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Despite buzz. Navy will still teach stars

Jan 1, 2003

A misleading report in a Baltimore newspaper about the discontinuation of celestial navigation instruction at the U.S. Naval Academy created a stir in national newspapers in May, including a sentimental editorial in The New York Times.

The Naval Academy issued a statement in mid-May describing a change in the way celestial navigation would be taught. Instead of continuing traditional pad-and-pencil sight reduction, the Academy announced it would use The Cap'n navigation software program by Nautical Technologies, Ltd., of Bangor, Maine, in future navigation courses, but would continue to teach use of the sextant.

Apparently misunderstanding the Academy statement, the Baltimore Sun reported, "Midshipmen will be taught briefly about the theory behind navigating by the stars but will no longer need to master the sextant." Basing its subsequent report on this statement, the Associated Press interpreted this information to mean that the Academy would no longer teach celestial at all, opting to embrace wholly satellite-based navigation.

On May 22, the Times editorialized about the loss, making reference to the importance of the skill of celestial navigation in history, practiced as it was by such heroes as Joshua Slocum and Ernest Shackleton. The report further stated, "The timing of the announcement was ironic, coming as it did the day after a communications satellite failed, disrupting beeper service all over the nation."

Traditionalists should remain seated, however: the Naval Academy will continue to teach use of the sextant, if not the handwritten sight-reduction process, according to the latest reports.