NOAA exploration command center opens at MSU at Stennis

Contact: Jim Laird

STARKVILLE, Miss.--What mysteries lie in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico?

This month via the John C. Stennis Space Center, the hidden world is being revealed live and in high definition, thanks to a long-standing partnership between Mississippi State and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The university's new Science and Technology Center at the Hancock County test facility is home to the country's now-seventh NOAA Exploration Command Center. A state-of-the-art communication hub, it enables research scientists at sea and colleagues on shore to simultaneously view live video streams of the secret undersea life.

The MSU-led Northern Gulf Institute--a NOAA cooperative--and the agency's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research are coordinating the first use at Stennis of this highly advanced technology. Another key part of the effort is the Okeanos Explorer, the NOAA exploration flagship currently probing the gulf floor.

This month, scientists from across the region have been traveling to Stennis to participate aboard the only ship in the NOAA fleet capable of utilizing telepresence.

MSU's High Performance Computing Collaboratory and NOAA's National Coastal Data Development Center, a division of the agency's National Oceanographic Data Center, provided technical support for the team effort that made the command center possible.

"The MSU Science and Technology Center at Stennis is the perfect place to house the new NOAA Exploration Command Center," said Steve Ashby, NGI associate director. "Stennis is known for innovative research and collaboration among its agencies.

"We were able to set up the exploration command center very quickly because MSU and NOAA work well together here," Ashby said, adding, "This is a good example of the kind of cooperation that exists at Stennis."

The idea behind NOAA Exploration Command Centers began in 2003 when the agency's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research collaborated with internationally known ocean scientist and explorer Robert Ballard, who first envisioned scientists participating in ocean exploration through "telepresence technology."

The technology enables scientists aboard vessels to be in constant contact with others ashore through a combination of high-definition cameras and remotely operated underwater vehicles. The network includes an Internet-enabled intercom system for voice communication as the ship's remotely operated vehicles send a continuous stream of live video and data.

"The key is that this method of communication offers a unique, real-time data exchange that enables the shipboard science party to 'reach back' to scientists on shore to take advantage of a broader range of expertise," said Russell Beard, director of NOAA's National Coastal Data Development Center.

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