Fifty-one years ago today the USS Thresher was lost at sea with all hands. There were 129 souls on board, including officers, enlisted men and civilians. The boat experienced problems, exceeded test depth and imploded. Speculation is that a leak onto an electrical panel caused the reactor to scram but, the boat should still have been able to blow main ballast tanks and return to the surface. That didn’t happen. Wreckage of the Thresher is spread across a mile of sea bed about 300 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Covered by about 8400 feet of icy green Atlantic Ocean waters.
But we learned.
In the wake of this tragedy, the father of the nuclear Navy, Admiral Hyman Rickover, told the press, “…I believe the loss of the Thresher should not be viewed solely as the result of failure of a specific braze, weld, system or component, but rather should be considered a consequence of the philosophy of design, construction and inspection that has been permitted in our naval shipbuilding programs.
“I think it is important that we re-evaluate our present practices where, in the desire to make advancements, we may have forsaken the fundamentals of good engineering.”
In a way, Admiral Rickover was “The Man”. And, in a way, Admiral Rickover took on “The Man” and won. The Navy implemented a new program known as ‘SUBSAFE’ which tightened down the design review process and safety practices used during the construction phase of all new submarines. By improving safety, through more thorough design and build processes the overall efficacy of the mission was improved and a safer environment was created on all new boats.
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