W ith a slight tug and a big splash, the Marinette Marine Corporation successfully launched another research vessel.
On Saturday, hundreds of people braved the chilly rain to see the Sikuliaq make the plunge into Lake Michigan. The Sikuliaq is a one of a kind ship for the United States, as it is specifically designed to cut through the icy arctic waters.
"This is the newest ship in the National Science Foundation," said Brian Rogers, Chancellor of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. "The last one was three decades ago, and if you think about the changes in technology over the last three decades, what we're able to do with this ship goes far beyond any other research vessel in the United States."
S ikuliaq, which means "young sea ice" in native Alaskan, is aptly named for its future home at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
P rior to the launch, the Sikuliaq remained perched above a dedication ceremony attended by public officials and members of UAF. The near $140 million project was entirely funded by the stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
"We got very excited when the National Science Foundation chose to put this in the stimulus package," Rogers said. "I think what we really see is the short-term economic impact, which has been wonderful in this part of the country, now will be a long-term research impact for Alaska and the arctic."
Saturday's ceremony was a dream finally realized for one of the original sponsors, Vera Alexander. Alexander serves as Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Alaska-Fairbank's School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. She is also the first woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Alaska.
"I've been involved in this project since 1962," reflected Alexander. "It's a culmination of a career, really in a sense. Not that I'll spend a lot of time on the ship because I'm a little too long in the tooth for that," Alexander joked, "but it's so good to have it, finally."
S ikuliaq will remain in Marinette for the next several months for further sea trials. Then early next year it will begin its voyage to Seward, Alaska before setting sail on its first scientific voyage in 2014.