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Aging U.S. Carrier Enterprise Heads For Final Deployment

USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is beginning the last deployment in her storied 50-year career on the frontlines of American sea power.

Known as the "Big E", she was among the vessels dispatched to the waters off Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis with orders from President Kennedy to enforce an air and sea blockade of the island nation.

Subsequently, Enterprise served in support of the war in Vietnam and played a key role in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. She was also made famous by the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise.

But, five decades of steaming to the world's hotspots has taken its toll on Enterprise, which suffers from such mundane malfunctions as stuck valves and decaying electrical equipment, Capt. William Hamilton, the ship's commander, told Stars and Stripes:

"Something that was working a month ago and you turn it on – you have no idea that something is going to be wrong," he said.

The Enterprise name, by the way, has been associated with several famous vessels through American history, including two during the Revolutionary War and a 12-gun schooner that fought in the Quasi-War with France and later in the First Barbary War.

Another carrier Enterprise, which was at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and many of the major fights in the Pacific campaign, was the most decorated U.S. ship of World War II. At one point, she was the only functioning U.S. carrier in the Pacific after the Japanese navy had either damaged or destroyed all the others in the early fighting.

And, of course, the name Enterprise resonates with fans of the science fiction franchise Star Trek.

USS Enterprise, CVN-65, will be officially deactivated on Dec. 1.

Update at 12:15PM EST:

As some have noted in the comment section below, the Enterprise has a few infamous moments to go with its llustratrious ones. From The Associated Press:

The challenges aboard the ship and the need to keep spirits up were highlighted last year, when former commanding officer Capt. Owen Honors was fired for airing raunchy videos that he said were intended to boost morale. During a hearing in which Honors was trying to avoid being kicked out of the Navy, he and his lawyers frequently referenced the difficult conditions on board. Honors was found to have committed misconduct, but ultimately allowed to stay in the service. He is retiring in April.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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