The research vessel Neil Armstrong arrived to its home port for the first time at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) dock Wednesday, escorted by the WHOI coastal research vessel R/V Tioga, two Coast Guard boats and fireboats from neighboring towns.
“What a wonderful day for Woods Hole, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the entire ocean science community,” said WHOI President and Director Mark Abbott. “We’re very proud to have been selected by the Office of Naval Research to operate the Neil Armstrong. It is an enormous honor and a great responsibility.”
Six years ago, the U.S. Navy announced plans to construct two ships in a new Ocean Class of research vessels and in 2010, awarded WHOI the no-cost lease to operate the first of the ships. Two years later, the Navy announced the first ship would be named Neil Armstrong and its sister ship, to be operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, would be named Sally Ride. The 238-ft. Neil Armstrong is the newest ship in the U.S. academic fleet, and one of just seven in that fleet capable of accessing all but ice-covered areas of the global ocean.
The Neil Armstrong emerged over the horizon between Martha’s Vineyard and Naushon Island at approximately 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, having completed a weeklong expedition that started in Norfolk, Va., to test some of the vessel’s research capabilities.
The Neil Armstrong is the most recent in a long string of ships operated by WHOI since 1930, including Atlantis, the nation’s first vessel constructed specifically to carry out oceanographic research. The Armstrong replaces the R/V Knorr, which served ocean science for 44 years. Many of the Armstrong’s crew, including Captain Sheasley, served together aboard the Knorr.
The R/V Neil Armstrong is the most technologically advanced ship in the U.S. academic fleet. The ship contains two multi-beam echo sounders designed to operate at different depths, making Neil Armstrong and, when completed, Sally Ride, the only ships in the UNOLS fleet equipped to conduct high-resolution seafloor surveys almost anywhere the ship can sail.
The ship’s three acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) can scan the water column at different frequencies to reveal the invisible structure of water at varying depths and resolutions, and a multi-beam, multi-frequency echosounder, the EK-80, can not only detect the presence and abundance of marine life beneath the ship, but also offers the potential to differentiate among species of fish and other marine life hidden beneath the surface.
From an engineering standpoint, as well, the ship is state-of-the-art. In addition to clean-burning diesel-electric generators, variable-frequency DC propulsion means less wear-and-tear on critical components and higher efficiency. The new ship’s integrated controls provide access to virtually every critical system, from propulsion and navigation to electrical load to heating and air conditioning to ballast, on touch screens in the engine room and bridge. The navigation system can be monitored and diagnosed from shore.
The R/V Neil Armstrong can accommodate 24 scientists and a crew of 20 at sea for up to 40 days. Throughout the spring and fall the ship will continue to conduct more so-called science verification cruises to test everything from the layout of the ship’s lab to its equipment handling systems to its collection of high-tech sensors.