AUGUST 21, 2012—NASA and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) have signed a memorandum of understanding to transfer NASA's solid rocket booster recovery ship, 176 ft M/V Liberty Star, to the National Defense Reserve Fleet for use as a training vessel at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY.
"Liberty Star served NASA well during the Space Shuttle Program," says Robert Lightfoot, acting associate administrator for NASA. "We know it will greatly benefit the Kings Point midshipmen, and we're proud that Liberty Star will continue to serve the United States with distinction."
Built in 1981, the Liberty Star, shown in NASA photos, is outfitted with two diesel engines and CP propellers, with joystick dynamic position capability. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, the two agencies worked together to ensure Liberty Star could continue service as a training vessel for midshipmen at the Merchant Marine Academy. This agreement is mutually beneficial for NASA and MARAD. This ship will serve as a training vessel at the academy, providing significant merchant marine training value to Kings Point midshipmen as the vessel has dynamic positioning, modern towing capabilities and other features that will expand training opportunities. NASA will continue to have access to Liberty Star if the agency requires its use and it is available.
Liberty Star served as one of two recovery vessels for retrieving the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters, which were jettisoned about 2 minutes after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA still is working to identify a suitable new use for M/V Freedom Star, the other recovery ship.
USMMA Superintendent Rear Admiral James A. Helis, says the LIberty Star “ will help us provide the best education and hands-on experience for our future maritime leaders.”
Although midshipmen obtain the sea time needed for their U.S. Coast Guard license aboard commercial merchant ships during their “sea year,” the new training vessel will familiarize midshipmen with shipboard equipment and characteristics, and basic ship handling.
Since FY 2009, Congress has appropriated more than $300 million for the USMMA, which includes $239 million for operations and $61 million for capital improvements—including $23 million last year. The Liberty Star will be a major component of a renewed waterfront at the Academy that includes a new pier.
The previous USMMA training vessel, TV Kings Pointer, was transferred from Kings Point to Texas A&M University in Galveston last year after 19 years at the Academy. The Department of Transportation said at the time that the transfer facilitated the reconstruction of Mallory Pier, during which time there would be no docking facilities available to tie up vessels as large as the TV Kings Pointer. It also said the TV Kings Pointer no longer met the Academy's training needs in a cost effective manner and could be better used in the maritime training curriculum at Texas A&M University, which is dependent upon a dedicated school ship (see earlier story).