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The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise is seen underway with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the Atlantic Ocean in this March 22, 2012 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. The Enterprise, which was christened in 1960, will be inactivated during a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk on December 1, 2012. (REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Harry Andrew D. Gordon/Handout)

Thousands attend farewell ceremony for aircraft carrier USS Enterprise

The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was formally retired on Saturday at a ceremony in Norfolk, Va..

Thousands of crew members who served on the ship during its five decades in the U.S. Navy fleet attended.

The 1,123-foot long Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 with eight nuclear reactors on board.

The next year it was deployed to participate in a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Since then, it has played a role in a number of naval missions, including deployments to Vietnam and to the Middle East as part of the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It returned from its final deployment about a month ago, said Navy spokesman Mike Maus.

'Big E'

Nicknamed the "Big E," the Enterprise was the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet, according to the military, and was the eighth U.S. military ship to bear the name Enterprise.

The roughly 12,000 people who participated in the ceremony for the USS Enterprise include many former crew members and their friends, Maus said. The ceremony was held in Virginia at Naval Station Norfolk.

No museum future

The Enterprise will stay at Naval Station Norfolk for several months and then will move to a shipyard in nearby Newport News, Virginia, where its nuclear fuel will be removed from the vessel, Maus said.

After that, the ship will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, where its nuclear reactors will be dismantled and the Enterprise will be scrapped, Maus said.

The Navy said in a statement that inactivation and defueling of the Enterprise will have "major impacts on the structure of the ship."

It went on to say that it would be far too costly to "return the ship to a condition that would support it becoming a museum."

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