NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the Mendocino Ridge mapping shakedown cruise, June 2009.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the Mendocino Ridge mapping shakedown cruise, June 2009. Click image for a larger view.

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NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
“Getting It Together”

By: Catalina Martinez, NOAA OER

Everything takes longer than expected
Refitting a ship to conduct deep ocean exploration, installation of complex, high-tech equipment and systems to enable remote access to data and information from sea, and build out and installation of deep water dual-body ROV’s with an associated state-of-the-art control room - all monumental efforts. Taken together, along with familiarization of newly installed systems, hiring and training of crew, development of procedures and mechanisms to conduct business, and managing all of these things through a multitude of team efforts, has been extraordinary and, as one can imagine, is ongoing.

Shaking things down
As each system, sensor, software package, and instrument is installed, a testing and shakedown period occurs to ensure that everything newly installed and/or modified is in working order. EX shakedowns began in the fall of last year, and continue, as the ship and mission crew work through critical systems independently, with the plan of conducting field trials to assess how everything comes together during scenarios consistent with projected operating paradigms.

Field trials
Once the ship and newly installed technology has been shaken down and proven out, field trials will commence. Field trial cruises are designed to refine operations, develop and refine standard operating procedures, conduct training and familiarization of newly installed systems, and determining how best to utilize ship systems and personnel in different modes of operation. Assessments of each field trial cruise will help define the objectives and goals of the next, as we strategically move through the field season bringing the ship and systems to a place where an inaugural cruise can commence in 2010.

Explorers and adventurers
The EX ship and mission crew are eager to sail and explore far reaches of the worlds ocean to experience first hand, the excitement of deep ocean discoveries. Canned video of delicate deep sea corals and sponges, hydrothermal vents teaming with life, and spewing undersea volcanoes plays on monitors in the ROV control room during tours and ship board events as a reminder of the incredible deep sea wonders we will one day participate in the discovery of. Each crew member signed on to this journey for his or her own reasons. Each is different and has a unique story to tell. Collectively we also have a great deal in common. We are explorers and adventurers. We want to be part of something unique, new, and exciting. As we inch closer and closer to a time when operations will commence, the excitement builds. Setbacks are frustrating, but cannot dampen the spirits of the EX family as we work collectively, at sea and on shore, to bring this remarkable vision to fruition. Stay tuned. . .