20th Century · Inventions · Military · Modern Marvels · Navy · Ships

January 17, 1955 – USS Nautilus Becames the World’s First Nuclear Powered Ship

I love history, and I love literature.

I have been a Captain Nemo fan for a very long time. And one of my favorite Disney World memories is riding in the Nautilus.

Looks like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island are getting added to my kindle today.

Until today, I was certain that the Nautilus name was fictional as well as the wondrous ship in his books. Today I learned the Nautilus was first launched in 1800 by American inventor Robert Fulton. This Nautilus is most likely the source of the name for Nemo’s ship.

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Nuclear power had been the fascination of science for a long time leading up to World War II and had become a reality during the war.

Submarines also had proved their word during the Second World War. Submarines had a major design flaw.  The diesel powered engines required oxygen, and surprisingly so did the crew. This meant the a submarine spent as much time or more on the surface than it did submerged.

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover wanted to change this. He had a vision of an underwater satellite that did not need to come up for air. On December 12, 1951, the US Navy announced that the first nuclear-powered submarine would be named the USS Nautilus.

He took this idea to the  National Reactor Testing Station. The NRTS is exactly where you would expect to test a nuclear submarine. In the desert, west of Idaho Falls, Idaho. That is where I think of when I think Navy, the high desert in the middle of nowhere Idaho.

This sunny, warm, and tropical local is where the Nautilus was born. Admiral Rickover needed a place to prove that a nuclear reactor could safely power a Navy submarine. They built one there in Idaho not cutting any corners from land based reactors. They built it exactly as if it was going into the submarine.

On June 25, 1953, the simulated USS Nautilus did a 60-hour simulated cruise across the Atlantic Ocean.

The USS Nautilus was built by General Dynamics in Gorton, Connecticut. On January 21, 1954, she was christened with a bottle of champagne by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and launched into the Thames River.

For the next 12 months, the Nautilus remained tied to a dock as final construction was done on the ship.

On January 17, 1955, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, the Nautilus first skipper ordered the mooring lines cast off. He then radioed the now famous “underway on nuclear power.”

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Admiral Rickover’s dream has almost become a reality. Nuclear-powered submarines have all the reactor fuel they will need for its 33-year duty life. The desalinate the ocean water, and they scrub the CO2 out of the air. The only thing that keeps them having to come to the surface is the lack of food. A US nuclear submarine normally only has 90 days worth of food.



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