USS Nautilus – The World’s First Nuclear-Powered Submarine

By | Jan 21, 2017

About two and a half years after the US Congress authorized the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus was officially launched into the Thames River in Connecticut on January 21, 1954.

The name Nautilus was selected to be the name of the submarine with the announcement on December 12, 1951. It was the sixth US Navy vessel so named following a 12-gun schooner of 1799, a 76-foot survey schooner of 1838, the first military submarine in 1911, a 66-foot patrol/escort of 1917, and a Narwhal class submarine built in 1930.

The nautilus is a mollusk found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. They have a spiral, pearly-lined shell with a series of air-filled chambers.

Later in 1954 on September 30th the submarine was commissioned, beginning its first assignment on January 17, 1955. At 11:00 the ship radioed command with the message “Underway on nuclear power.”

During the summer of 1958 the sub began her history-making polar transit, operation “Sunshine”. She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley on August 1st setting a course that would take her under the ice to the North Pole. She reached the North Pole, the first water craft to accomplish that goal, on August 3rd at 11 am EST.

The Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. During it’s 25 year career the sub traveled half a million miles. The Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, declared the sub a National Historic Landmark on May 20, 1982. Currently the Nautilus serves as a museum of submarine history in Groton, Connecticut. She opened to the public on April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force.


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