Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sub Going to Museum, but Sailors Stow Its Secrets

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sub Going to Museum, but Sailors Stow Its Secrets

Article excerpt

GROTON, Conn. -- It could dive deeper than any other submarine, and when it reached the ocean floor, the one-of-a-kind Navy vessel could roll on wheels with lights illuminating the depths outside its windows.

The nuclear-powered NR-1, launched in Groton in 1969, was one of the most secretive vessels in the U.S. undersea force. It was taken out of service in 2008 and disassembled. Now, the Navy has collected pieces of it for an exhibit at a submarine museum in Groton, where it was based for the duration of its service life.

It was known primarily as a research vessel, but it also carried out a range of military missions that remain under wraps even today. Veterans who served aboard the tiny sub during the Cold War say that it was one of the most fascinating assignments of their careers -- but that not even their wives know all the details.

Toby Warson, who served as commander from 1970-73, said he once led the sub on a hazardous military operation in the Mediterranean. The mission, code-named "Raccoon Hook," earned him a Distinguished Service Medal, he said, but he has had to keep the details to himself.

"I finally had to quit wearing the ribbon because, when I walked into the officers' club, everyone asked how I got it, and I couldn't tell them," said Mr. Warson, who lives in Camas, Wash. "They thought I was being cute. I wasn't being cute; I just didn't want to go to jail."

The missions that have been declassified include work on an undersea submarine-detection network, mapping of the ocean floor and the salvage of parts of the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded over the Atlantic in 1986.

The 140-foot-long submarine -- a pet project of Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy -- was powered by a custom- built miniature nuclear reactor and could dive to 3,000 feet. The crew of about 10 men could stay at sea for as long as a month, but they had only frozen TV dinners to eat, bathed once a week with a bucket of water and burned chlorate candles to produce oxygen. …

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