WASHINGTON — An oceanographer who traveled into space on a shuttle flight last fall brought back "some fantastically important" information that will make it easier for U.S. submarines to hide in the world's oceans, the chief of naval operations said Thursday.
Adm. James D. Watkins, speaking to reporters after a ceremony during which astronaut Thomas K. Mattingly was promoted to commodore and named to head the Navy Space Program Office, said also that the Navy had dramatically increased its emphasis on space and satellites.
Watkins said that astronaut Paul D. Scully-Power had "found some fantastically important new phenomenology that will be vital to us in trying to understand the ocean depths." The admiral added that the research results have been classified.
"This is why when people ask, 'Aren't the oceans getting more transparent?' we say, 'No way, they're getting more opaque.' Because we're learning more about them all the time . . . how to employ them in a stealthy sense," Watkins said.
"It allows us to do a great deal more than we ever had dreamed we would be able to do in trying to understand the oceans," he said, adding that the Navy intends to use the information in constructing a new type of oceanographic satellite.
Scully-Power is a civilian who works at the Naval Underwater Systems Center in New London, Conn. He was among the crew on the 13th space shuttle mission last October.
Although there was some discussion of the oceanographer's findings of large eddies and unknown currents under the oceans last fall, media attention during the mission centered more on the presence of a Canadian and two women on the crew and on the first space walk by a woman.
When asked if satellite technology might not be hastening the day when submarines could be tracked from space, Watkins acknowledged that the technology "is clearly opening some doors on submarine tracking."
Ahead of the Game
"But the question is: Do you open the doors of detecting submarines faster than you close the doors on learning about the ocean depths? And the answer today is: You're still ahead of the game in the latter category.
"So the ability to track submarines--we don't see that as being a threat to our forces until the turn of the century or later, depending on what kind of breakthroughs we might find at the end of this decade or into the next decade."
Even without the possibility of scientific breakthroughs, Watkins said, the Navy's reliance on space can only increase.
"I look at space in the Navy as the principal task that we have," Watkins said, adding that he fully intends to bring other Navy and Marine Corps astronauts back to regular service from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to play key roles in managing Navy space systems.