USS Nautilus (SSN-571) is the world's first operational nuclear-poweredsubmarine. She was the first vessel to complete a submerged transit beneath the North Pole on August 3, 1958. Namesake of the submarine in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and named after another USS Nautilus(SS-168) that served with distinction in World War II, Nautilus was authorized in 1951 and launched in 1954. Because her nuclear propulsion allowed her to remain submerged for far longer than diesel-electric submarines, she broke many records in her first years of operation and was able to travel to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines. In operation, she revealed a number of limitations in her design and construction; this information was used to improve subsequent submarines.
Following her commissioning, Nautilus remained dockside for further construction and testing. At 11 a.m. on 17 January 1955 she put to sea for the first time and signaled her historic message: "Underway on nuclear power." On 10 May, she headed south for shakedown. Submerged throughout, she traveled 2,100 km (1,100 nautical miles) from New London to San Juan, Puerto Rico and covered 2,223 km (1,200 nm) in less than ninety hours. At the time this was the longest submerged cruise by a submarine and at the highest sustained speed (for at least one hour) ever recorded.
From 1955 to 1957, Nautilus continued to be used to investigate the effects of increased submerged speeds and endurance. The improvements rendered the progress made in anti-submarine warfare during the Second World Warvirtually obsolete. Radar and anti-submarine aircraft, which had proved crucial in defeating submarines during the War, proved ineffective against a vessel able to move out of an area in record time, change depth quickly and stay submerged for very long periods.
On 4 February 1957, Nautilus logged her 60,000th nautical mile (111,120 km), matching the endurance of her namesake, the fictional Nautilus described in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. In May, she departed for the Pacific Coast to participate in coastal exercises and the fleet exercise, operation "Home Run," which acquainted units of the Pacific Fleet with the capabilities of nuclear submarines.
Nautilus returned to New London, Connecticut, on 21 July and departed again on 19 August for her first voyage of 2,226 km (1,202 nmi) under polar pack ice. Thereafter, she headed for the Eastern Atlantic to participate in NATOexercisesand conduct a tour of various British and French ports where she was inspected by defense personnel of those countries. She arrived back at New London on 28 October, underwent upkeep, and then conducted coastal operations until the spring.
Operation Sunshine - under the North Pole
In response to the nuclear ICBM threat posed by Sputnik, President Eisenhower ordered the US Navy to attempt a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for the soon-to-come SLBM weapons system. On 25 April 1958,Nautilus was underway again for the West Coast, now commanded by CommanderWilliam R. Anderson, USN. Stopping at San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, she began her history-making polar transit, operation "Sunshine", as she departed the latter port 9 June. On 19 June she entered the Chukchi Sea, but was turned back by deep draft ice in those shallow waters. On 28 June she arrived at Pearl Harborto await better ice conditions. By 23 July her wait was over and she set a course northward. She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley on 1 August and on 3 August, at 2315 (EDST) she became the first watercraft to reach the geographic North Pole. The ability to navigate at extreme latitudes and without surfacing was enabled by the technology of the North American Aviation N6A-1 Inertial Navigation System, a naval modification of the N6A used in the Navaho cruise missile. (The N6A-1 had been installed on the Nautilus and the Skate, after initial sea trials on the USS Compass Island in 1957.) From the North Pole, she continued on and after 96 hours and 1,590 nmi (2,940 km) under the ice, she surfaced northeast ofGreenland, having completed the first successful submerged voyage around the North Pole. The technical details of this mission were planned by scientists from the Naval Electronics Laboratory including Dr. Waldo Lyon who accompaniedNautilus as chief scientist and ice pilot.
Navigation beneath the arctic ice sheet was difficult. Above 85°N both magnetic compasses and normal gyrocompassesbecome inaccurate. A special gyrocompass built by Sperry Rand was installed shortly before the journey. There was a risk that the submarine would become disoriented beneath the ice and that the crew would have to play "longitude roulette". Commander Anderson had considered using torpedoes to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to surface.
As mentioned above, the most difficult part of the journey was in the Bering Strait. The ice extended as much as 60 feet (18 m) below sea level. During the initial attempt to go through the Bering Strait, there was insufficient room for the submarine to pass between the ice and the sea bottom. During the second, successful attempt to pass through the Bering passage, the submarine passed through a known channel close to Alaska (this was not the first choice way through the Bering Strait as the submarine wanted to avoid detection).
The trip beneath the ice cap was an important boost to America as the Soviets had recently launched Sputnik but had no nuclear submarine of their own. During the address announcing the journey the president mentioned that one day nuclear cargo submarines might use that route for trade.[
On 2 May 1966, Nautilus returned to her home-port to resume operations with the Atlantic Fleet, and at some point around that month, logged her 300,000th mile (560,000 km) underway. For the next year and a quarter she conducted special operations for ComSubLant and then in August 1967, returned to Portsmouth, for another year's stay, following which she conducted exercises off the southeastern seaboard. She returned to New London in December 1968.
Nautilus now serves as a museum of submarine history, after undergoing a five-month preservation in 2002, at the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics, at a cost of approximately $4.7 million. The historic ship Nautilusattracts some 250,000 visitors annually to her present berth near the Naval Submarine Base New London.
Nautilus celebrated the 50th anniversary of her commissioning on 30 September 2004 with a ceremony that included a speech from Vice Admiral Eugene P Wilkinson, the first Commanding Officer of Nautilus, and a designation of the ship as an American Nuclear Society National Nuclear Landmark.
Visitors may tour the forward two compartments, with guidance from an automated system. Despite similar alterations to exhibit the engineering spaces, tours aft of the control room are not permitted due to safety and security concerns.
The Presidential Unit Citation may be awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and cobelligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy occurring on or aft
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