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Oceanographic Survey Ship

Like all of the Pathfinder class ships, USNS HENSON will be multi-mission, capable of surveying in either coastal or deep ocean waters. This capability provides both economy and flexibility in an era of military downsizing. No longer will several single-purpose ships have to visit a single area to acquire the variety of data needed to fill the Navy's needs. The dual capability is also indicative of the U. S. Navy's increased emphasis on shallow water or littoral warfare. The littoral refers to the shallow-water area along the coastline extending inland to where naval influences can still be exerted.

The 5,000 ton ships, equipped with the latest survey technology, are designed and constructed to provide multiple capabilities, including physical, chemical and biological oceanography; multi-discipline environmental investigations; ocean engineering and marine acoustics; marine geology and geophysics; and bathymetric, gravimetric and magnetometric surveying.

The T-AGS 60 class is designed and constructed to commercial standards and complies with American Bureau of Shipping, U. S. Coast Guard and other regulatory body requirements for unrestricted ocean service. The resource sponsor for the ships is the Oceanographer of the Navy on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. The surveys are conducted for the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Stennis Space Center, by personnel of the Naval Oceanographic Office. The ship will be operated by the Military Sealift Command.

Typical missions of the T-AGS 60 class ships may include: oceanographic sampling and data collection of surface, midwater, and ocean floor parameters; the launching, recovering, and towing of scientific packages both tethered and autonomous including the handling, monitoring, and servicing of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs); shipboard oceanographic dataprocessing and sample analysis; and precise navigation, trackline maneuvering, and station keeping to support deep ocean and coastal surveys.

The study of natural forces and phenomena - and their influence on naval operations both under and over the sea - is one of the principal missions of the Navy's oceanography program. Natural physical forces cannot be controlled, but if their effects are understood and predictable, much can be done to anticipate their power and turn them to our advantage. It was Edward Gibbon who said, "The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators."

In 1830, the Navy established a Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington, DC to make regular observations of the sun, moon and stars so that instruments used at sea to determine longitude and latitude could be calibrated. This naval facility was renamed the U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office in 1845, after the officer in charge, Matthew Fontaine Maury, also began to collect critical oceanographic information. After the Civil War, astronomy and hydrography were designated as two independent fields of study, and the Hydrographical Office moved from the Observatory to Washington's OctaGon House.

Both disciplines - astronomy and oceanography - now fall once again under the purview of the Oceanographer of the Navy. The Navy's astronomy program employs more than 170 at sites in Washington DC, Flagstaff AZ, Anderson Mesa AZ, Colorado Springs, CO, and soon in Cerra Tololo, Chile. The Navy's oceanography program now employs more than 3,000 military and civilian personnel at facilities in Bay St. Louis, MS, and Monterey, CA, at over 70 oceanography centers and detachments around the world, and aboard ships at sea. The co-location of the Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (COMNAVMETOCCOM); the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO); and the Naval Research Laboratory Detachment in Bay St. Louis, MS creates in Mississippi the largest concentration of oceanographers anywhere in the world.

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