The USS Nautilus, SSN 571, was the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world. The $65 million Nautilus was built by the Electric Boat Company, a division of General Dynamics, and was launched Jan. 21, 1954, in Groton, Connecticut. Rear Adm. Hyman George Rickover, an electrical engineer, is considered to be the officer most responsible for convincing Congress and the Navy to fund and build a nuclear-powered submarine. First lady Mamie Eisenhower cracked the ceremonial bottle of champagne on the submarine's hull. More submarines with atomic reactors followed. The United States Navy then began construction of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and guided missile cruisers. By the late 1970s, the Navy had more than 75 nuclear-powered craft.
On one 265-hour underwater voyage, the Nautilus averaged 19.1 knots - much faster than the top speed of conventional submarines. The overall length of the Nautilus was 320 feet. It was armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes with 20 torpedoes. The crew consisted of 11 commissioned officers and 100 noncommissioned crew members. The travel range underwater was more than 100,000 miles on the power of a nuclear mass the size of a baseball.
In 1958, the Nautilus sailed from Honolulu to Portland, England, passing under the Arctic ice cap. It passed under the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958 and was under the polar ice cap for 95 hours and traveled 1,830 miles. Beginning with the Nautilus, submarines were called ships, not boats, because with nuclear power they had the size and power of surface ships. In 1980, after a career spanning 25 years and over half a million miles steamed, the Nautilus was decommissioned and is now in the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.
© Copyright 2002, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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