'Old Ironsides' hosts Medal of Honor recipientsAmerica’s oldest warship afloat is headed into dry dock next month at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, but Google Maps and the U.S. Navy have made it possible for everyone to digitally visit the USS Constitution.

Just as Google made it possible to zip virtually up and down city streets almost anywhere in the world, it can now put you on and below deck of “Old Ironsides,” the still-commissioned Navy warship that made a name for itself in campaigns against the French, North African pirates and the British.

Cmdr. Sean Kearns, commander of the historic ship, called the timing of Google’s mapping ideal because preparation for the Constitution’s restoration had not yet begun.

“It enabled Google to photograph the ship pierside in her normal fully-rigged configuration before we down-rig the ship and move her into dry dock for restoration work,” Kearns said in a Navy announcement last month. The ship’s captain and crew all are Navy officers, sailors and Marines.

The ambitious restoration project includes replacing the vessel’s copper siding and making major restorations to the hull, interior and stern, the Navy said.

The ship was constructed at a private ship yard at Boston’s North End and launched in 1797, sailing and winning naval victories in the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars against Arab pirates and the British in the War of 1812. She earned the nickname Old Ironsides during a battle with the HMS Guerriere, when some British cannon shot simply bounced off her 21-inch hull.

Typically, more than 500,000 people annually have toured the ship, the Navy said. The Constitution is part of the Freedom Trail, a list of monuments and historic sites related to the Revolutionary War and the early years of the republic.

The ship conducted its last turnaround cruise before preparing for restoration on Oct. 17, nearly 217 years from the day she was launched. The ship typically makes one such cruise a year so that she may be rebirthed in the direction opposite from the previous year in order to weather evenly.

Once towed out into the Boston Harbor, the crew conducts an underway demonstration that includes a gun drill. The cruise is open to the public, with those awarded the coveted tickets selected by lottery. The Navy said 600 guests were aboard for the October turnaround.

Kearns, in the Navy’s announcement, said the Google mapping means many more people will have a chance to see the ship up close.

“Not only will it allow the public to go on a virtual tour to areas of the ship that will not be accessible while Old Ironsides is in dry dock, it will also bring this virtual tour experience to millions of people worldwide who might otherwise never get the chance to visit the ship in person,” he said.

– Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com