Nautilus Gramophone Recording: The Sounds Recorded during the Nuclear Submarine's Pioneering Journey beneath the North Pole

Geographical, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Nautilus Gramophone Recording: The Sounds Recorded during the Nuclear Submarine's Pioneering Journey beneath the North Pole


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

On 21 January 1954, 15,000 Americans gathered on the banks of the Thames River in Connecticut to watch a bottle of champagne smash open on the bows of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus. People were excited not only because it was the world's first nuclear submarine but because, technically, it was the world's first submarine of any kind.

Other ships had been able to pop underwater for a few hours, but Nautilus's nuclear propulsion meant it could remain submerged for days, or even weeks. The breakthrough revolutionised submarining and gave the USA one of the best fighting machines on the planet--a fast, untraceable ship that could miraculously appear or disappear in any of the world's oceans.

It was soon breaking submarine speed records, and after a series of test journeys in early 1955, an officer confidently declared, 'Hell, we could have gone to Europe and back without coming up.' That wasn't on the ship's agenda, but later in the year, Nautilus did travel from New London in Connecticut to San Juan, Puerto Rico--a distance of 2,223 kilometres--completely underwater, and in less than 90 hours.

In two years, the vessel had covered more than 60,000 nautical miles (111,120 kilometres), surpassing the distances covered by Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus in his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Ureter the Sea. And that was just the beginning of the real submarine's adventures. On 23 July 1958, Nautilus left Pearl Harbor on a top-secret mission (entitled Operation Sunshine) to travel beneath the North Pole.

A gramophone recording of their journey, narrated by the US radio personality Herb Shriner, now sits in the Royal Geographical Society archives. 'This is the log of an epic voyage,' Shriner begins over the soft growl of the engine and the muffled ping of the sonar, later adding: 'Right now, the Nautilus has cruised 125,000 miles, mostly underwater, on a lump of fuel no bigger than a baseball. …

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