Research ships are much more numerous on the high seas in the 1990s than they were in the 1950s. At that time the United Kingdom was fortunate in that it had a purpose-built research vessel, RRS 'Discovery II' (see inside back cover), the successor to Scott's 'Discovery' (which was itself granted the title Royal Research Ship in 1923, see inside front cover). 'Discovery II's prime objectives had originally been oceanographic research in the Antarctic relevant to the whaling industry, to which end she had completed six two-year Antarctic commissions. In the 1950s she was being operated by the National Institute of Oceanography and was working extensively in the North Atlantic, covering the gamut of marine physics, chemistry, biology and geology, including participation in the research programme of the International Geophysical Year. However, by 1959 she was 30 years old, and both scientific space and stability had become limiting. Increasingly stringent Ministry of Trade requirements were also making successive refits less and less cost-effective. In April of that year the first brief outline for a replacement vessel was prepared, and six months later discussions between naval architects and the National Oceanographic Council (represented by Dr H.F.P. Herdman) produced an outline draft specification for the new ship. Further discussions with the Admiralty finally resulted, in June 1961, in an order being placed for a new vessel, at an estimated cost of £800K (Deacon, 1967).
The new ship, the RRS 'Discovery', was launched in July 1962 and commissioned on 17 December, 10 m shorter than her originally conceived length but at a contained final cost of £802K.