GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- Forty-seven years after its maiden voyage, the sun still shines on Nautilus (SSN 571). One day before the first winter storm of the year, the Navy's first nuclear-powered submarine encountered only blue skies when it departed Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London for General Dynamics Electric Boat (EB) for repair and preservation work Jan. 16.
Historic Ship Nautilus departed the Submarine Force Library and Museum in December for an initial work-up at the base waterfront. From there, Nautilus and crew set course to EB for a $4.7 million overhaul.
The preparations to move Nautilus have been in the works for several months, and required a joint effort on the part of the Nautilus crew and SUBASE New London Public Works and Port Services.
Public works contractors unbolted Nautilus from her pier Dec. 13, as SUBASE New London harbor pilots and port services workers escorted the historic submarine to a waiting pier. Then, under tugboat power, Nautilus returned to the Thames River for the first time since arriving at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in 1985.
Nautilus has seemed destined for historic status ever since 1951, when Congress authorized the construction of the first nuclear-powered warship. Following its commission in 1954, Nautilus began a run at history, logging 500,000 miles underway during a career that spanned more than a 25 years.
Nautilus became famous for a number of historic firsts. It was the first nuclear-powered submarine; it was the first submarine to travel submerged from Hawaii to Portsmouth, England -- shattering speed and endurance records along the way -- and in 1958, Nautilus became the first submarine to reach the North Pole.
"We were the first. Back in the early days of nuclear power, we were the only game in town. We were setting records and doing things that no submarine could do," said former Nautilus crewmember Jack Kurrus, an engineman aboard the submarine from 1957 to 1959.
Seeing the Nautilus away from the museum pier had a significant impact on former members of the Nautilus crew.
"She's free again. As she's going down the river and passing under Goldstar Bridge, you can just imagine that she's going back out to sea, and doing what she was built to do," said former Nautilus sonarman, Alfred A. Charette. Charette was a member of the crew that reached the North Pole, serving aboard Nautilus from 1957 to 1961.
Nautilus was decommissioned Mar. 3, 1980, and designated as a national historic landmark in 1982. Nautilus arrived at the Submarine Force Library and Museum to educate the public about life aboard submarines in 1985. It is permanently berthed there.
During its years at the museum, Nautilus has hosted an average of 250,000 visitors per year. It is one of the top five tourist destinations for the state of Connecticut.
At its temporary berthing at EB, Nautilus will undergo extensive preservation work. The historic sub will receive a hull-repair, new paint, a special underwater coating and a new ironwood deck.
Those who serve aboard Nautilus recognize the importance of keeping the submarine in peak condition. Chief Machinist's Mate (SS) Gregory Wong, radiological operations control officer, said the historic ship provides a powerful educational tool for the silent service.
"It gives people the chance to come aboard and see what being on a submarine is all about. It's important to make sure that Nautilus is available for future generations," Wong said.
Nautilus is scheduled to return to its pier at the Submarine Force Library and Museum by the end of May.
For information about SUBASE New London, go to http://www.subasenlon.navy.mil.