Rare Diode Threatens Coast Guard’s Arctic Ambitions

The United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star is literally a one-of-a-kind ship. After its sister Polar Sea was deactivated in 2010 it became the most powerful icebreaker in the fleet, and one of only two US icebreakers capable of operating in the treacherous polar regions. The vessel is critical to protecting America’s scientific and economic interests in the Arctic, but according to a recent article in Business Insider, the ship’s age and scarcity of spare parts is making an already difficult mission even harder.

In the article, Captain William Woityra specifically mentions that the ship’s diesel-electric propulsion system is running on borrowed time as the diodes used in its AC/DC rectifier are no longer manufactured. With none remaining in the Coast Guard’s inventory, the crew has had to turn to eBay to source as many spares as possible. But once their hoard runs out, Captain Woityra fears his ship will be dead in the water:

We’ve got a few dozen of these in a box on a shelf, when they’re gone, the ship will not be able to run anymore. It’s really kind of disconcerting … that this ship, and this operation, and the US’s icebreaking presence in the Arctic is reliant on a box of spare parts that … there are no more of.”

The 45 year old ship received a $60 million refit in 2013, but that was only expected to extend the hard-working vessel’s life by 8 to 10 years. There was a proposal for a far more thorough overhaul, one which potentially would have keep the Polar Star in service until nearly 2040; but with an estimated cost of $400 million, Congress decided to go with the more economical stop-gap refit.

Polar Security Cutter

This story comes just days after the Air Force announced it’s looking for a few good hackers to help reverse engineer components on its aging fleet of B-2 bombers. Much like the Polar Star’s vintage rectifier diodes, spare parts for the the stealthy aircraft are getting increasingly difficult to find.

While the Air Force has enough money in the budget to get replacements made, the Coast Guard will just have to hope their stock of diodes holds out a little while longer. Congress has already approved the Polar Security Cutter Program, a fleet of next-generation icebreakers designed to be comparable to newer Russian and Chinese vessels. The first of these ships could set sail by 2024, providing the Polar Star some much-needed backup.

[Thanks to Chuckz for the tip.]

Josephine Peary, First Lady Of The Arctic

In the late nineteenth century, there was only one Earthly frontier left to discover: the North Pole. Many men had died or gone insane trying to reach 90°N, which, unlike the solidly continental South Pole, hides within a shifting polar sea.

One of history’s most driven Pole-seekers, Robert Peary, shocked the world when he announced that his wife Josephine would accompany him on his expedition to Greenland. The world responded, saying that she, a Washington socialite with no specialized training, had absolutely no business going there. But if it weren’t for Jo’s contributions, Robert would probably have never made it to the Pole, or even out of Greenland. Sewing and cooking skills may not seem like much, but they are vital for surviving in the Arctic climate. She also hunted, and managed the group’s Inuit employees.

Josephine Peary was more than just the woman behind the man. An Arctic explorer in her own right, she spent three winters and eight summers on the harsh and unforgiving frontier. Back at home, her Arctic accounts painted a picture of a frozen and far-off world that most could only wonder about. Jo’s writing career brought in expedition money for her husband, which sometimes turned into bailout money.

Josephine Peary, DC debutante. Image via Bowdoin College

Woman About Washington

Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch was born May 22nd, 1863 to German immigrant parents who encouraged her to explore the world. Her father, Hermann, was a linguist at the Smithsonian Institute. Because of his position, the Diebitsch family rubbed elbows with much of high society. Though Jo was raised to be a Victorian lady and upheld those values, she had progressive ideas about what women could do with themselves in addition to being wives and mothers.
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