Today in Technology History

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September 24

USS Enterprise (CVN-65)On September 24, 1960, America launched the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier: USS Enterprise.

The first nuclear-powered ship of any sort was USS Nautilus, a submarine put to sea in the mid-1950s. Nautilus was a tremendous success, capable of going two years without refueling. The Navy was so pleased with Nautilus that it planned several more nuclear submarines and in 1959 launched a nuclear-powered cruiser, USS Long Beach.

Enterprise was thus the third ship powered by nuclear energy -- but it was the first such aircraft carrier. Built in Newport News, Virginia, it was commissioned in 1961. Enterprise went an astonishing three years (and 207,000 miles) before its first refueling. The ship went on an around-the-world tour in 1964, and survived a devastating fire in 1969.

Nicknamed "Big E," Enterprise is still in service -- and is the longest, tallest and fastest carrier the U.S. has. At this moment, Enterprise and its battle group of a dozen ships (destroyers, cruisers, subs) are in the Persian Gulf region, as part of the U.S. response to the recent terrorist attacks. Enterprise is carrying about 75 planes and 120 special forces troops.

Incidentally, Enterprise, which is designated CVN-65, was the eighth American ship named Enterprise. And the name has been used again since then: In the 1970s, NASA named its first space shuttle Enterprise, in honor of Captain Kirk's fictional starship from the TV series Star Trek. A new Star Trek series, simply titled "Enterprise," is scheduled to premiere this week on American television.

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