Around the Pier: Scripps Welcomes R/V Sally Ride


“So I decided on science when I was in college.” — Sally Ride

The U.S. Navy announced that the nation’s newest ship for ocean research will be named to honor Sally Ride, the former UC San Diego faculty member who was the first American female astronaut and the youngest American to fly in space. 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego will operate the research vessel (R/V) Sally Ride, which is currently being constructed in Anacortes, WA. Owned by the U.S. Navy, the new ship will continue the Scripps legacy of pioneering ocean exploration and research critical to our understanding of our planet, our oceans, and our atmosphere.  As a shared-use, general-purpose ship, R/V Sally Ride will engage in a broad spectrum of research in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and climate science, including research missions with relevance to the Navy.

“Sally Ride’s career was one of firsts and will inspire generations to come,” said U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who announced the ship’s name. “I named R/V Sally Ride to honor a great researcher, but also to encourage generations of students to continue exploring, discovering, and reaching for the stars.”

Dr. Sally Ride was a UC San Diego physicist, the first American woman in space, and the co-author of seven books about science for children. In 1989, she joined the UC San Diego faculty as a professor of physics and was director of UC’s California Space Institute from 1989 to 1996. She retired from UC San Diego in 2007. In 2001, she created the educational company Sally Ride Science to pursue her long-time passion for motivating young students — especially girls — to follow their interests in science and to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. She died on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61.

“Scripps has a century-long history of seagoing excellence that is vital to the well-being of our planet and its pressing environmental challenges, and we appreciate the confidence the U.S. Navy has in UC San Diego with stewardship of its newest, state-of-the-art vessel for global ocean exploration,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “And now we are touched by the extraordinary honor that this ship is being named for Sally Ride, who, after serving our nation as a pioneering and accomplished astronaut, served on the faculty of UC San Diego for nearly two decades. Her commitment to teaching and inspiring young minds is legendary and we take tremendous pride in this prestigious and well-deserved honor for her legacy and for UC San Diego.”

Construction of R/V Sally Ride is expected to be complete in 2015, which will be followed by a period of outfitting the ship with scientific instrumentation and sea trials. The ship will join the Scripps fleet later that year and will begin sea-going research expeditions by early 2016. The ship will join the current university research fleet of four ships at the Scripps Nimitz Marine facility home port on San Diego Bay.

“Scripps looks forward to welcoming R/V Sally Ride to our fleet, enabling our scientists to conduct transformative ocean research and continued exploration and discovery in the coming decades,” said Catherine Constable, interim director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and vice chancellor for marine sciences at UC San Diego.

R/V Sally Ride belongs to a new class of oceanographic vessels — the Ocean Class — that is smaller than the large Global Class vessels (like Scripps’s R/V Roger Revelle), and intended to flexibly support a broad range of science and hands-on education initiatives. As a seagoing laboratory, the new ship will feature modern research instrumentation to support scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors, and profilers that will investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere.

Over the course of the past hundred years, Scripps has operated more than 27 oceanographic research ships that have steamed more than 6 million nautical miles in support of science. Scripps scientists have sailed to tropical islands and ventured under polar ice, observing environments and their inhabitants, collecting specimens and samples, and recording volumes of data for laboratory analysis.

For more than a century, Scripps has been a part of the University of California and its ships have benefitted from support from the UC System and UC San Diego. As with other Scripps research vessels, R/V Sally Ride will allow early career scientists to engage in ship-based science and training to support the next generation of researchers. The new ship will participate in the UC Ship Funds Program, a unique resource that allows University of California graduate students to propose, design, and execute their own research programs at sea.

“Students who conduct research aboard research ships add a valuable dimension to their education at UC San Diego by becoming critical thinkers,” said Lisa Tauxe, Scripps deputy director for education. “Getting involved in research at sea allows our students to solve questions that have an impact on the planet and its future, and their energy and innovation is crucial to the future of society and the environment.”

The new research vessel joins a colorful and historical line of yachts, tugs, fishing boats, steamers, and ships that have supported the university’s ocean science research missions for the past century. In 1904, a year after the establishment of what would become world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the institution’s key benefactor and founder, newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps, provided his personal yacht for biological and hydrographic surveys of the coastal waters off Southern California. Unfortunately, the modified yacht, originally built as a pilot boat, ended its short life as a research vessel in 1906 after being caught by breakers and running aground on a rocky ledge near the lighthouse of Point Loma.

Following the accidental fate of the first vessel used for Scripps research, another family benefactor, Ellen Browning Scripps, provided funding to build a boat designed specifically for the institution’s purposes. In August 1907, the 85-foot-long modified scow, Alexander Agassiz, built and outfitted for $16,000, was launched and served the institution’s sea-going missions for more than a decade.

Over the following century a series of more suitable, durable, and seaworthy vessels provided scientists with the ability to conduct vital research at sea. Today’s Scripps fleet consists of modern, state-of-the-art ships of various sizes and capabilities, along with the floating instrument platform FLIP. And, with the addition of R/V Sally Ride, the horizon continues to expand.

– Cindy Clark

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