NOAA Commissions “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration”

Senior federal officials today in Seattle commissioned the Okeanos Explorer, the first federal ship solely dedicated to exploring the ocean.

A former U.S. Navy surveillance vessel, the ship was transferred to NOAA in 2004 and converted to perform ocean exploration. The Okeanos Explorer will use telepresence – satellite and high-speed Internet-based technology – to enable scientists on shore at any of five Exploration Command Centers to participate in and direct real-time exploration while viewing live images and other ocean data.

John J. Sullivan, deputy secretary of commerce and retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, led the commissioning ceremonies.

“This vessel will have a significant role supporting President Bush’s Ocean Action Plan, helping us learn more about this vast, largely unexplored realm of our world. Additionally, the government saved American taxpayers millions of dollars by refurbishing a surplus ship instead of building a new one for ocean discovery,” Sullivan said.

The ship will work in partnership with the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center, the hub for the ship’s exploration activities. The Inner Space Center was developed by explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for his discovery of the wreck of the Titanic. In addition to the Inner Space Center, Exploration Command Centers are located at the University of New Hampshire, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and NOAA facilities in Silver Spring, Md. and Seattle.

“The ocean provides us food, medicines, energy, and a means for transportation,” said Lautenbacher.  “While we have relied on the seas for centuries they still hold many secrets.  This new ship will help unlock those mysteries and bring discoveries to light.” 

Cmdr. Joseph A. Pica, will be the first commanding officer of the ship. Following commission, it will begin a period of crew training and systems field testing before embarking to operate in the Pacific for two years. 

Okeanos Explorer was named by a team of students from Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Ill., who won a nationwide ship-naming contest NOAA initiated to further ocean literacy and education. Okeanos is the ancient Greek word for ocean.

As part of the NOAA fleet of research and survey ships and aircraft, Okeanos Explorer will be operated, managed, and maintained by officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services, and by civilians under the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.   The ship’s exploration systems will be operated by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.  

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit

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