April 15, 2016

New research ship ready for duty

Warren Duffie
Arlington, Va.

Amid booming fireworks, steely skies, blustery winds and the joyful cheers from a large crowd of well-wishers the brand-new research vessel Neil Armstrong recently arrived at its new home at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, officials announced April 14.

During a pierside ceremony featuring remarks from former astronaut Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, current astronaut Sunita Williams, and Frank Herr, head of the Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department at the Office of Naval Research, spoke about the important work the new research vessel will perform.

“Our Navy and our federal partners who use the ship gain great value from the research the ship enables over its life,” said Herr. “I estimate that Neil Armstrong will enable more than 11,000 scientific journal articles, generations of scientists who will gain at-sea training while performing work for their graduate degrees, and a huge amount of ocean engineering development for new sensors and devices, which continue to permit our oceanographers to lead the world in understanding the oceans.”

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy has provided state-of-the-art research ships to select universities and oceanographic institutions to support mutually beneficial scientific studies of the marine environment.

The Navy and other federal agencies fund the construction of oceanographic research ships, and provide them to U.S. academic institutions for operational management and use. This allows contributing agencies to take advantage of research opportunities using the entire U.S. academic research fleet — providing a range of ship sizes and capabilities, cooperative missions and significant cost savings.

The Neil Armstrong is operated by Woods Hole, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to marine research, engineering and higher education, under a charter agreement with ONR.

“The U.S. Navy is proud to support the national research fleet by delivering state-of-the-art research vessels like the R/V Neil Armstrong,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mat Winter. “The collaborative projects that will be undertaken on the Neil Armstrong highlight the vital partnerships ONR has developed with research institutions and academia.”

Named after the first person to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong replaces the R/V Knorr, which Woods Hole operated from 1970 to 2014. Knorr was a celebrated vessel, serving as the command ship during the discovery of deep ocean thermal vents (nicknamed “black smokers”) in 1977 and the wreck of RMS Titanic in 1985.

Neil Armstrong is a deep-ocean, general-purpose research vessel that will be used for a wide range of scientific studies including ocean chemistry and geology, underwater acoustics, marine biology and ecosystem management, and marine technology.

Some of this work will be essential to gaining a greater understanding of the Earth’s changing climate and learning more about the environments in which the Navy operates, said Tim Schnoor, who oversees ONR’s research vessel programs.

The 238-foot Neil Armstrong can sail on cruises as long as 40 days and accommodate 24 scientists in addition to the 20-person crew. The vessel has advanced sonar to map the ocean bottom in greater detail and state-of-the-art meteorological sensors.

It also features the latest navigation and ship-positioning systems and a specially designed hull that minimizes bubbles sweeping below it, improving sonar sensing. The ship also runs on clean diesel engines that are more fuel efficient than Knorr’s.

Neil Armstrong and other Navy-owned vessels are among the largest in the U.S. academic research fleet, enabling research programs around the globe. The ship’s first science mission will occur in the North Atlantic Ocean within the next few months.

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