ICEX and the Legacy of the USS Nautilus
Last week marked the anniversary of a little-known milestone. On August 3, 1958, the USS Nautilus, a.k.a. the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, dived at Point Barrow, Alaska, and traveled about 1,000 miles. Underneath the Arctic ice cap. Across the top of the globe. The USS Nautilus is, aside from being awesome and greatly historic, essentially the nuclear-powered shortcut pioneer. The precursor to Mapquest, if you will.
The Nautilus was an overachiever from the start, really. US Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, who ran The Navy's nuclear-propulsion program, started work on the atomic submarine in 1947 and finished it ahead of schedule in 1952. Two years later it was commissioned for duty, and first ran under nuclear power on January 17, 1955. The Nautilus was longer than other subs at the time, stretching 319 feet and displaced an impressive 3,180 tons of water. Its atomic engine needed no air, only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel to operate.
As it crossed under the North Pole, the Nautilus traveled about 500 feet deep. The ice cap above varied from 10 – 50 feet thick. This expedition cleared the way for future exploration, research, and educational opportunities for both military and civilian scientists.
More than 50 years later, submariners are still braving the harsh conditions in the Arctic. The video below is of the USS Connecticut as it surfaces through the ice. (And I thought scraping ice off my windshield was a pain!)
The Connecticut was part of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2011, a Navy exercise to ensure their technology can operate well in the extreme weather conditions found in the Arctic.
Students from the Naval Postgraduate School were permitted to attend as part of their work to determine the impact of keels on ocean-ice interaction and melting Arctic ice. Their work contributes to the Navy’s research on weather conditions in that region. This is the kind of stormchasing that I can get into.
The Nautilus and her determined crew paved the way to make these educational opportunities happen. After a 25-year career and nearly 500,000 miles steamed, she was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. She was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1982 and went on exhibit at the Submarine Force Museum in her hometown of Groton, Connecticut.
If you're like me, you're probably feeling inspired about the opportunities your military experience can open up for you after reading this. If you are, learn about your military education benefits now and start forging your path to a new career.