I just returned from my summer vacation and wanted to share an incredible adventure with you that I was lucky to experience. I toured the USS Nebraska in Bangor, Washington! She is a ballistic missile submarine carrying 24 Trident missiles that can be targeted independently.
It was a strange and wondrous moment, standing on the deck before we went down the ladder, to realize that the arched area I was standing on could someday open up and a nuclear missile could be launched through it. Trident missiles are fired by the pressure of expanding gas in the launch tube. When the missile is far enough away from the submarine, several stages of motors and boosters ignite. Within about two minutes the missile is traveling about 20,000 feet per second.
Once on board, I was impressed with the organization and engineering involved in creating this beautiful work of art. Courteous sailors, busy with their duties, took time to answer my questions and graciously danced when we had to pass in a narrow passageway. The missiles are quite large - about 44 feet high and almost 7 feet around - so 24 of them fill a large portion of the vessel, but overall it seemed surprisingly spacious. I learned about how the air is cleaned and recirculated, visited the ship's medical office, imagined sleeping in the crew's quarters (you do need to be organized!), checked out the galley, and explored all the nooks and crannies.
The USS Nebraska is 42 feet wide and 560 feet long - for comparison the Seattle Space Needle is 605 feet high. Submerged, it displaces approximately 18,750 tons and it carries a crew of 155. It is propelled by a nuclear reactor and it is the 14th ship in the OHIO class.
I feel much safer knowing that this submarine is patrolling our waters. I got an opportunity to think about being at sea for three months at a time and the kinds of consequences this brings about for a sailor. Not only having to get along with the rest of the crew in tight quarters, but the effect it has on their familial relationships. Young men, most of them in their early twenties, with new babies and young wives - not only missing them, but being unable to even speak with them during their deployment as they have to maintain silence. Their wives learn to handle everything at home themselves, yet when the sailor returns he has to reintegrate into his family and couples have to get to know each other again. Daily duties have to be redistributed, children need to "ask Dad" again....and then he faces deployment again, and it all starts over. Very difficult, and I congratulate these families on their ability to do this so that the rest of us can enjoy the protection provided by these submariners. Thank you!
I was unable to take any photographs to share with you due to high level security clearance required to take this tour, but I have it in my memory forever! If you ever get a chance, there is a public Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington that has some wonderful exhibits related to submarines http://www.history.navy.mil/museums/keyport/index1.htm that is well worth the visit.
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