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USS Enterprise: Nuclear power meets aircraft carrier (photos)

Fifty years ago today, the U.S. Navy commissioned the world's first nuclear-powered carrier. It's now the oldest ship in the U.S. fleet, but retirement looms.

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Jon Skillings
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1 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr

USS Enterprise in the Red Sea

The USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, turns 50 this month. She's also the oldest active-duty ship in the U.S. Navy, with a record of service that stretches from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to the present-day Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and operations against Somali pirates. Here we see the Enterprise, aka, "The Big E," in the Red Sea in June 2011.
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2 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric S. Garst

Naval Station Norfolk

Home port for the Enterprise is Norfolk, Va., seen here. The Enterprise, designated CVN-65 by the U.S. Navy, wasn't the very first nuclear-powered ship; she was preceded by the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (by just a few months) and the submarine USS Nautilus (by a half-decade). Measuring a little over 1,100 feet from stem to stern, the Enterprise is said to be the longest naval vessel in the world. She displaces around 90,00 tons with a full load, and can travel in excess of 30 knots (34.5 miles per hour).
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3 of 19 U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Douglass M. Pearlman

E-mc2 x 40

In November 2001, on the occasion of the Enterprise's 40th birthday and as they returned from a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier spell out Einstein's famous formula for its tie-in to nuclear power. The ship packs eight nuclear reactors, connected in pairs to drive four propeller shafts. "This was a daring undertaking," reads a U.S. Navy blurb on the design and construction of the ship, "for never before had two nuclear reactors ever been harnessed together. As such, when the engineers first started planning the ship's propulsion system, they were uncertain how it would work, or even if it would work according to their theories."
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4 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Damon J. Moritz

Crowded flight deck

In this scene from December 2010, aircraft of the USS Enterprise are staged ahead of flight operations during a training exercise in the Atlantic Ocean. The Enterprise can carry in excess of 60 aircraft. The long-serving ship is set to be decommissioned in 2013. Its replacement will be the next-generation carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford
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5 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King

F/A-18E Super Hornet launch

An F/A-18E Super Hornet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 is poised for launch in May 2011 during a deployment in the Arabian Sea. At that time, the Enterprise and its air wing were carrying out close-air support missions in connection with the fighting in Afghanistan.
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6 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jesse L. Gonzalez

EA-6B Prowler

An EA-6B Prowler of the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ 137) gets ready to take off in July 2011. The Prowler, an electronic-warfare aircraft, packs gear designed to jam an enemy's radar and electronic communications.
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7 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Gregory A. Pickett II

C-2A Greyhound

The C-2A Greyhound, meanwhile, carries cargo and passengers between ship and shore. This one is getting ready to fly over the Arabian Gulf in June of this year. The USS Enterprise can carry more than 60 aircraft total.
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8 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared M. King

Night launch

This nighttime scene, also from June, shows the light trail of an aircraft that has just taken off, as an F/A-18E Super Hornet (like the earlier one, from Strike Fighter Squadron 136) awaits its own launch at the Enterprise's catapult two.
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9 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King

Flight operations

In one sense, an aircraft carrier is just another airport--planes come and go, and the skies overhead can get congested. Here, an air traffic controller keeps tabs on flight operations during a mission in the Mediterranean Sea in February 2011. Of course, planes coming in for a landing at an airport on dry land usually have a much, much longer runway, and one that doesn't bob and weave on rough seas.
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10 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King

Air traffic control center

Here's a fuller look at the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center aboard the Enterprise as the ship conducts close-air support missions from the Arabian Sea in May 2011 in connection with Operation Enduring Freedom.
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11 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King

Advanced combat direction system console

Here we see an operations specialist using a console for the advanced combat direction system in the commanding officer's tactical plot room earlier this year.
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12 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jared M. King

SPA-25G radar console

This photo shows the the SPA-25G radar console, which is used to track surface contacts.
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13 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeffry A. Willadsen

Manning the helm

A boatswain's mate mans the helm on the bridge of the Enterprise in August 2010 somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
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14 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeffry A. Willadsen

Plotting a course

A quartermaster seaman plots the course of the Enterprise on that same voyage.
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15 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael L. Croft

Hurricane watch

Even aircraft carriers need to be wary of hurricanes. Here a chief quartermaster keeps tabs on Hurricane Irene as the Enterprise rides out the storm while moored at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
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16 of 19 MCSN Gregory A. Pickett II

Circuit card

Any modern warship is full of computer systems and other electronic gear. This technician turns his attention to a circuit card that needs some work.
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17 of 19 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rebekah Adler

Crates of oranges

But it's not all circuit boards and computer screens for the crew of the Enterprise. There's fresh fruit, too, and a lot of it. The carrier has a lot of mouths to feed: some 3,000 or so in the ship's crew, and approximately 2,000 in the air wing.
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18 of 19 U.S. Navy

Under construction

The USS Enterprise under construction in May 1959. According to the Navy, some 61,000 tons of steel, 1,500 tons of aluminum, 230 miles of pipe and tubing, and 1,700 tons of one-quarter-inch welding rods went into the effort. Construction took about four years.
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19 of 19 U.S. Navy

Bunting and christening

The Newport News Shipyard and Dry Dock Company celebrates the completion of the USS Enterprise.

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