Following completion of successful acceptance trials, the nation’s newest research vessel, the Neil Armstrong, was officially turned over by the U.S. Navy to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), which will operate the vessel as part of the national academic fleet.
In May 2010, the Office of Naval Research selected WHOI to operate the new vessel for advanced oceanographic research around the world. Named for the Apollo astronaut who first walked on the moon, the Neil Armstrong replaces the recently retired R/V Knorr, which had been in operation since 1970. The new ship will meet the academic community’s need for a general-purpose research vessel based on the East Coast of the United States.
“This occasion marks the beginning of a long association between the Armstrong and the Institution and the continuation of our heritage of operating research vessels in order to take science to sea,” said Rob Munier, WHOI VP for Marine Operations. “Our partnership with the US Navy, in particular our mission sponsor, the Office of Naval Research, is also reinforced today. The Navy has supported basic oceanographic research for decades and, with the investment in the Armstrong, will continue to do so for decades to come. WHOI is proud to have been selected by ONR to be the vessel operator.”
WHOI will operate the Neil Armstrong for the benefit of the U.S. ocean science community, coordinating its schedule through the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). WHOI’s crew, many of whom served on the Knorr will serve on the Armstrong, with Captain Kent Sheasley in command.
“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 Navy’s innovative scientific mission will directly benefit from this next generation research ship that incorporates advanced technologies and break through capabilities, enabling new discoveries.”
Over the next month, the new ship, which is 238 feet long and can undertake missions of up to 40 days, will be outfitted with the essentials it needs for operation, spare parts, food stores, and other basic equipment and consumables. In November, the ship will begin the transit to the US East Coast, with scheduled stops in San Francisco and the Panama Canal. The vessel is scheduled to arrive in the southeast US in December at a port and shipyard to be determined, where the ship’s science equipment will be installed and tested, in particular its sophisticated sonar systems and other sensors.
The ship is expected to undergo a series of shakedown and science verification cruises starting in February and March 2016, which will allow scientific users to test the ship and its systems and make any necessary adjustments before it is declared fully operational. The Neil Armstrong’s first science mission is planned for May 2016 in the North Atlantic.
“The R/V Armstrong is an exciting addition to the US oceanographic fleet, particularly for young scientists and future scientists,” said WHOI Senior Scientist Carin Ashjian.“For the next 50 years, the Neil Armstrong and anyone who sails on it will be at the forefront of scientific exploration. This is the ship that will help them make their careers. We know there are many discoveries yet to be made in the ocean, with great potential benefit to society. It’s fitting that the Neil Armstrong will enable the next giant leaps for mankind.”
“Today marks the launch of a new era of ocean research, building on the longstanding support of the U.S. Navy and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for ocean science and exploration,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “We look forward to the Neil Armstrong landing on Massachusetts shores and continuing the legacy of scientific excellence anchored in Woods Hole and impacting the world.”
“For 85 years, the scientists and researchers at Woods Hole have been at the forefront of oceanographic discovery,” said Representative William Keating (D-Mass.). “The transfer of the R/V Neil Armstrong represents the continued role of the US Navy’s investments in furthering oceanography and the critical nexus of federal investments in independent, pioneering research. WHOI remains a premier research ship operator – not just for New England as an anchor for academic institutions and students in the region, but for scientists globally.”