Command room of historic submarine to be preserved

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility have partnered with the US Naval Undersea Museum to preserve part of a historic submarine.

US Navy photo by JOC Peter D. Sundberg

The ownership of the control room from the experimental nuclear research submarine NR-1 was transferred from the shipyard to the museum during a ceremony in the museum’s private storage area held on May 8.

Conceived by nuclear Navy pioneer Adm. Hyman Rickover, NR-1 was built after the loss of USS Thresher (SSN 593) to expand the Navy’s ocean investigation capabilities. Launched on January 25, 1969, it was the only nuclear-powered research submarine ever built and was the only US Navy submarine known to have retractable wheels.

NR-1 carried out classified and unclassified operations for almost 40 years. It was inactivated on November 21, 2008.

Rich Emerson, information security officer for PSNS & IMF, was one of the attendees of the ceremony. Emerson served aboard NR-1 from 2000 to 2003, when he was a nuclear electrician’s mate chief.

“It was one of those jobs where I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again,” Emerson said, adding that the cramped working conditions, lack of amenities and the long hours spent searching the bottom of the sea during missions made the assignment both challenging and rewarding.

“It was a small crew, and it was a very small space. The submarine was only 13 feet in diameter. If you couldn’t heat food up to 350 degrees within 15 minutes in the Orion convention oven, or if it wasn’t microwavable, it wasn’t onboard,” Emerson continued.

Photo by Carie Hagins, PSNS & IMF photographer

Charles Dastrup, a PSNS & IMF Shop 38 helper, currently doing inactive vessel recycling work, did most of the hands-on disassembly of the control panels, preservation of the parts and instruments, and reassembling the entire control room once it was fully removed from the boat. He said it took a lot of work to preserve the final product, but he felt the effort was justified to preserve a piece of Navy history.

“The toughest part was actually the center console. It was damaged when it came to me, and I had to bend and reform everything back to where it was,” he explained.

Capt. Howard Markle, commander of PSNS & IMF, said the partnership between PSNS & IMF and the museum is a win-win for both organizations.

“Thanks to Lindy Dosher and the entire museum team for setting this up,” Markle said in his remarks during the ceremony.

“One of the things this does is not only help us remember what the crews did to keep NR-1 alive, it also helps us recognize the great stuff we do inside the shipyard, from the cradle-to-grave responsibility we take for the warships,” Markle further said.

Museum Director Lindy Dosher said this donation rates near to top of the list of additions to the museum’s collection in the 12 years she’s been the director.

The NR-1 arrived at PSNS & IMF on November 25, 2009. The recycling effort on NR-1 began in January 2017, but discussions between the museum and the shipyard had already begun on preserving part of the sub. However, there are some parts of the control room that were not reassembled for security reasons.

“We are extremely lucky as the Naval Undersea Museum to have the only place in the country that recycles nuclear ships be 20 minutes away from us. The shipyard is so gracious in working with us,” US Naval Undersea Museum Curator Mary Ryan, said.

Both Dosher and Ryan look forward to the day when they can put the control panel on display in the actual museum. It may be several years before that happens.

The equipment will be a highly significant addition to the museum’s artifact collection, which comprises more than 50,000 items related to naval undersea history, technology, and operations.