NASA rocket booster recovery vessel gets new home as Kings Point’s training ship


Midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point will soon be training aboard a modern vessel equipped with state-of-the-art navigational technology, including dynamic positioning systems and advanced towing gear.

In an agreement signed in August between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Maritime Administration (MarAd) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Kings Point received the 176-foot Liberty Star into its fleet. The former space shuttle solid rocket booster recovery ship will now serve as the academy’s hands-on learning platform for midshipmen.

Liberty Star was built at Atlantic Marine Shipyard in Fort George Island, Fla., and delivered in January 1981 to its original owner, United Technologies. For propulsion there are twin 2,900-hp marine diesel engines. The vessel has a range of 6,000 nm and a maximum speed of 15 knots. Other equipment includes controllable-pitch propellers, auxiliary thrusters and a 7,500-pound-capacity deck crane.

Additional deck equipment includes double-drum towing winches, large H-bitts, and a massive towing fairlead.

As well as recovering the space shuttle solid rocket boosters, Liberty Star has since 1998 been used to tow the space shuttle external fuel tanks from their assembly plant in New Orleans to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Liberty Star has been moved from Cape Canaveral to its new home at Kings Point. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Maritime Administrator David Matsuda and other dignitaries marked the occasion with a dockside welcoming ceremony at the academy on Sept. 14.

“This agreement is a win-win for both Kings Point and NASA,” Matsuda said. “The ship’s high-tech equipment and real-world capabilities closely mirror what graduates will see entering the maritime workforce.”

MarAd spokesperson Kim Riddle said that once a shipyard is selected for upgrades, MarAd plans to increase the vessel’s berthing capacity and fully convert Liberty Star to a training vessel.

Liberty Star replaces Kings Pointer, a 224-foot former ocean surveillance ship built in 1983. The ship was transferred to the academy in 1992 and has served as a training vessel ever since. Kings Pointer has been reassigned to Galveston, Texas, where it will serve the training needs of Texas Maritime Academy.

“The M/V Liberty Star is a very important addition to our training fleet giving our midshipmen hands-on learning experiences similar to what they will encounter in the industry,” said Rear Adm. James Helis, the academy’s superintendent.

“Our training always focuses on the fundamentals of navigation, seamanship and engineering. The M/V Liberty Star will be a great training vessel for the fundamentals as well as incorporating the advanced navigation and control systems of the new specialty vessels, including dynamic positioning, a technical system important in deep sea drilling, oceanographic study and subsea construction. At the academy, we are committed to being a world leader in maritime education, and having a training fleet in step with emerging industry trends and technology helps us train the new leaders of the maritime industry to be the best they can be.”

By Professional Mariner Staff