On August 12, 1958, the USS Nautilus completed a
history-making transpolar voyage from Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii, to Portland, England. After diving under the ice
near Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 1, 1958, it
became the first submarine to reach the geographic
Nuclear submarines produced after the USS
Nautilus continued to pioneer new areas of submarine
operations. The USS Seawolf, the Navys second
nuclear-powered submarine, operated as an active unit
of the Atlantic Fleet. On October 6, 1958, it completed a
record-breaking 60-day run, traveling a distance of
13,761 miles submerged.
While the USS Nautilus was still undergoing
operational testing, the Navy began development of a
ballistic missile of intermediate range. Brought from
conception to initial operation in 5 yearstime, the Polaris
fleet ballistic missile (FBM) weapons system was mated
with nuclear propulsion. That development produced a
virtually invulnerable missile-firing submarine. Today,
the missile-firing submarine constitutes one of the
highest priority elements of the United States deterrent
capability; that is, a deterrent to nuclear conflict.
Each Polaris submarine could launch 16 two-stage
ballistic missiles powered by solid-fuel rocket motors,
containing a self-contained inertial guidance system.
The Polaris provided a combined explosive power
greater than the total of all the bombs dropped by all
aircraft during World War II. Nuclear propulsion
enabled these Polaris submarines to remain on patrol for
extended periods, hidden beneath the surface of the sea,
ready to launch their missiles.
On station, a Polaris submarine maintained
complete radio silence, receiving radio messages while
submerged, but not transmitting to prevent giving away
its location. Each ship had two complete crews, the Blue
and the Gold, of about 130 people each. The Polaris
operated on a system that reflected a major change in the
Navys traditional ship-manning methods. The crews
alternated on approximately 3-month-long
deployments, providing maximum on-station time for
the submarine. Its endurance was limited only by the
limitations of its personnel.
Submarines were followed by the worlds first
nuclear-powered surface warships. They were the
guided-missile cruiser USS Bainbridge, launched
April 15, 1961; the guided-missile cruiser USS Long
Beach, commissioned September 9, 1961; and the
carrier USS Enterprise, commissioned November 25,
1961. On October 3, 1964, those three ships ended
Operation Sea Orbit, a 64-day long, around-the-world,
It was during this time that space exploration
(fig. 5-15) began. The Vanguard, a 3 1/2-pound payload,
was developed by the Naval Research Laboratory. On
March 17, 1958, it was placed into orbit to test a system
designed to launch earth satellites during the
international geophysical year (IGY). Now the oldest
man-made satellite in orbit, it is expected to remain aloft
for 2,000 years.
Naval officers also participated in space exploration.
On May 5, 1961, Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., made
Americas first suborbital flight. The 15-minute shot in
Freedom 7 went 116.5 miles into space.
Although the United States was at peace following
the Korean Conflict, events were building that would
plunge the country into another conflict. Since 1959, the
French had been involved in fighting in a country most
Americans had never heard ofVietnam.
Figure 5-15.Seven original NASA astronauts.