Woods Hole officially welcomed a new $100 million dollar research ship called the R/V Neil Armstrong on Saturday June 25th. Over 25 years in the planning, this gleaming new floating laboratory was open for the day, with thousands of lucky visitors (including me!) invited on board for a full tour.
Woods Hole is the NASA of the ocean. Led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, our tiny village is a world leader in understanding everything about ocean science. I have been looking forward to my VIP insider tour since the invitation arrived weeks ago.
Our tour was led by Cyndy Chandler, longtime WHOI scientist and veteran of many “cruises” which is what the scientists call a research trip out on the boat.
Our group was pretty stoked as we boarded, looking up at this huge ship loaded with high tech gear.
Check out the Bridge of the R/V Neil Armstrong
First stop was the bridge, where we learned the ship is controlled by the tiniest wheel plus a couple of joysticks like a video game console. The navigator explained that the technology of the ship’s engines allows them to remain in an exact location within a few inches if the seas are calm.
What about inside the ship?
We traveled up and down the ship’s hallways, seeing bunk rooms, a floating hospital room, a fully handicap accessible room, recreational spaces and laboratories where the scientists do their work at sea.
Cyndy explained how communications at sea have changed since she started at WHOI in the 1970’s. She said the new internet connection was great for morale as shipmates can communicate regularly with loved ones, but sometimes she missed the quiet of leaving distractions behind.
She told us the labs were stripped of gear as each science cruise brings their own computers and equipment aboard.
See the Galley of the R/V Neil Armstrong
The galley is where the 40+ scientists and crew eat all their meals. The chef talked about the challenges of cooking and serving meals when the boat is in a rough sea. I appreciated the small plastic sign he had over the serving area (“free beer tomorrow“) which he removed from the former vessel R/V Knorr before it was sold to the Mexican Navy.
Outside, we looked back at the Woods Hole waterfront from on high. The ship feels at least four stories tall,
and I spied Quicks Hole Tavern and the Woods Hole Inn from this cool new vantage point.
On the aft deck, they explained how experiments start with a huge crane that can lower equipment into the water as well as an ingenious system of deck bolts for ever-changing special gear.
Back on the Docks
Back out on the docks, there were exhibits, t-shirts, photo-ops and more. I looked at the “CTD” device that measures conductivity, temperature and depth — one of many things lowered off the ship to collect data.
Guides were wearing purple t-shirts with a graphic image of the new ship and the slogan “R/V Neil Armstrong — one giant leap for the ocean.” In many ways, the mysterious ocean is one of the last unexplored corners of planet earth, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole is much like NASA in it’s mission to understand the darker corners of the deep blue sea.
Goofing around at the end of the tour of the R/V Neil Armstrong with one of the divers suits, I am deeply appreciative of WHOI for their generous welcome, this amazing tour, and the ongoing science to which they are so dedicated.
Welcoming World Class Scientists, Everyday
It’s pretty cool living next door to all the big things happening at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It can sometimes be a little intimidating to welcome these world-class scientists to the Woods Hole Inn, but we are reminded that while our research is focused on simpler things like good linens, spotless rooms and the world’s best home made granola, everyone needs a good night’s rest.