As you walk down the stairs to the main deck, you're faced with a near-life-sized photograph of Neil Armstrong, the ship's namesake. It's a striking photo. Despite the space suit and lunar background, he looks so human, so normal.
Neil Armstrong was an amazing individual: a naval aviator, experimental test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, and, of course, world-renown astronaut. It's reported that he flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including the X-15 hypersonic rocket plane (https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/bios/neilabio.html). His first step on the moon was a monumental occasion, and indeed, it symbolized much more than a space walk.
Neil Armstrong led the Gemini 8 mission which launched on March 16, 1966 - exactly 50 years prior to the start of our oceanographic research cruise. It's an honor to have one of the first research cruises aboard the R/V Neil Armstrong. I must admit when I boarded the ship, I questioned why it was named after him. I didn't doubt his accomplishments or abilities, but I wondered why not honor a marine scientist. But now I realize there couldn't be a more fitting name for a research vessel - to celebrate one of the United States' greatest explorers. Armstrong has inspired generations of young scientists. To this day, his moonwalk still seems unfathomable. Let's hope a new wave of ocean scientists will use this ship to better understand our water planet.
It is always exciting to go to sea, but this voyage is particularly energizing as we are approaching it with a spirit of exploration. Unfortunately, this is not always possible as most research today (even oceanography) is conducted in a very calculated and controlled fashion, requiring proposals, hypotheses, clear plans and detailed budgets. Certainly, this is important as effective research must follow the scientific method and funding must be invested wisely. But, because this expedition is for scientific verification of the new ship, it is allowing us to have a more flexible and free approach. This is wonderfully refreshing, and the vibe on the vessel seems different as a result (i.e., less stressed and more excited). I'm hopeful that many other scientists that come aboard this vessel will be inspired by Armstrong. Like space, the oceans are vast and largely unexplored. We need more scientific adventurers to help us explore and understand the depths of the sea.