Exploring the Submarine Environment: Scientific Research

Submarines use sound waves (sonar) to find their way underwater, to locate their targets, and to avoid their enemies. That makes learning how sound waves travel in seawater important. This in turn requires research on the physical characteristics of seawater, the topography of the ocean floor, and a host of related topics. Given the many natural as well as man-made sources of noise in the ocean, the study of underwater sound is a most complicated subject. For these reasons, the Navy has long supported a wide range of research in such sciences as oceanography, acoustics, and other areas vital to submarine operation. The nuclear-powered research submersible NR-1 has contributed much to this effort.

Nuclear-powered Research Submersible NR-1
NR-1 entered service in 1969. She was designed primarily to locate and recover underwater objects, such as sunken Soviet submarines or lost Soviet missiles. Secondarily, she also engaged in deep-submergence research.

NR-1 is 140 feet (43 m) long, 12 feet (3.6 m) in diameter, and displaces about 400 tons submerged. She carries a crew of two officers, three enlisted men, and two scientists. A pressurized-water reactor the size of a refrigerator drives two externally mounted electric motors with propellers and also provides power to four ducted thrusters for maneuverability. NR-1 does not have to be as quiet as a combat submarine, nor does she have to withstand as much shock. She does, however, meet the same high standards of reactor safety and reliability as any American nuclear-powered submarine. Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

A scientist examines an anchor recovered by NR-1 from the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. Courtesy David Mindell and the Institute for Exploration

The oceanographic research ship Trieste at sea. Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

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