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Book on NR-1 208

snStarter writes "Hyman Rickover created NR-1 for a variety of purposes, one of which included doing science from a nuclear-powered vessel capable of sustained deep operations. Back in the '70s I really wanted to be on the crew of this puppy but all crew members were required to qualify as second class divers and that was hopeless for me. A new book, and web site, discusses NR-1 and is the most complete information on the boat I've seen in one place."
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Book on NR-1

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  • Creepy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by peterb ( 13831 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @09:48PM (#4682700) Homepage Journal

    It must take a very special sort of soldier to submit to the claustrophobic surroundings and lack of freedom inherent in being in a submarine. I can only wonder what that's like when you're in a submarine that nobody knows about.

    Watching Das Boot was as close as I ever want to get to that.
    • by korgull ( 267700 )
      Staying at home reading /. all the time might give you the same feeling.
    • Re:Creepy... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 )
      Actually, the nuclear boats are a hell of a lot more comfortable than the WWII era boats. (For rounds numbers, 2x the crew with 9x the interior volume)
      • Re:Creepy... (Score:3, Informative)

        You would be correct for every nuclear boat _except_ the NR-1. It's tiny. It is more cramped than the WWII era boats.
      • Re:Creepy... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Ponty ( 15710 )
        The problem is the nuclear-ness means that it stays underwater for a _long_ time. The WWII boats had to come up, which meant a walk in the sun or the fresh air every so often.

        Really cool, nonetheless. It must have been thrilling to be looking out the funky viewports at things that no human had ever seen before at the bottom of the ocean.
        • Re:Creepy... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Desert Raven ( 52125 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @11:27PM (#4683235)
          Heh, I love this line of thinking.

          I spent 6 months on a helicopter carrier. It was often weeks between times I got out on the surface decks, and I was allowed to. Not just any schmuck can waltz out on the weather decks when it pleases them. The vast majority of the time, only those folks whose jobs require it are allowed out there. Most folks spend the entire time inside. Thus, the difference is that the surface ships are almost always pitching and rolling, as opposed to the subs, which are pretty stable unless doing vigorous maneuvering.
          • I guess the pilot is rarely allowed to do donuts on the bottom with the wheels... :^)
          • Are they as risky as I hear jet carrier decks are? People who walk in the wrong place tend to lose their heads... literally.


            • Re:Creepy... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by crawling_chaos ( 23007 ) on Saturday November 16, 2002 @09:50AM (#4685147) Homepage
              True, but at the depths NR-1 is capable of operating at, the pressure is so great that small leak comes in with enough force to sever a finger or even an arm like a band saw would. It's designed for deeper diving than the typical fast-attack, although not as deep as a specialized deep-diver like Alvin.

              Neither job is for the risk-adverse, I'm afraid.

    • Re:Creepy... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by maddogdelta ( 558240 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:50PM (#4683050)
      I spent 4 years active duty on a submarine, and I will say that the toughest it really got was when the ice cream machine broke.

      NR-1 was never designed for long duration operations. It was designed more as an ego booster for Rickover. The other nukes were small, but you still had about the same personal space as one would have on a destroyer. My vote for those people who had it toughest were the people who either (a) get shot at more often than submariners (army/marine corps infantry) or (b) operate such high power machinery that they only have a 75% chance of living to retirement age (air force/naval/marine/army aviators).

      Pass the caramel sauce!

    • That's why the US submariner corps is volunteer-only and applicants have to pass a pretty thorough psych evaluation (last I heard).
    • You know, I passed that, and it was no big deal. Common sense on how to keep yourself and your buddy alive.
    • It must take a very special sort of soldier to submit to the claustrophobic surroundings and lack of freedom inherent in being in a submarine. I can only wonder what that's like when you're in a submarine that nobody knows about.
      Aw! Comeon. I've been dreaming of going on a sub for ages; when I did visit an operational (diesel) one, I didn't stop dreaming about that even when I saw the cramped conditions inside.

      The funny thing is that by looking at the configuration and the control/gauges, I managed to guess the operationnal characteristics of the sub, and it was obvious by the crew's faces when I asked them to confirm my suspicions ("sorry, that's classified"), I managed to guess correctly...

  • About the Book (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Operating alone and unarmed on the bottom of the sea, the U.S. Navy's smallest nuclear-powered submarine is one of its biggest weapons. Tied up at a pier, the boat with the bright orange sail looks absolutely minuscule, innocent and out of place beside its big brothers, the fleet's huge missile-carrying and attack submarines, but it can dive deeper, stay down for a month, and accomplish missions far beyond the capabilities of any of them. The ship has been cloaked in mystery. It wasn't commissioned or given a name, and even today it is hardly known beyond a select fraternity of sailors and scientists. They simply call it the NR-1.

    The little submarine was born in controversy, served in secrecy, survived potential catastrophe on numerous occasions, and is still in operation almost forty years after being concieved. It was and remains the only one of its kind ever built.

    The story of the NR-1 is told against the tense background of the Cold War and peopled with such rich characters as the acerbic Admiral Hyman Rickover, ocean scientist Robert Ballard (who found the Titanic), the designers and builders who faced almost impossible tasks to give life to the ship, the unique officers and sailors who took the little boat down into depths on covert missions, and the families who waited for them on shore, unaware that there would be no escape if the boat ran into trouble.

    "Dark Waters: An Insider's Account of the NR-1, the Cold War's Undercover Nuclear Sub" is a thrill-a-minute book of submarine adventure, imminent danger, personal bravery, technological wonder and historic discovery. It will be a proud addition to the shelves of readers who love stories of the sea, history and intrigue.

    • Re:About the Book (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Ponty ( 15710 )
      The excerpt is fantastic! First of all, the think had wheels and could roll along on the floor of the ocean. Check this out:
      Maurer added still more water to the forward ballast tanks, which brought the bow down and put both wheels back in contact. Unfortunately, the extra ballast made the boat so heavy that the maximum upward force from the combined fore-and-aft thrusters would not be able to lift it. We rolled ahead.

      Wruble suddenly noticed a slight change in the character of the ocean floor, and then saw what looked like the edge of the world crawl beneath the little window. The front wheel ran off a precipice and Wruble heard a loud whummpp as the boat lurched and his head smacked some overhead pipes that sliced a cut in his scalp. The sound he heard was the bottom of the NR-1 scraping along a canyon rim. Blood ran down his face as he yelled into his microphone, "Go back! Go back! We're going over the edge!"

      But our forward, downward momentum made that impossible and over we went, slowly sinking into an unknown cavern. Wruble felt his stomach turn over, as if he was falling from a great height, for he saw nothing but blackness below. The weight that had glued us to the bottom now pulled us inexorably into the void, nose first. The submarine was a half mile deep, nearly a ton too heavy, and falling.
      • Wruble suddenly noticed a slight change in the character of the ocean floor, and then saw what looked like the edge of the world crawl beneath the little window. The front wheel ran off a precipice and Wruble heard a loud whummpp as the boat lurched and his head smacked some overhead pipes that sliced a cut in his scalp. The sound he heard was the bottom of the NR-1 scraping along a canyon rim. Blood ran down his face as he yelled into his microphone, "Go back! Go back! We're going over the edge!"
        Sounds like a clip from " Voyage to see the bottom "...
    • OK, something I don't understand here. How was this boat special in that there was no escape if it got into trouble? I've seen the big training ascent tank back east, but how many sailors have actually made that trip and lived after damage to a sub?


      • Re:"No Escape" (Score:4, Informative)

        by eyegor ( 148503 ) on Saturday November 16, 2002 @01:12AM (#4683799)
        I've heard that it's possible to escape from a couple hundred feet, but the odds of your survival are pretty slim. The longer it takes from the time you begin to pressurize the escape trunk to when you begin your assent, the more likely it is that you're going to get a very bad case of the bends. If that doesn't get you, there's also a VERY good chance you'll hold your breath just a tiny bit and blow out a lung due to overpressurization during your assent.

        In spite of what happened to the guys on the Kursk, most of the ocean is so fricking deep that your ship will crush LONG before you hit the bottom.

        Hence, escape training is largly a waste of time.

        When the ship crushes, the volume inside the ship gets VERY small, very quickly (think diesel engine). Everything bursts into flame, then you get hit in the face with a thousand piece of equipment, then the fire gets put out a split second later by tons of seawater. Fun...

        Beats being shot and laying in a muddy ditch with your guts hanging out.....

        • The Royal Navy still has an escape tower filled with water at their training centre in Gosport and to get your submariner rating, you had to practice there. Escapes are definitely considered survivable from 100 metres which is why there is training.
          • I believe it's possible to escape from deeper depths as well. I was always taught that we shouldn't say the ship can go any deeper than 400 feet. Hence, I tend to fudge a bit when discussing depths.

            As a SCUBA diver, I have a pretty good handle on the physics involved and I'm pretty sure that as long as I don't have to worry about hytothermia, I'd be a surviver.

            We had to do escape training while in Sub School in Groton, CT. I thought it was a hoot. I wanted to do it again.
            • I would observe that I definitely wouldn't like to do this, I didn't like coming up from 10 metres when I took my PADI Open Water.

              The reason this came to light was when the Kursk went down. The discussion was that the RN was one of the few fleets to still train all their sub crews to do this and to carry the escape equipment. The Russians were in the past (at least the subs had escape compartments), but the USN didn't consider this option as they have DSVs for rescue.

              OTOH, coming up in the Barents sea definitely wouldn't be nice.

  • by rob-fu ( 564277 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:00PM (#4682754)
    What's long, hard and full of seamen?

  • And if you want the rest of the story of the US Submarine operations that we could not talk about, read Blind Mans Bluff.

    Its the the book that allowed me explane what I did while in the Navy but could not tell her.

  • by tcd004 ( 134130 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:02PM (#4682771) Homepage
    Read about this a while back. This is really interesting. After the end of the cold war, the navy deployed this shop in the Mediterranean to search for greek ship wrecks. They found thousands of ships, cargo, etc, all well-preserved after thousands of years by the cold depths of the medi.

    A UVic researcher is among a National Geographic Society team of oceanographers, engineers and archeologists that used a nuclear submarine to discover the largest concentration of ancient shipwrecks ever found in the deep sea. Dr. John Peter Oleson (Greek and Roman Studies) viewed the site off southern Italy and examined artifacts retrieved from 2,500 feet beneath an ancient Mediterranean Sea trade route by the remotely operated submersible Jason.

    More on it here. []

    Then read about Richard Gere's Ass Zoo! []

  • Incompetent pilot? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MystikPhish ( 218732 ) <ryan@fishe[ ].us ['rsr' in gap]> on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:05PM (#4682786)
    From the book excerpt: The ship was so stable that it automatically tried to keep itself level, which meant that as we came down the slope, the bow tended to rise and stay even with the stern. Only the rear wheel was touching the mud as the forward part of the boat angled slightly higher. That pointed the forward television cameras up too far to see anything on the bottom. That separation of the bow from the bottom also limited the effectiveness of the sonar.

    Maurer added still more water to the forward ballast tanks, which brought the bow down and put both wheels back in contact. Unfortunately, the extra ballast made the boat so heavy that the maximum upward force from the combined fore-and-aft thrusters would not be able to lift it. We rolled ahead.

    Why didn't the idiot pilot add a little water to the bow tanks and release some from the aft tanks? He was either totally incompetent (highly unlikely) or this "teaser" is made up... oh well..
  • by Cheesemeister ( 576080 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:06PM (#4682798)
    It takes a special kind of Nuke to ride NR-1....and the damn thing was never a secret...I personally have known about the thing for years....not only because I was a Nuke but because it has been in National Geographic a whole bunch of times. "If only we could harness this power for evil!"
  • by Istealmymusic ( 573079 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @10:10PM (#4682820) Homepage Journal wonder its NR-1!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gee, I WONDER what the sub was doing around that cable! Yep, they were just wheelin' along and "Whoa! Look at that! A trans-atlantic phone cable! How'd we get near one of those with all this fancy nav gear?"

    Oceanography, indeed. Note all the comments about sonar systems being used to "identify" and "home in on" objects. I think we've just found the sub that was rumored to be able to splice into various undersea cables. Seriously- what do you need 300+ day run capability, secure comm equipment, and more types of sonar than you can shake a stick at?

    Does anyone actually believe that this thing was built because the USN wanted to take pretty pictures of crabs? If so, where's all the scientific equipment for measuring ocean conditions, collecting samples(I've always been a big fan of those critter-slurpers), all the normal "Zeee heello, I am Jacques Cousaeu!" stuff?

    Sorry, the thing has "spy toy" written all over it. Pathetic that our tax dollars went into it. Sounds to me like someone's trying to justify the money. "Well...uh....look! Some of the pictures have crabs in them! We did some oceanography while we were tapping that line!"
    • I wonder what they were doing in Hudson's Bay. Checking for empty vodka bottles?
    • Uhhhh. Well, yeah. That's why it was a secret. Of course it was a spy-toy. It was the cold war. Youre tax dollars are now being spent on other spy toys.
    • It's obvious that given the sub had a nuclear powerplant it was going to be used on clandestine, secret operations in Soviet territorial waters to monitor Soviet Navy movements. NR-1 was probably the best submarine to quietly monitor the home bases of the Northern Fleet, the Soviet Navy's primary fleet for operations against NATO.

      What's interesting is that the Soviets never built anything like NR-1. The Soviets had built a series of miniature submarines for Spetsnaz operations in Norwegian fjords but they never did build anything akin to NR-1, even though Soviet submarine designers could have easily designed and built such a craft. Maybe the poor state of Soviet nuclear reactor design prevented the NR-1'ski from being built?
  • by Zeddicus_Z ( 214454 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @11:08PM (#4683138) Homepage
    Considering its directly-downward crew viewport, and a claw manipulator capable of lifting roughly 1000 pounds (id wager there is a seperate claw control set right near the viewport), NR-1 would be perfect for tapping and/or interfearing with deep-water communications cables.

    Even today, when America has almost nothing in the way of global powers about which to spread FUD and justify massive military spending on a project such as this, NR-1 would still be extremely useful as an intelligence gatherer operating against foreign corporates in the interests of American compaines, via taps on shallow and deep-water data lines.

    Kind of makes you wonder if all those cable cuts in the north of Australia were really caused by ships anchors, or by FUBAR'd operations by boats such as the NR-1
    • Have you boys never heard of SOSUS? [] Yeah, I'm sure that it was probably also used to tap 'secure' Soviet communications lines, but it was also probably a SOSUS repair truck.
      • I knew someone connected with that program who said they used to be able to hear Soviet subs leave the Baltic from their station at Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic. (About 6000 miles away)
  • Interesting tidbit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AllynM ( 600515 ) on Friday November 15, 2002 @11:40PM (#4683297) Journal
    NR-1 is one (if not THE) smallest portable nuclear reactor in the world. The Army tried their hand at this back in the day. They wanted to make some tiny portable field power unit. Unfortunately all they managed to do was pin some poor sap to the ceiling with a control rod.
    Luckily the Navy builds their reactors in a safer fashion. ...yet another 2 cents...
    • Only because that "poor sap" was a complete idiot.

      The army actually had a wide range of working small nuclear reactors of various sizes. They stopped only because the Vietnam war sucked up all the available money and there wasn't funds left over to continue non-war related research.
    • by MrWa ( 144753 )
      That was SL-1 [] and it demonstrates that not following procedures and, even worse, not understand WHY, can be a very dangerous thing. Making a nuclear reactor go supercritial (basically: the reactor is not only self-sustaining, but each reaction causes the reactor power to increase!) is a bad thing.

      Short story - someone purposely pulled a control out of a shutdown reactor too far, causing the reactor to become supercritial, emit a lot of steam, and impale him on the ceiling. The Army - since they didn't have Adm. Rickover (say what you want about him, he did make a very safe, very successful nuclear power program in the Navy) - should not be messing with nuclear power.

      • Nah....
        What actually happened with the control rod was in fact an accident. That plant was shut down and was cold and depressurized. They were doing some maintenance on the rod drive mechanisms and were attempting to reinstall one of the rod drive mechanisms. To do so required that the control rod be raised a very short distance to reengage the mechanism. The rod stuck when he tried to move it. He pulled harder and it came unstuck and moved a short distance quite rapidly. Unfortunately the amount of reactivity from control rod movement is a function of the speed with which the rod is moved. The speed here caused the reactor to go critical just in the portion of the core at the bottom of this control rod which generated a very high localized temperature causing the moderator, i.e., the water at the bottom of the control rod channel to turn to superheated steam which because the rod mechanism was not installed served to eject the rod rapidly from the core and impale this poor guy on the ceiling far above.

        When I went through Naval Nuclear Power training this was one of the accidents we studied. They had pictures. The funniest one was the poor guy who had his mop head go critical when he mopped up a uranium containing solution (I think it was uranium hexaflouride) and then put it in the bucket's squeezer. The mop actully went critical and heated up to the point of steaming. He died a slow death over the next few days from the massive radiation dose.
        • the amount of reactivity from control rod movement is a function of the speed with which the rod is moved

          Nope. It is the presence or absence of a neutron absorbing material (in a damping control rod design) that determines reactivity. You aren't going to change accelleration of neutrons no matter how fast you are at pulling a rod. The guy killed pulled the rod out too far. It wouldn't have mattered if it took him a tenth of a second or a week.

          I'm guessing the Navy training you got may have slipped a bit over the years.
      • "Making a nuclear reactor go supercritial ... is a bad thing."

        Oh, bullshit. You can't get a reactor from zero power to greater-than-zero power without going supercritical. Sheesh.

        "Captain! We're approaching the prompt jump!"

        "AIEEE! Abandon ship!"
    • They wanted to make some tiny portable field power unit. 15 years ago, I read an article about how East German (during the cold war) scientists had tried to build a nuclear car. The scientists failed because they couldn't isolate the nuclear reactor without the car being too heavy. Maybe it was for the best that they never managed to get these rolling nukes out on the streets. :)
    • The SL-1 incident (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Animats ( 122034 )
      Read the official report. [] While there's still some controversy over exactly how the accident occured, just reading the documentation is scary. Check "Table V - Control Rod Sticking Summary". 45 major stuck control rod incidents in two years. On three occasions, they couldn't get a control rod to go in at all. And this was in a 5-rod reactor that went critical with one rod out. Aargh. Even if they hadn't had an accident (some people think suicide or sabotage) while someone was working on a control rod drive, that reactor was an accident waiting to happen.

      The people working on the design knew it, and the reactor control rod system was being redesigned when the accident occured. This was a little reactor, developed as a crash program for a military project, and deliberately installed in the middle of nowhere so that should the worst-case accident occur, the effects wouldn't affect anybody other than those directly involved at the test site.

  • Wasn't NR-1 used to recover parts of Challenger's SRBs from the floor of the Atlantic?
  • More info on NR-1 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cheese Cracker ( 615402 ) on Saturday November 16, 2002 @12:24AM (#4683496)
    If you're interested in learning more about the NR-1 sub... go here [].
  • A Beowulf cluster... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Saturday November 16, 2002 @12:41AM (#4683625) Homepage
    of these wouldn't be very interesting:

    The NR-1 has two AN/UYK-44 military digital computers. The main computer is normally used for navigation, ship control and guidance, and the auxiliary computer is used as a backup or scientific computer, depending on user needs or mission requirements. In addition, a 80486 PC serves as an interface with the main and auxiliary computers for data reduction and graphics. The terminal is designed for dedicated scientific use, and is user programmable.

    Ah yes, the time delay involved in getting equipment mil and spy spec'ed. I remember a Tempest-spec'ed PC in 1989. It might have had a 286, and ran MSDOS 1.2. (That's what had been approved, no additions or substitutions allowed.)

    These days, for civilian missions at least, I bet they bring along some kick-ass laptops.

  • by bubblegoose ( 473320 ) <> on Saturday November 16, 2002 @03:12AM (#4684243) Homepage Journal
    OK, I spent a couple of years on a bigger submarine (LA class Fast Attack) Here's how you can get a feel for this stuff at home.

    Surround yourself with a few people you don't like. Close all windows and doors tightly, close curtains. Seal any openings to the outside world with a proper vault. Unplug all radios and TV sets to cut yourself off completely from news, football games, Saturday Night Live, the Muppet Show, etc.

    Hourly monitor all operating home appliances, if not in use, log as secured. If using the bathroom, do not flush toilet for first two days to simulate smell of blowing sanitaries and venting inboard. Then flush daily.

    Wear only approved FBM coveralls, or proper Navy uniforms. No hats, special T-shirts, etc. Cut your hair once a week ensuring that you make it look like hell. Work 18-hour day intervals to ensure your body really gets confused. Listen to the same cassette over and over until you can't stand it anymore, and then put in one that you can't even listen to without acute nausea setting in. Set your alarm to go off just as you fall asleep, with alarm set at loud, or buy a special alarm clock with various settings, (i.e., "Man Battle Stations, Fire, Flooding in the Basement").

    Prepare food with a blindfold on to simulate what real submarine cooks do. Then take the blindfold off and try to get your dog to eat it. Then break out a can of tuna and/or peanut butter.

    Cut your bed in half, and enclose all but one side using the dimensions of a small casket as a reference. When not in bed, make up blankets properly so no one will see or care.

    Periodically, for want of excitement, open main power breaker and run around yelling, "Reactor Scram", until you are sweating profusely, then restore power. Buy yourself a snorkel and mask, and again, periodically, just for want of nothing else to do, put it on and pretend you're in a smoke filled room with no way out. For added variety, hook up the garden hose and pressurize it.

    To enable yourself to handle anything, constantly study wiring diagrams and operating instructions for various home appliances (stove, refrigerator, can opener). For no reason at all, at specified intervals (monthly, weekly, etc.) tear one item apart, just in case it was going to break down.

    Paint everything around you gray (Navy FSN gray, no substitutes) or off-white. To be sure you are living in a clean and happy environment, every Friday, set alarm on loud for a short but hated drill sound, then get up and manned with only a bucket and sponge and greeny, clean one area over and over, even if it was already spotless. Then make out a discrepancy list.

    Once a day, after normal programming hours, plug in TV and watch one movie being careful that it is (a) at least five years old, (b) made long enough prior to showing to be sure that you've seen it at least once before, or (c) be so bad you have to install a seatbelt in your chair to keep you there until it is over.

    Since no doctor will be available, stockpile Band-Aids, aspirin, and Actifed as these are proven cure-alls. Practice if necessary on your dog (surgery, dentistry, or death).

    When commencing this test simulation, lock your family, friends, and anything that means anything to you outside. Tests will run for at least two months with no end in sight.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling