Friday, February 15, 2013

1957 book: "How Atomic Submarines Are Made"

Although the evil of McCarthyism was winding down by 1957, thanks in part to John Henry Faulk1, I wonder how much resistance there was to the publication of "How Atomic Submarines Are Made," a juvenile non-fiction book by David C. Cooke.

The book is filled with photos and diagrams of American atomic submarines. I'm guessing there's nothing in there that wasn't common knowledge to the Soviets and the Chinese, but it's still surprising to see an inside peek at the submarine creation process.

Much of the book describes the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, which was launched in 1954 and decommissioned in 1980.2

Here are excerpts from Cooke's book, followed by a couple of illustrations:
  • An atomic submarine contains more than 7,000,000 parts. It would be almost impossible to see from the drawings alone just how the interior of the ship will look with all these things in place. Because of this, full-size mockups are made of different sections. These show the exact location of pipes and valves, torpedo tubes, the atomic engine, periscopes, and every other item which will go into the ship.
  • The heavy steel plates can be cut only by a torch burning a combination of oxygen and acetylene gas. The acetylene heat the steel to the melt point (2,650 degrees), while the oxygen does the actual cutting.
  • Plate rolling is done on a machine which looks something like three huge rolling pins fastened together, one on top of the other two. In this case, however, the "rolling pins" are each twenty-eight inches in diameter and fifteen feet long. The entire machine weighs about thirty tons.
  • Shipbuilders use the greatest care when installing propellers. The slightest mistake might mean that the ship could lose one of its propellers while at sea.
  • The pipe used varies from less than an inch in diameter to more than a foot. Some pipes are made of copper, and others are brass or steel or aluminum; there are also combinations of all of these metals. The atomic engine cooling system in the Nautilus uses 6,000 feet of copper-nickel tubing alone, and 48,500 feet of pure copper tubing is used for other equipment.
  • Nuclear radiation can be very dangerous, and so the men who work in fueling an atomic submarine must be given protection from the deadly rays. ... If their work brings them into close contact with the atomic engine, they must wear special breathing masks in addition to other equipment.
  • Submarine engines operate on the same principle as the atom bomb. Rather than resulting in an explosion, however, the reaction is slow and carefully controlled. Thus, the difference between the engine and the A-bomb is the difference between a firecracker and a stick of dynamite.

1. John Henry Faulk was a radio personality whose successful lawsuit against blacklisters helped to bring an end to the practice of the Hollywood blacklist. His lawsuit began in 1957 and was victorious in 1962. With the decision, blacklisters were put on notice that they were legally liable for professional and financial damages that they caused. Faulk wrote the book "Fear on Trial" about his experiences and helped to adapt it into the 1975 TV movie by the same name. He is portrayed by William Devane in that movie.
2. The Nautilus can now be seen at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

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