04 October 2009

The Destroyer of Worlds

Sixty-four years ago the Atomic Age began here in New Mexico.

After having lived here for four years I felt it was time to visit J Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves legacy.

The National Museum of Atomic History and Science here in Albuquerque sponsored a tour to visit the Trinity Site, the site of the first atomic bomb detonation.

Trinity Site is only open twice a year, the first Saturdays in April and October. It is still a top secret weapons testing facility and you would be wise to keep to the designated trails.

The trip started out at 05:45 hrs.

Our host, Milo, did a great job on bringing us up to date on the history of the bomb.

It is a two hour bus ride to Trinity Site from Albuquerque. It is a desolate trip. It is the same route you would take though to San Antonio, NM and the Buckhorn Tavern or the original Owl Bar [which the fellas from the Manhattan Project used to drive to for lunch and dinner -- oh to be a fly on that wall].

You would also take this road to reach the Lincoln National Forest to see Smokey Bear's museum and the town of Lincoln [see links to the right on both places].

As you pass Stallion Gate, the entrance to Trinity Site, your first stop will be the George McDonald Ranch House.

The house was originally built by Franz Schmidt in 1913, a year after New Mexico became a state. Later it was purchased by the McDonalds who were evicted in 1942 when the government took over the area for the Alamagordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. At the time the family had no recourse. War sucks.

When the Manhattan Project started, the government used the house to build the plutonium core, creating a 'clean room' or assembly area in the master bedroom.

There are two water holding areas outside of the house. The day before the detonation it is said the scientists went for a swim.

The house is two miles away form the blast area. It actually held up, with only the windows being blown out and the chimney collapsing.

The barn and holding pens did not fare so well.

Our next stop would be Trinity Site. The first time an atomic weapon was ever used [ok ok unless you count Sodom and Gommorah but that is debateable].

This is a replica of Fat Boy, the plutonium bomb detonated at Trinity and on Hiroshima. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki, 'Little Boy', was a uranium device.

The object below is known as 'Jumbo' the casing for the bomb tested here at Trinity.

An obelisk in the spot where the first atomic device was detonated stands as a reminder of world history, bringing both an end to World War 2 and an end to many innocent lives.

Because the Trinity Site is only open two times a year to the public you can imagine the crowds. There was just no way I could get a solitary pic of the monument marker. That's too bad; however, I thought it was cool that so many people still turn out.

After visiting the monument our group boarded our bus and headed to the grounds of EMRTC - the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, NM.

This turned out to be much more facinating then it sounds.

EMRTC is an internationally recognized major research and training center with over 60 years of experience in explosives research and testing.

EMRTC does a lot of training for emergency responders and helps them recognize and deal with improvised devices such as those used by terrorists.

We were given explosive demonstrations by a fella named Tim Collister at the blasting grounds:

Several explosive devices were demonstrated. The very first explosion is just a blasting cap used to vaporize a grapefruit. They grew in size from there:

We did not actually view the demonstration by directly looking at it. We were behind a protective barrier and viewing the explosions from an angled mirror:

All in all it was a great tour. Afterwards we had lunch at the New Mexico Tech golf course [mmm roast beef sammiches] with a lecture by Graham Walsh, a grad student, where he gave us more information on the EMRTC division and the legacy of the atomic age:

I'm out.


Dale said...

Hot dam..worth the wait. Nice pics and video. Now I can go to bed and stop singing.

Vic Mansfield said...

Wow. Great report from the field. Do you have to be screened with a Geiger counter when you leave?

And, thanks for reporting with the moral ambiguity such a site deserves. Yes, it ended WWII, but what did it begin?

No easy answers there.

MICK said...

Correct, no easy answers. Atomic power is clean and efficient yet the potential for disaster is great.

Disasters may not happen very often but when they do at a nuclear power plant you are in deep sh*t for decades!!