The Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point last Friday welcomed its new training vessel, a former space shuttle solid rocket booster recovery ship called the “MV Liberty Star” that arrived on Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“Today marks another step forward for our National Maritime Academy,” said Maritime Administrator David Matsuda. “Thanks to our partners at NASA, we will be repurposing the Liberty Star to educate and train the future generations of maritime leaders.”
Matsuda noted that the vessel will also be in the national defense reserve fleet, and Kings Point expects it to be called upon by NASA to execute missions.
The Merchant Marine Academy’s previous training vessel the “Kings Pointer,” an auxiliary ocean tug, was transferred to Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus in December. The “Kings Pointer” was used by midshipmen for hands-on training at sea.
The “MV Liberty Star” was one of NASA’s two vessels, which were used to recover its space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters after they were released into the ocean following lift off, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation news release.
With its two combined 2,900-horsepower diesel engines, the 176-foot long “MV Liberty Star” has a range of 6,000 miles and a maximum speed of 15 knots, the news release said.
“This training vessel will help our midshipmen gain the hands-on training that is valued by both the Maritime industry, and the military,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said.
LaHood was joined at waterfront Plaque and Key Ceremony by Matsuda, NASA representatives and USMMA Superintendent Dr. James Helis.
In his opening remarks, Helis introducted Secretary LaHood as “the most passionate supporter of the academy that we could have.”
Continuing its maiden voyage, the MV Liberty Star is on its way to dry-dock, where it will be fully converted into into a training vessel. The conversion will include an increase in its on-board berthing.
Upon its return from dry-dock, the vessel will officially be re-named as the fifth “Kings Pointer,” which was displayed during the ceremony.
A tour of the MV Liberty Star followed the welcoming ceremonies, which featured a briefing of the vessel’s history and capabilities.
Built in 1980, the ship has served NASA as a sea ship to retrieve space shuttle boosters following their landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
In addition to the welcoming of the MV Liberty Star, LaHood announced $11.5 million in funds awarded to Russell Marine, a company that will begin a rebuilding project of Mallory Pier. Expected to be completed in spring or summer of 2014, LaHood said that the project is “long overdue.”
Recounting the first time he visited the Kings Point Academy, he said, “I came by board from New York, and what I saw was a terrible looking pier that did not reflect what we think about the merchant marine academy.”
LaHood also noted that the mayor of Peoria Illinois, Jim Ardis, was in attendance. Peoria is LaHood’s hometown. Ardis and his wife Mimi were at the Kings Point academy for parents weekend. Their son is currently serving his second year.
“It was total luck that this ceremony was on the same weekend, and we’re happy to be here,” Ardis said. “I think it’s wonderful that they’re getting a vessel like this, you can’t beat it.”