NASA Rocket Ship Rechristened as USMMA’s T/V Kings Pointer

T/V Kings Pointer rechristening. Photo courtesy MARAD
T/V Kings Pointer rechristening. Photo courtesy MARAD

A former NASA rocket booster recovery ship has been formally rechristened as the United States Merchant Marine Academy’s new T/V Kings Pointer following an extensive overhaul at a Florida shipyard.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Acting Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen were on hand at USMMA this week to celebrate the rechristening along with Superintendent Rear Admiral James Helis, Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer and Representatives Timothy Bishop and Steve Israel.

M/V Liberty Star. Image via NASA
M/V Liberty Star. Image via NASA

The Kings Pointer was retrofitted as a training vessel at North Florida Shipyard at a cost of $3.3 million. Before being redesigned for this role, the ship was previously known as the MV Liberty Star and served as a rocket booster recovery vessel for NASA, retrieving solid rocket boosters from the ocean following space shuttle launches.

“The new Kings Pointer is yet another example of this Administration’s commitment to ensuring first-rate training and facilities for the Academy’s midshipmen,” said Secretary Foxx. “With this modern vessel, the USMMA will continue to produce the finest mariners in the world, helping ensure our national and economic security.”

Since FY 2009, the Obama Administration has invested more than $450 million at the Academy, including almost $100 million for capital improvements— the most funding ever secured for physical improvements at the Academy. The rechristening of the T/V Kings Pointer follows the recent dedication of the Academy’s newly replaced Mallory Pier.

Propelled by two combined 2,900 horsepower diesel engines, the 176-foot long, newly-christened Kings Pointer has a 6,000 mile range and a maximum speed of 15 knots. The ship’s controllable pitch propellers and auxiliary water jet thruster, combined with modern joy-stick dynamic positioning capability provide midshipmen a highly maneuverable training platform. The vessel has a 7,500 pound deck crane, which is an ideal tool for providing a basic understanding of modern cargo operations. It also has a fast rescue boat, which can provide midshipman critical experience in general launch operations. In addition, the vessel’s double towing winch, substantial towing H bitts, and a massive towing fairlead add significant new towing training capabilities to the Academy’s portfolio.

The Academy has been without a proper training ship since December 2011 when MARAD unexpectedly stripped the Academy of its beloved 1983-built, 224? long training ship amid the reassignment of top leadership at the Academy. The vessel was subsequently transferred to Galveston, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy.

The vessel’s sponsor was Mrs. Jan Ryan Helis, who had the honor of breaking the ceremonial bottle of champagne across the bow while exclaiming “I christen thee Kings Pointer”.

Speakers at the rechristening ceremony were full of praise for the Academy and ship. Here are a few quotes from the event:

“The Merchant Marine Academy has been a treasured part of this country since Congress commissioned its establishment in 1936,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “It is quite literally, the jewel of the sea, and given the continued role that Congress plays in its operations, it’s my responsibility as Senator to do everything I can to see this institution flourish. I’m thrilled to have worked in recent years to address three key issues at the Academy: finding inspiring leadership through a permanent Superintendent, rehabilitating Mallory Pier, and today bringing back the Kings Pointer, this critical training vessel. It’s a banner day for the Merchant Marine Academy.”

“The USMMA is the crown jewel of my Congressional District because of the tradition of service and professionalism of its midshipmen and this institution,” said U.S. Congressman Steve Israel. “The new Kings Pointer will ensure that midshipmen continue to receive superb training and preparation for serving our nation.”

“I am proud to join Secretary Foxx and Admiral Helis today as we rechristen the Kings Pointer,” said Congressman Tim Bishop. “Each year, we send our best and brightest to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to train to become our nation’s next military and transportation leaders. This vessel will provide a vital expansion of that training.”