National Geographic : 1959 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine fittings crammed into the 27-foot-diameter hull of Nautilus. We were in our natural element. Down below, the water is always calm. Storms, sea sickness, or fog never interfere. There was practically no vibration to disturb my pen, though we moved at more than 20 knots. Temperature aboard Nautilus is 72°, winter and summer, Arctic Ocean or the Caribbean. She carries tons of air conditioning. The humidity remains always below 50 percent. Now, as we cruised northward, automatic devices kept our blunt bow on course and our hull at exactly 300 feet. Teams began a care ful final inspection of the ship for fire haz ards-serious on any submarine, of course, but doubly so under ice, where finding a hole big enough in which to surface or raise our air intake snorkel to clear smoke might be hard. Aircraft Scout the Arctic Ice We traveled deep most of the next day, July 23, before coming up near the surface to copy radio traffic. Low-frequency waves from powerful Navy shore stations penetrate water, but not down to 300 feet. We received another message about ice conditions. Early in July Lt. Shepherd M. Jenks, our navigator, had flown to Alaska to set up ice reconnaissance flights to Point Barrow and west along the pack boundary. Our naval aviator friends didn't know whom they were helping. Their latest relayed report said the ice still receded, although the Alaskan shore just west of Point Barrow was cluttered. The next night our daily paper, whimsically named the Panama-Arctic-Pearl-ArcticShuttle Boat News, featured Engineman 1/c Harry D. Hedin's eight-pound baby girl-number three. The radio had told Hedin of her birth. In the crew's mess I watched The Lieuten ant Wore Skirts. Friends at the movie ex change in Pearl had been kind to us-38 movies on board. Fifty men lounged in our spacious-by submarine standards-recrea tion center, with its hi-fi, tape recorder, li brary, and magazine racks (page 15). July 25-We are moving along at a very fast clip for the Aleutians, now only 400 miles away. Everything is working smoothly. Even our balky master compass performs perfectly, and the propulsion plant purrs like a fine watch. I had turned over the job of navigator to Shep Jenks in January; since then I had been in charge of propulsion-plant machinery: tur- bines, condensers, pumps, piping, valves, steam system, and the mechanical components of the reactor plant. After three and a half years of operation, our nuclear power plant still seemed a marvel. It had propelled Nautilus more than 120,000 miles. In the reactor compartment upper level, shielded from the lower level by a deck covered with lead and polyethylene, we cannot even hear the sealed pumps. They move primary water in a closed loop through the reactor and two heat exchangers. The primary water picks up the heat of controlled nuclear fission and transfers it to unpressurized secondary water, which boils into steam. Pipes carry the steam to two turbines driving nine-foot propellers and to four turbogenerators. These generators furnish electricity for lights, mo tors, cooking-everything, in fact.* A four-hourly report comes to the conning officer and the engineer officer from our ship's doctor, Comdr. Richard F. Dobbins: "Oxygen 20.3 percent, carbon dioxide 1 percent, carbon monoxide 10-20 parts per million." This tells us that our sealed atmosphere is healthful-almost as good as the air outside. Oxygen is kept at a uniform level by "bleed ing" it into the ship from bottled stowage in tanks around the hull. Machines called burners and scrubbers hold carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide at very low levels. To keep any possible radioactivity in the ship at a minimum, Dr. Dobbins has stored all radium-dialed wrist watches in a sealed can. Each day a voice solemnly intones over the speaker, "Now Doctor Dobbins, wind all watches in your care." July 26-We are approaching the Aleu tian island chain. At 3 p.m. we crossed the Aleutian Trench, a 40-mile-wide 25,000 foot foredeep running east and west parallel to the Aleutians for almost 1,000 miles. We're able to check our latitude very closely by Fathometer. The Fathometer, a sonar device, measures distance to the bottom by computing the time required for a sound signal, moving at 4,800 feet per second, to travel from ship to ocean floor and back. Since the trench had been accurately charted, its recognition on the Fathometer confirmed our position. Nautilus also now carried half a dozen echo sounders topside. They would show distance * See "You and the Obedient Atom," by Allan C. Fisher, Jr., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Sep tember, 1958.