One of the iconic ships that ferried the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters (SRBs) back to shore after they splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean – will be leaving the shores of the Space Coast. NASA’s MV Liberty Star will be sent to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. This is part of a memorandum of understanding or MOU signed by NASA and the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration (MARAD).
Under this agreement signed on Tuesday Aug. 21 Liberty Star will be used by the National Defense Reserve Fleet – as a training vessel. In this capacity, the ship will be used by midshipmen at the Merchant Marine Academy. Liberty Star will be used to teach these midshipmen modern towing techniques and other required skills.
NASA will still retain access to Liberty Star if the space agency needs it and if it is available.
“Liberty Star served NASA well during the Space Shuttle Program,” said NASA’s Acting Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “We know it will greatly benefit the Kings Point midshipmen, and we’re proud that Liberty Star will continue to serve the United States with distinction.”
There are two SRB recovery vessels, MV Liberty Star and MV Freedom Star. Each of these vessels are currently operated by United Space Alliance (USA). According to a NASA press release, NASA is also looking for a suitable use for Freedom Star as well. As such, this vessel might also be leaving Florida in the near future.
Both SRB recovery ships were launched in 1981 and worked to recover the spent shuttle SRBs after they had completed their task of sending space shuttle crews to orbit. These ships were constructed at the Atlantic Marine Shipyard on Fort George Island in Florida. Each recovery ship is capable of towing approximately 60,000 pounds (27,000 kilograms).
“This agreement is a win-win for both Kings Point and NASA,” said Maritime Administrator David Matsuda. “The ship’s high tech equipment and real world capabilities closely mirror what graduates will see entering the maritime work force.”
The ships utilize auxiliary engines and other measures so when they coasted up the Banana River they would avoid harming Florida’s Manatee population.
These vessels have been used by other agencies as well as for other purposes by NASA. NASA’s sister organization, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, has used the recovery ships in the past. NASA has employed them in the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to monitor launch vehicles during ascent.