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Photo: Sean D. Elliot for the Day

A Sub for the Ages

In the depths of the Cold War, when Edson “Tip” Brolin, E59, finished designing and constructing the NR-1 nuclear-powered submarine, he had no idea what would come of it. The sub, which was the brainchild of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, now revered as the father of the nuclear navy, wasn’t just any nuclear vessel. “Originally the navy, frankly, didn’t know what to do with it,” Brolin told the Connecticut newspaper the Day. “It didn’t have any weapons.”

Yet if the NR-1 couldn’t sink enemy ships, it did have advanced sonar systems with which to survey the ocean floor—Brolin’s Tufts classmate Jim Cunningham, E59, helped with that. The design also included thirteen low-light cameras, 15,000 watts of external lighting for underwater illumination, retractable rubber wheels for maneuverability at the bottom of the sea, and a manipulator arm for recovering objects—another feature added with assistance from Cunningham.

The usefulness of Brolin’s submarine soon became apparent, not only in scientific missions but in highly classified operations. The NR-1 located critical parts of the space shuttle Challenger, and searched for the Titanic, the Civil War ship the USS Monitor, and the USS Bonhomme Richard, famously under the command of John Paul Jones during the American Revolution.

It remained in service for nearly forty years before it was decommissioned in 2008. In June, an exhibit that features the NR-1 itself and a collection of artifacts from it opened at the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton, Connecticut. At the dedication, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, who once served on the NR-1, testified to its importance, the Day reported. “Because of the NR-1,” he said, “your country and your navy owns the undersea domain. We go wherever we want to go today.”

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