MV Neil Armstrong Arrives in Woods Hole

Neil Armstrong
The research vessel Neil Armstrong was met by a jubilant crowd at the WHOI dock Wednesday, as it arrived to its homeport for the first time. (Photo by Daniel Cojanu, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

By MarEx 2016-04-10 21:09:56

The research vessel Neil Armstrong was met by a jubilant crowd at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) dock last Wednesday, as it arrived to its home port for the first time, escorted by the WHOI coastal research vessel R/V Tioga, two Coast Guard boats and fireboats from neighboring towns.

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.

“It was Jacques Cousteau who used to say, ‘You need to get wet to understand the ocean,’” said David Scully, chairman of the WHOI Board of Trustees. “Well, WHOI was founded on the belief that you need to go to sea. Today, we are as strongly committed to this ideal as ever, and there is no finer testimony to that fact than the research vessel Armstrong and her fine crew under Captain Kent Sheasley.”

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 and had a reputation as a very capable ship, a reputation earned in part because of the knowledge, ability and experience of its crew.  Many of the Armstrong’s crew, including Sheasley, served together aboard the Knorr.

Remarks by astronaut Sunita Williams, a native of Massachusetts, emphasized the connection between exploration of space and exploration of Earth's oceans.

“Like its shiny sister in space, the International Space Station,” Williams said, “I’m sure [this ship and the scientists and crew aboard it] will make discoveries that will help save lives, open dialogs to solve societal issues, and strengthen international relations, spur on new, innovative business ideas, inspire the next generation of explorers, and perhaps even help sustain life on our lovely little speck of the planet in our universe.”

At the close of the program, harkening back to space explorer Neil Armstrong’s historic planting of the American flag on the lunar landscape, Carol Armstrong was presented with the WHOI flag set in a frame to commemorate the arrival of the Armstrong

“Neil would love this,” Armstrong said of her husband, “because Neil was Navy. That’s where he started and that’s where his heart was.”

Technology Advances

The 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 University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System 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.

Advanced features of Neil Armstrong include:

•    EPA Tier 3 compliant diesel engines
•    Clean ballast system and advanced oily-water separators
•    Variable-frequency DC propulsion and drives
•    Heave-compensated over-the-side handling system
•    Hull form and construction to minimize acoustic interference
•    Shore-based monitoring and diagnosis of navigation system
•    Integrated engine control, monitoring, and positioning systems
•    Advanced suite of oceanographic, meteorological, and communications instruments
•    Handicapped-accessible main deck

The 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.