USS Reagan Christening Sunday

An unidentified woman holds an American flag at Union Park west of downtown Chicago as people gather to participate in an immigration rights march Tuesday, May 1, 2007.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Former first lady Nancy Reagan has a present for her husband on their 49th wedding anniversary Sunday: She'll christen a $4 billion aircraft carrier in his name.

The ceremony will mark the first time a carrier bearing the name of a living former president will be christened. Ronald Reagan turned 90 on Feb. 6.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports President Bush will be the principal speaker at the ceremony. It's the president's second visit to the naval station since he took office.

"We received a very large birthday card with a big picture of the entire crew and officers of the new aircraft carrier that's being named after Ronnie, and they all signed it for him," Mrs. Reagan said recently.

The Ronald Reagan is the ninth Nimitz-class carrier constructed by Newport News Shipbuilding, the nation's only builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Mr. Reagan will not attend the event. He withdrew from public view Nov. 5, 1994, with a poignant letter about having been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He is recovering from a broken hip he suffered in a fall in January.

Some 20,000 spectators are expected at the shipyard, which usually is closed to the public for security reasons.

Mrs. Reagan will break the traditional bottle of sparkling wine against the ship's hull and officially give the ship the name of the nation's 40th president.

An aircraft carrier takes nearly five years to build. The Reagan is about 60 percent complete and will undergo two more years of construction, then join the Navy's fleet in 2003.

According to the carrier's Web site, "when President Reagan's namesake joins the fleet in 2003, it will be the most modern and sophisticated aircraft carrier in the world. Reagan is 1,092 feet long, and once completed, will be home to 6,000 sailors, carry more than 80 aircraft and cruise at speeds in excess of 30 knots."

Dozens of new technologies were incorporated since the first ship of its class, the USS Nimitz, was delivered to the Navy in 1975.

Among the changes are a bulbous bow for improved flight operations, larger gear to land heavier aircraft, a relocated weapons elevator to improve safety and weapons movement, and more berthing spaces and facilities for women.

The last carrier to be christened at the shipyard was the USS Harry S. Truman, on Sept. 7, 1996.

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