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Sunday, January 04, 2015


The US operated only one nuclear submarine that was NOT a warship.

The ship I am talking about is of course NR-1.

Cute, ain't she?  You can tell she isn't a warship because of the clutter on her deck.  She clearly isn't intended to go anywhere quickly.  In fact, when you look below the waterline, she's really weird!

This little ship has manipulators to grab stuff, and a little bay to store it once it has been grabbed.  Most interestingly, she has retractable wheels to scoot along the bottom of the ocean!

Here are her specs from Wikipedia:
Displacement:400 tons
Length:45 m (147 ft 8 in) overall
29.3 m (96 ft 2 in) pressure hull
Beam:3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
4.8 m (15 ft 9 in) at stern stabilizers.
Draft:4.6 m (15 ft 1 in)
Box keel depth (below base-line): 1.2 m (3.9 ft)
Installed power:one nuclear reactor, one turbo-alternator
Propulsion:2 × external motors
2 × propellers
4 × ducted thrusters (mounted diagonally in two "x-configured" pairs)
Speed:4.5 knots (8.3 km/h; 5.2 mph) surfaced
3.5 knots (6.5 km/h; 4.0 mph) submerged
Endurance:210-man-days nominal
16 days for a 13 person crew
330-man-days maximum
25 Days for a 13 person crew
Complement:3 officers, 8 crewmen, 2 scientists
Motto:The World's Finest Deep Submersible
A partial cutaway of this unique ship:

A model of NR-1.  Not very attractive above or below the waterline!

The controls.

Wiki also says this:
NR-1 performed underwater search and recovery, oceanographic research missions and installation and maintenance of underwater equipment to a depth of almost half a nautical mile. Its features included extending bottoming wheels, three viewing ports, exterior lighting, television and still cameras for color photographic studies, an object recovery claw, a manipulator that could be fitted with various gripping and cutting tools and a work basket that could be used in conjunction with the manipulator to deposit or recover items in the sea. Surface vision was provided by a television periscope permanently installed on a fixed mast in her sail area.  
Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, NR-1 was used to search for, identify, and recover critical parts of the Challenger craft.[2] Because it could remain on the sea floor without resurfacing frequently, NR-1 was a major tool for searching deep waters. NR-1 remained submerged and on station even when heavy weather and rough seas hit the area and forced all other search and recovery ships into port.
The NR-1's size limited its crew comforts. The crew of about 10 men could stay at sea for as long as a month, but had no kitchen or bathing facilities. They ate frozen TV dinners, bathed once a week with a bucket of water and burned chlorate candles to produce oxygen. The sub was so slow that it was towed to sea by a surface vessel, and so tiny that the crew felt the push and pull of the ocean's currents. "Everybody on NR-1 got sick," said Allison J. Holifield, who commanded the sub in the mid-1970s. "It was only a matter of whether you were throwing up or not throwing up." 
NR-1 was generally towed to and from remote mission locations by an accompanying surface tender, which was also capable of conducting research in conjunction with the submarine. 
All personnel that crewed NR-1 were nuclear-trained and specifically screened and interviewed by the Director, Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program.
Another public reason the Navy used this ship was to recover advanced aviation electronics and missiles from aircraft lost overboard from aircraft carriers.  These would have sunk to the ocean floor, and NR-1 was used to recover them, prevent unfriendly states (the Soviet Union) from getting them and reverse engineering them.

I actually considered re-enlisting for a billet on this interesting vessel (mainly to get off the ship I was then serving on).  I had a pretty high GPA at Nuclear Power School and met the good conduct criteria.  Nothing was said about the conditions aboard the ship or its mission, merely the strict requirements to even apply.  I would have been on board at the time of Challenger Space Shuttle mission.

However even my vapor-locked squid brain realized that life aboard even the very cool and secretive NR-1 probably wouldn't be that great, in addition to sticking me on the east coast for a while. Fortunately common sense prevailed.  In the end, I sucked it up until my first enlistment ended.

Oscar Wilde once remarked that "Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.  Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience".  Let me rephrase Oscar based on my personal experience: "Enlistment is the triumph of recruiters over common sense.  Re-enlistment is the triumph of hope over experience".  Fixed that for you Oscar.  Obviously there are other (better) experiences to be had in the Navy, because plenty of people do re-enlist.

That said, I would not have missed my first enlistment for *anything*.  There were some awesome guys I got to work with:  Intelligent, motivated, and humorous.  Many of them are still great friends. I learned a lot (some of which I share here), and it led to an interesting and profitable career in electrical power generation that is shielded from the ups and downs of economic cycles.  Submarine life had really big pros.  It also had really big cons - like submerging for a couple of months at a time, never having time for relationships, and doing things that might lead to angry people dropping depth charges/shooting torpedoes at you.

The bottom line though, is that I paid my dues, and decided that I didn't want to put off the pursuit of happiness a minute longer than my enlistment papers called for.  Knowing today that NR-1 crew could only shower out of a bucket once a week and had to eat TV dinners reinforces one thought:  I probably made the right decision back then.

And now for contrast,  the largest nuclear submarine ever built, the Russian Project 941 "Акула" Typhoon-Class Ballistic Missile Submarine.  These actually had room for on-board weight room, sauna room, and hot tub.  Two extremes :)

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