Institution’s own JASON/Medea imaging and survey system and its new Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE), both of which can reach 98 percent of the world’s ocean floor.

Senior officials and guests from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the U.S. Navy participated in the launch ceremonies at Halter Marine, Inc. in Moss Point, Mississippi. Principal speaker was the Honorable John W. Douglas, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. Anne K. Bingaman, Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division, in Washington, DC, christened the ship as the vessel’s sponsor, attended by Dr. Suzanne Woolsey, Chief Operating Officer for the National Academy of Sciences.

WHOI Director Dr. Robert Gagosian, along with the Deputy Chief of Naval Research Dr. Fred Saalfeld of the Office of Naval Research, also participated in the launch ceremonies. Other speakers included Rear Admiral Paul G. Gaffney, II, Commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; Rear Admiral Paul M. Robinson, Program Executive Officer for the Navy’s Carriers, Littoral Warfare and Auxiliary Ships division; Captain David Vogel, Deputy Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair; and John Dane, President of Trinity Marine Group, which owns Halter Marine.

The Atlantis is the third of four ships in a new class of research vessels being built by the Navy for the academic ocean research community and operated by research institutions and universities under charter agreement. The ships are known as AGOR vessels, for Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research; Atlantis is AGOR-25. Following completion of construction and outfitting for scientific research, the 274-foot Atlantis will be delivered to Woods Hole in the spring of 1997 and will be operated by WHOI as part of the University- National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). The 25 or so UNOLS ships are used by researchers around the country and by collaborating scientists from other nations.

“Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is proud and honored to be the operator of this new Atlantis,” WHOI Director Robert Gagosian said during the launch ceremonies. “The nation’s academic fleet is especially well-poised now to provide world-class support to our world-class scientific community. There is much to be learned yet about the oceans.”

“I am proud and honored to participate in these proceedings for many reasons,” Dr. Gagosian continued. ” One is awe when I think of what has been discovered in ocean sciences on our ships in the last 25 years and when I dream of what the discoveries of the future will be from this vessel. The scientist in me makes my heart beat loudly. I am sure this same feeling will occur for the hundreds of scientists who will go to sea on this vessel well into the next millenium. This is a great day for all of us, for this country, and for the world of oceanography.”

Shelley Lauzon
News Office
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
508-289-2270 (fax 508-289-2270) or email