Jan 8

Celebrating the Birth of the Nuclear Navy

Thursday, January 8, 2015 5:05 PM


USS Nautilus (SSN 571) Water color by Albert Murray

USS Nautilus (SSN 571)
Water color by Albert Murray

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program will host a ceremony Jan. 9 at Naval Reactors’ Washington Navy Yard headquarters celebrating one of the first major milestones of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

Adm. John M. Richardson, joined by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, and the Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, will honor the 60th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear-powered warship, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), getting underway on nuclear power. It was on Jan. 17, 1955 at 11 a.m. when Nautilus Commanding Officer Cmdr. Eugene Wilkinson announced “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER.”

In addition to being an engineering marvel, Nautilus was the first in a long line of nuclear-powered ships to serve the U.S. Navy with an outstanding record of more than 155,000 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power. Just as important, she represented a huge leap in American energy security, increasing strategic independence, sustainability, and operational capability.

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover on USS Nautilus.

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover on USS Nautilus.

Getting Nautilus “underway on nuclear power” was a remarkable accomplishment that began with the concept of harnessing the power of splitting uranium atoms in 1939 by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory. That concept became reality when then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, an engineering officer, signed onto the project in 1946. Just six years later, on June 14, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed the keel of the first nuclear-powered submarine.

Nautilus Launching Program

It was Jan. 21, 1954 when Nautilus was launched at Electric Boat Shipyard, Groton, Conn. The boat was commissioned a few months later, Sept. 30. For a video of the 60th anniversary of the commissioning, please click here.

USS Nautilus in New York on Aug. 25, 1958, following her historic voyage across the North Pole on Aug. 3. US Navy photo

USS Nautilus in New York on Aug. 25, 1958, following her historic voyage across the North Pole on Aug. 3. A ticker tape parade was held to celebrate the occasion. US Navy photo

Nautilus’ career was a record-setting one, including being the first submarine to cross the North Pole – under the ice – on Aug. 3, 1958. After 25 years and four refuelings, Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980. Two years later, the first nuclear-powered submarine was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.

After undergoing historic ship conversion in 1986, USS Nautilus continues to serve her country at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton.

Editors Note: On Jan. 9 Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that SSN 795, a Virginia-class attack submarine, will bear the name USS Hyman G. Rickover.

Mabus named the submarine to honor U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the man credited for developing USS Nautilus (SSN 571), the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine. For more information click here.

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