The Story of NASA's Space Tracking Ships

Vitenskap og teknologi

During the 1950's and 60's the US converted a number of aging cargo ships into floating tracking stations to support the space program. These ships had been built quickly to support the US in World War II, and many had since been mothballed. About 20 of these would be converted to host multiple antennas and tons of electronics as well as mini versions of mission control which could operate independent of primary mission control if needed.
Manual for crew serving on board the Apollo tracking ships.


  • Unidentified Biomass
    Unidentified Biomass4 dager siden

    Hmm I hope a sentient computer virus does not get beamed down from a satellite then use the crew as organic building materials

  • Paul Jorgensen
    Paul Jorgensen8 dager siden

    Where did u get your shirt from??

  • Chris Juhl
    Chris Juhl9 dager siden

    My father was on the Rose Knot. Shout out to all the Range Rats! It could be a video all to itself.

  • Martin Schemmel
    Martin Schemmel12 dager siden

    I would like to see your backyard.. maybe we can start a own space programm there

  • Juliean Galak
    Juliean Galak12 dager siden

    Great video. You should do an episode on the Soviet tracking ships some time. As I understand it, they were still in active use in the mid-1980s.

  • Bob Marley
    Bob Marley13 dager siden

    I see Iain Banks. Amazing writer! check out "Transition" if you didnt already :)

  • F R
    F R13 dager siden

    US built, owned, and operated. Feet and meters please.

  • StYxXx
    StYxXx13 dager siden

    Those are nice pictures showing the effect of the camouflage they used back then to confuse enemy sailors. Also the fake russian ship for the "just make it look messy, that's russian for our viewers" :D

  • Ralph L
    Ralph L13 dager siden

    Got to go on the Range Tracker in Oxnard as a kid back in the late 60's.

  • Yxen007
    Yxen00714 dager siden

    Thanks for using meters.

  • Richard Burgan
    Richard Burgan15 dager siden

    One tracking ship you didn't mention is the USNS Arnold (T-AGM-9). It entered service in 1964 and was decommissioned in 1982. I believe it was similar to the Vandenberg.

  • meka erwin
    meka erwin15 dager siden

    "Only the vanguard remained..." Suitable for a ship named the vanguard.

  • TheAnimeist
    TheAnimeist15 dager siden

    Scott, @12:35 You mean scuttled.

  • Michael Ceballos
    Michael Ceballos15 dager siden

    Just curious, why no mention of the USNS Range Sentinel?

  • N M
    N M17 dager siden

    This has DoD written all over it

  • Daniel 31
    Daniel 3118 dager siden

    Everytime I tend to think "OK I learned almost everything about space flight history" there's another of Scott's videos making me think "oh hey I didn't know that!"

  • Grant Fryer
    Grant Fryer18 dager siden

    I want to dive that shipwreck now!

  • Brian H
    Brian H18 dager siden

    In early January I dove the Vandenberg wreck, very cool ship indeed!

  • Andy Panda
    Andy Panda18 dager siden

    In the 1970s, USNS Vanguard was 'hanging out' around Alaska. Saw her couple of times. While at sea on our Coast Guard Cutter. . .

  • Kevin Hanley
    Kevin Hanley18 dager siden

    How about the USS/USNS Observation Island? ‘Saw it a few times.

  • Akios Eres
    Akios Eres19 dager siden

    Its a fucking mesh network of routers 🤣 They never show this part in the movies!

  • Nicolae Crefelean
    Nicolae Crefelean19 dager siden

    0:21 Destroyed, restored... yeah, too easy to mix them up. 🤣 (not)

  • øyvind Skarsten
    øyvind Skarsten20 dager siden

    "For marinelife to call home" Well thanks for bringing a toxic home, into our home :D

  • Graham Watts
    Graham Watts20 dager siden

    When we used to see the satellite downlink signal of one of the ships going up and down we would say "It looks rough out there today"

  • Ryan Benson
    Ryan Benson20 dager siden

    Fascinating, thank you!

  • DragonInside
    DragonInside20 dager siden

    These type of ships remind me of the movie "Virus"

  • Logan Osmolinski
    Logan Osmolinski20 dager siden

    Mandatory interaction

  • David Hobson
    David Hobson21 dag siden

    Ooh, Matter.

  • John
    John21 dag siden

    Is there any chance that you could indulge an old IT person and tell us what computers they had on board these ships? Indeed what computers were used at the various NASA ground centres? There have been several NOprojects videos on the flight computers, and they were ground breaking. I would think a computer back then going to sea would be a bit of a challenge too.

  • John


    8 dager siden

    @Merle Wagner Thank you Merle.

  • Merle Wagner

    Merle Wagner

    8 dager siden

    The computers on the Apollo tracking ships were the Univac 642B systems. One for antenna tracking and two for telemetry data being retransmitted via satellite.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo
    Andrew Tubbiolo21 dag siden

    An interesting part of their era. War surplus and excess American industrial capability allowed those ships to be made, outfitted, and operated to support the nascent spaceflight of their era. The United States today could not build those ships, outfit them, or operate them. Yet their roles have been filled in by satellites that do a much better job. Truly a indicative marker of a moment in time.

  • JBM425
    JBM42521 dag siden

    I recall the ships being referred to by their three-letter names, such as "Rose Knot Victor" and "Coastal Sentry Quebec." It appears that third character/word was added for communications and ID purposes but was not part of the real name of the ships.

  • Rob B
    Rob B21 dag siden

    I imagine Scott calling Sausolito "home" has every true Scot choking on their oats. ;)

  • kentwilton
    kentwilton21 dag siden

    I worked the "Observation Island" for RCA for a while. Not a ship you discussed, but a close cousin.

  • AlbySpace
    AlbySpace21 dag siden

    I’m Scott Manley, sail safe

  • Alex G
    Alex G21 dag siden

    Nice. I miss the days when the shithole that is California actually did something positive for this country.

  • Critical Event
    Critical Event21 dag siden

    The Russian ones used to come into our port every 6 months or so, everybody knew they were spy ships but they were allowed to pass freely for whatever reason. I got a lot of Russian coins and pins trading with those sailors.

  • Andrew Wetzel
    Andrew Wetzel21 dag siden

    Thank you for remembering a forgotten portion of the Manned Space Flight story. My dad was very involved with the Range Tracking and Instrumentation ships, from Mercury on up to Apollo. And, later, his position as AF Liaison Officer at Kwajalein Missile Range got us access to the tracking ships, especially Vandenberg, when they came from Hawaii (special treat was fresh milk, not frozen milk reconstituted like you could get at Kwaj. Mmmm, fresh milk.) I loved seeing the tracking ships when I was a kid, and love, now, seeing them back in people's sight, so to speak. Helps keep a connection between me and dad. His name was Robert P. Wetzel, for any of you range tracking ship people out there. I hope some of you got to meet him.

  • Creative Prop
    Creative Prop21 dag siden

    I saw the lego space shuttle in the back. Have you built it yet?

  • awsumguy7680
    awsumguy768021 dag siden

    "im scott manley, sail safe"

  • hopefultoo
    hopefultoo21 dag siden

    Why do the Chinese have one or more tracking ships?

  • Leon Derczynski
    Leon Derczynski22 dager siden

    good book

  • thanksfernuthin
    thanksfernuthin22 dager siden

    I wonder what ships there are we don't know about. In the ICBM testing program anyway.

  • gionata1 conti
    gionata1 conti22 dager siden

    Absolutely Incredibly detailed and insightful documentary 👏

  • Congo Pense
    Congo Pense22 dager siden

    I've seen that building

  • Gehtdich Nixan
    Gehtdich Nixan22 dager siden

    6:27 the Corona pandemic is a NASA conspiracy, I knew it

  • Tomas Schertel
    Tomas Schertel22 dager siden

    Is there any telescope ship? Wouldn't it be great?? No city lights, maybe fewer pollution..

  • Neill Thornton
    Neill Thornton22 dager siden

    Shoulda rounded it out by talking about the two platforms still in service, the USNS Howard Lorenzen and the SBX. Both can track both ballistic and orbital vehicles, with amazing accuracy!

  • xmoex
    xmoex22 dager siden

    Hi Scott, I'm curious: is there any footage of a Soyus performing it's module separation?

  • Der Pfandleiher
    Der Pfandleiher22 dager siden

    A lot of times i hear you say "i think" . Do you do a lot of research or is this all from your memory:)?

  • Bastiaan Cheetah™
    Bastiaan Cheetah™22 dager siden

    Where are the subtitles?

  • Eric Fermin
    Eric Fermin22 dager siden

    @9:23 and other maps, the coverage patterns of the ground stations are very unique. The circular coverage patterns have weird gaps. Is this related to something about the antenna structure?

  • Just Another Dane
    Just Another Dane22 dager siden

    So, what was it doing, when it got scraped? Oh you know... Stuff...

  • Michael
    Michael22 dager siden

    My father worked at the Marin Shipyard during WWII. He had a friend who was a photographer for the yard so I have boxes of photos of ships and some parts of the yard. When I drive by, I always smile thinking of my father's stories.

  • Λογος Λογος
    Λογος Λογος22 dager siden

    Scott Manley : So that's what Nasa build in my backyard. Next week I will speak about what Nasa build in my basement.

  • Eric S
    Eric S22 dager siden

    You forgot the USS ARLINGTON AGMR-2.

  • IstasPumaNevada
    IstasPumaNevada22 dager siden

    I see that lego Discovery model sitting there. :)

  • A_Dreamer
    A_Dreamer22 dager siden

    You gonna make a video of pathfinder from for all mankind?

  • Mal-2 KSC
    Mal-2 KSC22 dager siden

    Wouldn't it be neat if it turns out the actual production Starship is made from recycled scrap from the Vanguard? What goes around comes around.

  • Anonymer Nutzer
    Anonymer Nutzer22 dager siden

    Today, Starship was selected to Land on the moon!

  • John Michaelson
    John Michaelson22 dager siden

    The Soviets built some neat looking space tracking ships as late as the 70's as well. A couple of them were huge, the Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was like 235m with almost Very Large Array-sized dishes.

    SAMUEL NAUMETS22 dager siden

    It’s amazing how many ships found many new lives after the war.

  • deanerhar


    19 dager siden

    And how many fish found new lives in those ships afterwards.

  • SpocksLesserKnown2ndCousinBruce
    SpocksLesserKnown2ndCousinBruce22 dager siden


  • PI
    PI22 dager siden

    What about the Pacific Tracker? Was that ever used in the space program?

  • Tony Apuzzo
    Tony Apuzzo22 dager siden

    Float Safe!

  • Reactor Four
    Reactor Four22 dager siden

    Am I the only one that thinks that “USNS Coastal Sentry” is a really cool name for a ship designed to track rockets? Like seriously, I’ll probably name my next SSTO that.

  • Gold Geologist
    Gold Geologist22 dager siden

    Thanks for giving us this Scott. Such an interesting piece of history!

  • chitra jaikumar
    chitra jaikumar22 dager siden

    NASA chooses SpaceX for HLS

  • DeWayne Blue
    DeWayne Blue22 dager siden

    Intesting tidbit: those Snark cruise missiles (01:37) were designed to be recoverable, but of the snark A and B models, none were recovered. Finally, in the mid-50s, testing of model C Snarks was moved to Cape Canaveral and the missiles were deliberately flown into the Atlantic. The failures and the deliberate “dumps”, caused workers at the Eastern Test Range to refer to the area as “Snark-infested waters.”

  • Rick L.
    Rick L.22 dager siden

    Virus is one of my favorite almost movies. It’s still such a cool plot! I didn’t like some of the choices as it wasn’t quite horrifying enough. But the idea of being onboard an advanced ship with an ai that is self replicating out of whatever scraps it can find is so creepy!

  • Dean Ford
    Dean Ford22 dager siden

    Weren’t the T2s notorious for breaking in two?

  • Charles Picco
    Charles Picco22 dager siden

    Who wants to go to the Horse and Cow and get crazy!

  • Joshua Zelinsky
    Joshua Zelinsky22 dager siden

    In the map at 7:03, why do some of the regions which show the tracking areas look non-circular? In particular, a bunch of them have two little wedges cut out, at the top and the bottom of an otherwise circular region. What is going on there?

  • Wdbx831
    Wdbx83122 dager siden

    Scott, you have to do a feature on TDRS. It is still an evolving infrastructure although much less of a wow factor than it was in it's early days, but still a critical asset.

  • Dallas Barr
    Dallas Barr22 dager siden

    "I'm Scott Manley, sail safe."

  • Dean Palmer
    Dean Palmer22 dager siden

    It just occurred to me that the term “Flight Surgeon” is an odd name. It is not as though they would be doing surgery during a flight.

  • Richard Kerman
    Richard Kerman22 dager siden

    Could you do a video in Mercury and Gemini?

  • fritter63
    fritter6323 dager siden

    Whan Scott Manley says "Local connection", Saucelito is the LAST thing I expect....... :)

  • Eric Lotze
    Eric Lotze23 dager siden

    Sad there aren't any open as Museums

  • secular monk

    secular monk

    22 dager siden

    The Jeremiah O'Brien is a WWII liberty ship that is a tourist attraction on SF's Fisherman Wharf ... no satellite dishes or telemetry consoles, but a sister ship in spirit (and you can see Sausalito from the deck, north across the bay, to the left of Alcatraz)

  • Eric Lotze

    Eric Lotze

    23 dager siden

    And i know this is how it goes for most ships, but it makes me sad nonetheless (always getting attached to inanimate objects lol, don't even get me started on that "last moments of Cassini video...)

  • Eric Lotze

    Eric Lotze

    23 dager siden

    (Unless you count the artificial reef)

  • Brendan Byrne
    Brendan Byrne23 dager siden

    From you backyard to mine.... I live in Key West and witnessed the sinking of the Vandenburg and have dove it many times....

  • Retro Reaktor
    Retro Reaktor23 dager siden

    Virus was an awesome little sci-fi horror movie.

  • David Earnest
    David Earnest23 dager siden

    My father was a NASA engineer from 1964 to 1971. He was aboard several of these ships on extended missions in support of the Gemini and Apollo missions through Apollo 13. He was on the USNS Range Tracker (T-AGM-1), USNS Watertown (T-AGM-6) and the USNS Sampan Hitch (T-AGM-14) out of Port Hueneme CA for most of those missions. On a side note. All three of these ships were built in Portland Oregon in the 1940's. My maternal grandfather was the Lead Electrician for Oregon Shipyards in those days and actually was involved in their fit outs. I have been on these ships numerous times. They looked awful on the outside after their various missions but were mostly Navy spotless on the inside.

  • CLipka2373
    CLipka237323 dager siden

    What's that Lego set in front of the bookshelf? Is it new? Is it scrumptious?

  • sous manomax
    sous manomax23 dager siden

    Yes, correct, spent 6 years aboard the Vanguard, there is a handful of us left. Enjoying the SpaceX landings. Book: Range Rats at Sea by Dan and Gloria we put up the new TDRSS satellites which out teched everything as well as the ground stations.

  • Caleb Geko
    Caleb Geko23 dager siden

    i forgot about that movie, but just got it on DVD, spanks Fly Save:)o7

  • HackanHackerGames
    HackanHackerGames23 dager siden

    When you know an outro by every notes precisly :D

  • Diane Arends
    Diane Arends23 dager siden

    Scott Manley Thank you so much for "The Story of NASA's Space Tracking Ships"! My husband, Len Arends, was on the USNS Vanguard from 1969 to 1972, when it was stationed at Port Canaveral. Len's 2 brothers, Nick and Vince also worked with him in the Navigation Center. My cousin, Mike Linthicum, worked with him and introducted us. We were married in 1971. Len was also on the USNS Huntsville during Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 reentries in the South Pacific. He said he had goosebumps several times during your broadcast. Our oldest son, Leonard Arends Jr. lives in San Bruno CA and took us on a tour of Marin Works ... that's where the Bay Model is ... I think we discussed the possibility that the Vanguard was built there ... now, Scott Manley has confirmed it!

  • sous manomax

    sous manomax

    23 dager siden

    @Diane Arends 1973 to 1979 with 6 months in Barstow

  • Diane Arends

    Diane Arends

    23 dager siden

    @sous manomax what years?

  • sous manomax

    sous manomax

    23 dager siden

    Hello from Rich in the calibration lab on the Vanguard

  • Mr. Pete Channel needs 900 subbies!
    Mr. Pete Channel needs 900 subbies!23 dager siden

    Sad that none remain.

  • DFPercush
    DFPercush23 dager siden

    11:58 throwing some serious shade man haha

  • crazzy88ss
    crazzy88ss23 dager siden

    Fun fact: In that same area in Sausalito is the Record Plant, where some famous names performed and recorded records. Musicians like Fleetwood Mac, Carlos Santana, Grateful Dead, Rick James, Prince, Bob Marley, Journey, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band, Huey Lewis and the News, Mariah Carey, Linda Ronstadt, John Fogerty, Jesse Colin Young, The Doobie Brothers, etc.

  • Chris Johnson
    Chris Johnson23 dager siden

    There's a T3 tanker a close cousin of the T2 still around hauling cargo in the great lakes... She still retains alot of the lines of the T series especially the bow...

  • Knife-Wielding Spider God
    Knife-Wielding Spider God23 dager siden

    There is a horror movie made regarding one of these kinds of ships. "Virus", I think.

  • Mike Richards
    Mike Richards23 dager siden

    Great video about a subject I knew very little about. Any chance of a similar one about the Soviet tracking ships such as the Gagarin?

  • UncleManuel
    UncleManuel23 dager siden

    "...and the Corona program." My brain was like: Whaaaaat?!?! 😲🤪😁

  • Scott Manley

    Scott Manley

    23 dager siden

  • Taylor Blaylock
    Taylor Blaylock23 dager siden

    Hello Scott! Great video! I currently fly on the RC-135 V/W rivet Joint. I was wondering if you know about a specialized earlier rendition of my jet called the EC-135 Aria? It was a specialized plane to communicate with Apollo spacecraft and track them in the gaps where ships could not. Love to hear your thoughts on the plane!

  • Wampa842
    Wampa84223 dager siden

    I really thought this was going to be a Skill Up video guessing from the thumbnail.

  • Safe Pancake
    Safe Pancake23 dager siden

    It was so unfortunate that they forgot to tell the crew they were gonna sink it

  • Martin Kahan
    Martin Kahan23 dager siden

    Having lived in Key West I do the Vandenberg many times it's a way cool dive

  • maxcelcat
    maxcelcat23 dager siden

    Didn't the soviets have a bunch of these - mostly because of a lack of allies in several hemispheres!

  • KalopsiaVanVliet
    KalopsiaVanVliet23 dager siden

    Should have ended Seal Safe

  • Peter Kemp
    Peter Kemp23 dager siden

    MAtter by Iain M Banks on your desk - love that book!