After almost 55 years of active service, the USS Enterprise has been decommissioned. No, we're not talking about a certain starship, but the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in the US Navy in 1961 and now bears the distinction of being the first nuclear carrier to be decommissioned. The eighth US Naval vessel to bear the name, the Enterprise was removed from the Navy list today as Captain Todd Beltz relinquished his command in a ceremony in the ship's hangar bay.

The keel of USS Enterprise was laid down in 1958 at the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. and the ship was christened on September 24, 1960 by Mrs. Bertha Irene Franke, wife of former Secretary of the Navy William B. Franke, before being commissioned on November 25, 1961. Enterprise was the first and only one of its class and was unique for the time by being powered by eight Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors – six more than later carrier designs. This gave Enterprise an unlimited range and it required refueling only every 20 to 25 years.

Displacing 93,284 tons (84,626 tonnes), Enterprise carried a complement of 5,828, including an air crew of 1,300 to maintain and fly the 60 to 90 aircraft aboard. During its career, the US Navy says the Enterprise steamed for over one million nautical miles and at decommissioning was the third oldest ship in the Navy.

"The Big E," as it was nicknamed, was involved in almost every major US Naval engagement since the Cuban Missile Crisis with the exception of the 1991 Gulf War, when it was laid up for a major overhaul. In April 1983, it also played host to actor George Takei, who portrayed Helmsman Sulu on the science fiction space-going version of the Enterprise. Unfortunately, on that occasion, the real carrier ran aground on a sandbar off San Francisco.

The Enterprise was removed from active service in 2012 at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia and underwent a 48 month deactivation phase when it was made unfit for military service and its reactors were taken off line. The carrier will now be towed around South America to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for removal of its nuclear fuel and eventual scrapping. A ninth USS Enterprise (CVN 80), one of the Gerald R Ford class of nuclear supercarriers, is scheduled to enter service in 2027.

"As this ship retires," say Beltz, "we know the memory will live beyond her and we – the Sailors, the shipbuilders, the supporters of Enterprise – we are that link to the next Enterprise."

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