A Dive on the NR- 1 Submarine

It's the little things . . .

by gene carl feldman

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Life onboard the NR-1 really revolves around trying to satisfy two key goals. The first is to keep the NR-1 operating properly in order to carry out its mission. The second, is to provide a home for over a dozen people in as close to "normal" conditions as possible. Living and working together under these rather unusual conditions fosters a strong sense of community and reliance upon each other (left to right; POIC Richard, ETC Gallant, MM1 Wood, EM1 Catteau, Lt. CDR. Hopkins). Considering that the NR-1 is designed to operate fully submerged for up to 30 days, and that during that time it must be fully self-contained, some very unusual circumstances need to be addressed.

Some special things about the crew of the NR-1 (356Kbytes)

One of the most essential items on any submarine is air. Not only must there be enough oxygen to breath, but waste products such as Carbon Dioxide must be removed and the proper mixture of other gases and humidity maintained. The NR-1 has a very comprehensive monitoring system that continuously checks all the atmospheric components and sounds alarms if any of them go above or below the prescribed limits. There is a chart mounted just below this monitoring station that has all the safe limits based on a wide variety of conditions.

EM1 Stadel desribes the atmospheric monitoring system (227Kbytes)

In the ocean, as well as on land, plants are responsible for providing us with the oxygen we breathe. However, there are no plants onboard the NR-1 and oxygen is replenished by these canisters (right) that are ignited by a steel match inside of the oxygen furnace which gradually releases oxygen into the submarine's air. Depending upon how many people are on board, the oxygen canisters may need to be replaced as often as every six hours.

Where does the oxygen come from on the NR-1 (231Kbytes)

Food is not only essential to support life, but it often contributes greatly to our quality of life. Small as it might be, the NR-1 has a very well stocked pantry (left) and a large freezer. One of the first things that I noticed when I came down the ladder for the first time, was the wonderful smell of a "home cooked" meal. When the oven door was opened and the tray slid out, it was hard to figure out what exactly was being cooked. In fact, for the entire time that I was on the NR-1, the only things that I saw being cooked were small, beige, rectangular-shaped objects that on closer observation were identified as either french fries, chicken or fish sticks. I have heard that frozen pizza and burritos are quite popular, but they were no where to be seen during my dive.

Trash. On land we burn it, bury it, recycle it or even dump it in the ocean. However, in a self-contained environment like the NR-1, more innovative solutions must be found. Enter the brick. All garbage on the NR-1 is placed in plastic bags. Once the bag is full, it is stuffed inside of a small metal box. A steel lid is placed over the top of the box and one of the crew members places his foot on top of the lid and presses down as hard as he can. The garbage is compressed, removed from the box, wrapped with duct tape and then stored back in the freezer, behind the yet to be eaten food. When the NR-1 surfaces, the bricks are transferred to the support ship for proper disposal. There is a sort of friendly competition among the NR-1 crew members to see who can make the most compact brick. I think the current champion is EM1 Stadel (above, right).

CDR. Olivier describes the process as it happens (217Kbytes)

Before you can use the toilet, or head as it is referred to in nautical terminology on the NR-1, you have to be "checked out" in the proper procedures to follow. This might seem a bit strange, but after getting my official instructions, I now understand. Unfortunately, the head on the NR-1 was too small to allow for any good photographs, but I did record my tour so that you can share in the experience.

Take a guided tour of the head on the NR-1 (293Kbytes)

Thirty days under the sea can stress most systems. In such cramped quarters, keeping clean becomes a real art. There are no shower stalls on the NR-1. Instead, a small plastic bag is filled with hot water from the ships galley and the showerer-to-be (ETC Gary Ahrens) moves to the stern and stands over a grate that drains into the bilge. The water bag is hung from a hook and the water very sparingly dispensed until the shower is done.

EM1 Stadel desribes showering on the NR-1 (210Kbytes)

The crew of the NR-1 work 6 hour on / 6 hour off shifts around the clock. One of the skills that the crew members quickly learn is how to function effectively under quite difficult conditions and how to relax when the opportunity permits. Reading (EM1 Catteau, left) is one of the few recreational activities that one can do at 3000' under the sea , but places to stretch out are at a premium on a boat the size of the NR-1.

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Gene Carl Feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov ) (301) 286-9428
Todd Carlo Viola, JASON Foundation for Education (todd@jason.org)
Revised: 17 April 1996