In 1870, French writer Jules Verne penned a story of undersea adventure aboard a highly advanced submarine, the Nautilus. In the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this imaginary vessel is capable of undersea attacks against other ships, dives to great depths, and even travels to the Antarctic ice shelves. In 1954, the United States Navy commissioned the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, a vessel far more advanced than any other. In a career that would span several decades and reach achievements that no other submarine was capable, this ship seemed more like science fiction than mid-20th century technology. The Navy gave it a fitting name: the USS Nautilus.
Laid down in 1951 and commissioned in 1954, the Nautilus was powered by a pressurized water nuclear reactor. In 1955, the Nautilus became the first vessel to be underway solely driven by nuclear power. Unlike diesel engines of earlier subs, nuclear engines require no oxygen, so all air onboard a ship can be used solely for the crew. As such, the submarine would be capable of extended periods of time beneath the waves. In her career, Nautilus became the first vessel to reach the North Pole, the first to sale beneath the ice of the Arctic Circle, and set the record (at the time) for the longest duration of undersea travel at the fastest sustained speed by any vessel. Her career also saw her participate in the quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and operated extensively in the Atlantic Ocean. Decommissioned in 1980, Nautilus began her second career in 1986 as a museum ship at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, the major submarine base on the east coast of the United States (via Wikipedia).
On a previous trip home, I had spotted signs for the USS Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum along I-95 in Connecticut. After a week of miserable weather, I set off for Connecticut on a sunny, warm Sunday morning to visit this remarkable submarine and a very interesting museum. Upon arrival, however, my plans encountered a snag: while the museum was open, the submarine itself was closed for maintenance in preparation for the summer tourist season. The docent who informed me of this sad news encouraged me to explore the museum, and come back another time to tour the sub. I was glad I took his suggestion, as the museum was terrific. I will return to Groton later this Spring and bring you Part II of the tour of the Nautilus itself. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this tour of the museum.
The Submarine Force Library and Museum is open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Parking, museum entry, and tours of the submarine are free. If you are driving through Connecticut and have two or three hours free, the museum is definitely worth your time. Later this spring I will take a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and will return to the Nautilus for a proper tour. Stay tuned, and thanks for coming along on another voyage of DH!
As an aside, I also wanted to thank you, my readers. This is my 50th post of this blog! Fifty times now, you have shared my travels with me, journeying to locations near and far. I have appreciated the feedback and support you have given, either by posting in the comments, your responses via email and text message, and in-person conversations. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and share in this adventure with me. While I have always enjoyed road trips, writing this blog has helped me focus my journeys, has made me more willing to see where unknown roads lead, what interesting destinations await, and what new stories can be told. Sincerely, thank you.