U.S.S. Observation Island began her career as the SS Empire State Mariner.
Her keel was laid on 15 September, 1952, at New York Shipbuilding Corporation,
Camden, New Jersey. Following a short career as a Merchant Vessel
she was placed in the Maritime Reserve Fleet. ON 10 September, 1956,
the vessel was transferred to the Navy for use as the sea going facility
for test and evaluation of the Fleet Ballistic Missile Weapons System.
The ship was commissioned as USS Observation Island (EAG-154) on December 1958. During conversion, extensive changes were made to the superstructure and holds to accommodate the installation of the first compete Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) Weapons System. From commissioning, until 27 August 1959, the efforts of the officers and men were directed towards the first at sea launch of Polaris Missile. Following this milestone and the subsequent firing of other Polaris Missiles, the ship began supporting Polaris launchings from the FBM submarines; USS George Washington (SSBN 598) being the first
On 15 December 1960, Observation Island was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for its performance during the first Polaris launches at sea. On 1 March, 1961 the ship successfully launched the new A2 Polaris Missile and on 23 October supported the first successful launch of the new A2 Polaris from an FBM Submarine, the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN 608).
During November and December 1961, Observation Island played the new role of survey ship on the Atlantic Missile Range. In January the ship returned to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for further modification in preparation for firing the new A3 Polaris and upon return to Port Canaveral in March 1962, rsumed her role as FBM submarine support ship which continued throught the summer. September and October of 1962 found Observation Island firing A2 Polaris Missiles on the Atlantic Missile Range. In late October, the ship departed for Hawaii via the Panama Canal for similar launches on the Pacific Missile Range.
Meanwhile the role of submarine support was taken over by Destroyers mounting communications and telemetry equipment in portable vans. Up intil this time, every Polaris submarine had been supported by the Observation Island.
Observation Island departed Pearl Harbor in early December and arrived in Port Canaveral before Christmas. From late April until early June 1963, Obsrvation Island was expanding her role in oceanagraphic survey in ocean areas of the Atlantic Missile Range. Upon return from survey operations, on 17 June 1963, Observation Island made the first successful at sea launch of the new A3 Polaris Missile. Immediately after firing a second successful A3 Polaris on 21 June, Observation Island proceeded to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for further modifications. The ship returned to Port Canaveral in late August 1963, and supported FBM submarine launches including the first submerged launch of an A3 Polaris missile by the USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN 619) in October.
On November 16, 1963, Observation Island was host ship to the late President Kennedy when he came aboard to observe a Polaris A2 launch at sea form the submerged submarine, USS Andrew Jackson.
During the winter of 1963 the ship continued to support Polaris launchings from submarines as well as making several launchings from her own decks.
In March 1964 the ship departed Port Canaveral for launch and support operations in the Pacific Missile Range. In early June the ship returned to her home port, after a brief port visit in Acupulco, Mexico.
The months from June to October 1964 again found the Observation Island in her familiar role as FBM submarine launching support ship, operating from Port Canaveral.
On 14 October 1964 the ship departed her home port for operations in support of the Pacific Missile Range. Liberty ports during this deployment included Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Hong Kong. The deployment ended with the arrival of the ship in Port Canaveral on 9 April 1965.
The ship returned to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the summer of 1965 for a shipyard availability period of approximately two months. Following this overhaul period she returned to daily support operations out of Port Canaveral for FBM submarines and survey work in the Atlantic Missile Range.