History of NR-1

Submarine NR-1 docked.

On 18 April 1965 President Lyndon B Johnson announced that the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of the Navy had undertaken the development of a nuclear powered, deep submergence submarine. The capability of this manned vehicle, designated SUBMARINE NR-1 would greatly surpass that of any other vehicle planned or in use at the time because of the vastly increased endurance made possible by nuclear power.

She is 150 feet long, weighs 450 tons and is propelled by twin screws and four thrusters, two each at the bow and stern. NR-1 also uses conventional submarine fairwater planes and a rudder for maneuverability. Her unique features include retractable bottoming wheels, three viewing windows, 13 low-light cameras and 15,000 watts of external lighting for underwater illumination. The ship also has systems for recovery of both large and small objects from the sea floor including a manipulator arm and retractable work module.

NR-1 is equipped with sophisticated electronics that aid in her navigation. She is also equipped with advanced sonar systems used to search the sea floor. The ship was specifically designed to maneuver on or in close proximity to the ocean floor, to detect and identify targets on the bottom and lift objects from the sea floor. With her extreme depth capability, NR-1 routinely operates well below all other submarines. Through technology sharing programs with civilian industry, she has been continually upgraded to improve her mission capabilities.


The missions of the SUBMARINE NR-1 have included oceanographic research, object recovery, geological surveys, shipwreck discovery and investigation and he installation and maintenance of underwater equipment. The ship’s nuclear reactor gives her tremendous endurance and autonomy that greatly exceeds all other deep submersibles. SUBMARINE NR-1 is now the oldest nuclear powered submarine in the U.S. Navy and has enjoyed a long history of accomplishing its unique missions. Examples include sea floor surveys in support of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster investigation in 1986 and more recently the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of New England in 1999. SUBMARINE NR-1 has been features in National Geographic Magazine and newspaper articles.

Since 1997, The NR-1 has continued to be involved in the significant underwater archeological and scientific expeditions in the Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and various parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Included were expeditions to the Akron, a WW1 US Navy airship, deep-water coral reefs, an active volcano at Castro Bank, and many other biological and geological missions.

SUBMARINE NR-1 returned to its homeport for the very last time on July 23rd 2008. NR-1 has been in service for 39 years and is the Navy’s only nuclear- powered, deep-diving ocean engineering and research submarine. During its last overseas deployment, which lasted 4 ½ moths, NR-1 performed several military missions and a highly publicized search for the Bonhomme Richard, the famous ship belonging to John Paul Jones. SUBMARINE NR-1 was transferred to Portsmouth New Hampshire and underwent inactivation process. The Submarine Force Library and Museum, home to the USS Nautilus, the first and finest nuclear submarine, has obtained many parts of the NR-1 and is currently planning on revealing a new NR-1 exhibit late 2015.

Rendering of the proposed NR-1 exhibitRendering of the proposed NR-1 exhibit

Fun Facts About the NR-1

The name and hull number do not follow conventional Navy practice. You’ll note that this is not the USS NR-1 or USS anything. This might be the only submarine with tires.

Admiral Rickover conceived of the idea of a nuclear- powered research submersible in 1964. Previous research subs had limited time under water, and were extremely limited in their range of operations once they dove. With the concept considered viable, Rickover gave this ship her name in March of 1965; NR stands for Nuclear Powered Research Vehicle, and the inestimable Rickover thought that this, the number 1, was but the first of a series of similar vessels. She was launched and subsequently placed in service in 1969. We never built another.

For years the Navy denied the existence of the NR-1, or when that was impossible, they gave conflicting and nebulous accounts of this one-of-a-kind vessel. For example, underway photos were routinely heavily retouches, usually removing the fixed mast and prominent television camera that she carries in Lieu of a conventional periscope.

Submarine NR-1 on a research mission

Submarine NR-1 on a research mission.

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