Nautilus (SSN-571) was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel and second submarine to bear the name. She was also the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine and the first submarine to cross the North Pole under the Arctic polar ice pack.
Nautilus was launched on 21 January 1954 by Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Groton, Connecticut. Following additional fitting-out and extensive tests, the submarine embarked on her shakedown cruise on 10 May 1955. Over the next several years, she underwent various types of testing and trials, and took part in the U.S. Navy’s development of new antisubmarine warfare (ASW) tactics — which had to be adapted to the advanced capabilities of Nautilus.
A combination of the Cold War’s quickly evolving intercontinental ballistic missile race and the surprise October 1957 Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite proved to be the decisive impetus behind Nautilus’ mission into polar waters. A successful submarine transit of the North Pole would serve to enhance U.S. defensive and offensive strategic options vis-à-vis the perceived Soviet threat. Thus, Nautilus departed Seattle on 9 June on “Operation Sunshine,” a fully submerged transit under the North Pole. However, this first attempt was blocked by drift ice in the relatively shallow waters of the arctic Chukchi Sea, and the submarine returned to Pearl Harbor. Her second attempt, begun on 23 July, proved successful. Nautilus submerged in the Barrow Sea on 1 August, transited the geographic North Pole on 3 August, and, after running submerged an additional 96 hours, surfaced off Greenland on 7 August. The commanding officer, Commander William R. Anderson, and the crew were subsequently personally congratulated by President Eisenhower and awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Between 1958 and her 30 March 1980 decommissioning at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, Nautilus was mostly homeported in New London, Connecticut, where she was assigned to Submarine Squadron Ten. The submarine was frequently underway for deployments in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, but more significantly, Nautilus served as a testbed for improved sensor and communications systems. Nautilus was also frequently used as an “opposing force” (OPFOR) unit in Navy ASW training and exercises.
In recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power, Nautilus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on 20 May 1982. Following an extensive historic ship conversion at Mare Island, the submarine was towed to Groton, Connecticut, arriving on 6 July 1985. There, on 11 April 1986, 86 years to the day after the establishment of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force, historic ship Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum opened to the public as the first exhibit of its kind in the world.
This unique museum ship continues to serve as a dramatic link to both Cold War-era history and the birth of the nuclear age.
USS Nautilus Christening Launches a Naval Warfare Revolution
USS Nautilus Crew Members Reflect on Launching Anniversary of the Navy’s First Nuclear Powered Submarine
Nuclear Navy and USS Nautilus Celebrate 60th Anniversary
Nautilus, Departing: Navy's First Nuclear-Powered Warship Sets Sail For Historic Overhaul
Historic Ship Nautilus Submarine Force Museum Promote STEM-H with Teacher Fellowship
U.S. Navy Submarine Force Icon, Vice Admiral Kenneth Carr, Remembered
Following in the Wake of USS Nautilus – a Renewed Focus on the Arctic
CNO, SECNAV and other distinguished guests help Naval Reactors celebrate the 60th anniversary of the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) first signaling "underway on nuclear power." 9 January 2015
Selected Imagery (click image to download)