Navy Retires 40 Year Old “Secret” Sub

The Navy retired a 40 year old, nuclear sub, used reach depths of 3000 feet.

It still amazes me that that 40 years ago we built things like the Saturn rockets, this little sub, and the Blackbird. We’ve refined our technologies, but it is almost as if we have hit a wall in moving on to the next “big” thing.

NORFOLK, Va. — Its oven was actually a toaster taken out of a P-3 Orion. It had no shower, and there were four racks for 11 sailors. The officer in charge slept on the deck behind the conn. And since the Nixon administration, the elite crew of the NR-1 could live on the bottom of the ocean for up to a month at a time.

National Geographic magazine called it “The Navy’s Inner Space Shuttle,” and in many ways, the now retired nuclear-powered, deep-submergence boat capable of 3,000-foot dives was just that.

“I’ve been in it for a month, and it gets a little ripe,” said Robert Ballard, sea explorer and former Navy man who, among scores of other finds, discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 and John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 in 2003.

Although he didn’t use the NR-1 for those missions, he was aboard for countless explorations, and with its deactivation Nov. 21, he said he hates to see this one-of-a-kind ship retire.

“We’ve lost an asset, and it’s too bad,” Ballard told Navy Times.

Launched in Groton, Conn., in January 1969, for years NR-1 was a secret submersible built to dive so deep it had wheels for moving along the ocean floor. Because of its nuclear reactor, its dwell time was not limited by batteries like other submersibles. But it was not fast, managing a little more than 3 knots submerged.

“That’s more than fast enough to operate near the ocean floor,” said Cmdr. John McGrath, NR-1’s final officer in charge. “I’m a big fan of the ship. I think it’s an incredible chapter in Navy history.”

In its time, NR-1 was manned by nuclear-qualified submariners who passed an interview with the director of naval nuclear propulsion, currently Adm. Kirkland Donald. McGrath is rarer still among this small fraternity of submariners, having previously served as NR-1 engineer from 1997 to 2000. He came back in 2007 and will oversee the yearlong process of de-fueling the sub’s nuclear reactor before its voyage to the Navy’s submarine graveyard in Puget Sound, Wash.

In its nearly 40-year career, the NR-1 was called for countless missions — from searching for wrecked and sunken naval aircraft to finding debris from the space shuttle Challenger after its loss in 1986. [via thevirtuousrepublic]

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