The Navy will launch and christen dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra, March 8, 2009, during a 7 a.m. PDT ceremony at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, Calif.
Continuing the Lewis and Clark-class (T-AKE) tradition of honoring legendary pioneers and explorers, the Navy's newest underway replenishment ship recognizes Walter "Wally" Schirra Jr., a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy test pilot who served in both World War II and the Korean War. On Oct. 3, 1962, Schirra became the fifth American in space and is honored as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. He holds the distinction of being the only astronaut to fly in each of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. Schirra officially retired from the Navy and NASA in 1969.
NASA astronaut and Navy Capt. Lee M. E. Morin will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Serving as ship's sponsor, Josephine Schirra will christen the ship in honor of her late husband. The launching ceremony will include the time-honored Navy tradition of the sponsor breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow to formally christen the ship.
USNS Wally Schirra is the eighth ship of the T-AKE class, a program of up to 14 ships, the first 11 of which will serve as combat logistics force ships and the last three of which are expected to be part of the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future). As a combat logistics force ship, USNS Wally Schirra will help the Navy maintain a worldwide forward presence by delivering ammunition, food, fuel, and other dry cargo to U.S. and allied ships at sea.
As part of Military Sealift Command's Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, Wally Schirra is designated as a United States Naval Ship and will be crewed by 124 civil service mariners and 11 Navy sailors. The ship is designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea and can carry two helicopters and additional military personnel to conduct vertical replenishment. The ship is 689 feet in length, has an overall beam of 106 ft, a navigational draft of 30 feet, displaces approximately 42,000 tons, and is capable of reaching a speed of 20 knots using a single-shaft, diesel-electric propulsion system.