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Google Money Funds Falkor Research Vessel for Third Mission This Year

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Aug 01, 2013 04:05 PM EDT
Falkor deploying ROV Global Explorer MK3 in the Gulf of Mexico on November 9, 2012.
A state-of-the-art oceanic research vessel set sail Thursday from a harbor in San Francisco, financed by Google's billionaire co-founder Eric Schmidt. (Photo : Debbie Nail Meyer / Schmidt Ocean Institute)

A state-of-the-art oceanic research vessel set sail Thursday from a harbor in San Francisco, financed by Google's billionaire co-founder Eric Schmidt.

The 262-foot-long "Falkor" research vessel departed on a mission to study a dead zone in the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver Island.

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Funding for the ship, which Forbes reports cost $94 million, came from the Schmidt Ocean Institute, which the Google co-founder established with his wife Wendy. Both Schmidts "share a deep interest in the oceans," Forbes reported.

Falkor was not built from the ground-up, but rather was converted from an existing ship built in 1981 in Germany. The ship went through extensive renovations from 2009 to 2012 to convert the fishing ship into an oceanographic research vessel.

Falkor takes its name from a character in the 1979 Michael Ende novel "The Neverending Story."

"The most important element about the character is that he was really lucky," Wendy Schmidt said, perhaps referring to the point in the story where Falkor is able to rescue his companion from a violent storm without having any idea where to look for him.

The Schmidts financed the reconstruction of the research vessel with the intent of allowing researchers to use it free of charge, provided they make their findings free to the public within two months of the research. Interest is high, with more than 120 applications for just a handful of slots each year, Forbes reports.

The Vancouver Island mission will be the third for Falkor. Conducted by a team of Canadian scientists, the mission will "investigate the dynamics of hypoxia on the west coast of Canada and its consequences for ocean life."

The mission is slated to last through part of September of this year, with a final mission for the year to be conducted by a different team off the coast of Oregon.

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