Stepping on Neil Armstrong: Ars visits the Navy’s newest research vesselEnlarge (credit: John Timmer)
Chief Engineer Gary McGrath made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Pulling aside a yellow cord that blocked off access to the lower reaches of the research vessel Neil Armstrong, he offered a look at the ship’s engines and the very bottom of the ship, where sonar arrays are plugged in to the hull.
It wasn’t part of the planned tour, and it would require squeezing down a narrow ladder, but how could we say no?
In the fleet
Fleet Week, an annual event in New York City, generally features naval vessels from the US and other nations.
So it was a bit of a surprise to get an offer to visit the Armstrong in the first place.

But, while the ship is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), it was built and owned by the US Navy.
So, while it was poorly armed compared to the vessels that accompanied it up the Hudson, the Armstrong was right at home.
The US Navy has a long history of ocean research.

The Office of Naval Research dates back more than 70 years, and Navy seafloor maps revealed the mid-ocean ridges, helping usher plate tectonics into widespread acceptance.

And, in recent decades, the Navy has followed a model where it builds research vessels and then has academic institutions operate them.

Those institutions accept applications from individual researchers to spend time pursing projects onboard.
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