Nuclear Road Trip

Get your Geiger counters out…

In July of 1945, the United States detonated the first nuclear device, codenamed “the gadget”, in the desert just east of Socorro, New Mexico. At just after 5 am, a light many times brighter than the sun on a clear day lit up the nearby mountains, and was soon followed by a fireball so hot that it melted the sand of the desert floor into a green radioactive glass. This day marked the moment in history when the human mind became more powerful than all of the armies of troops, the divisions of tanks, and the fleets of ships in all the worlds military forces. Of course the application of such weapons has left a horrible scar on the history of human kind, however the science behind the discovery and the potential applications in human advancement and exploration are remarkable.

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The bomb was initially designed and built at the Los Alamos National Laboratory about a two hours drive north from the bombing range where the device was detonated. Here, a group of some of the most brilliant scientists of their day came together to undertake the worlds most expensive and technical engineering project in human history. The Laboratory is apparently still involved in some sensitive government projects and therefor do not offer tours, but they do host an AMAZING exhibit center at the nearby Bradbury Science Museum.

 

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Trinitite – Glass formed by sand melting from the heat of the blast.

 

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My son got to separate the very rare Uranium 235 isotopes from the much more abundant Uranium 239 (relax, they were just little plastic beads), and got a real kick out of all of the different exhibit stations ranging from the Manhattan Project museum to the more recent projects the lab has published like algae sourced biofuels. I’m really glad we got to share the experience together, and the only part hereally didn’t care for was the little movie they show periodically in the museum, but that’s only because I had already made him watch the same movie at home before we left for the trip…

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The test site, codenamed “Trinity Site” is on what is still part of an active military testing range that remains in use even today (obviously not for nuclear tests anymore), so the test site is normally closed to the public, BUT for two days every year, the bombing range is shut down, and civilians are allowed to come and see the site where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Our trip to the Los Alamos National Laboratory just so happened to coincide with one of the days the site was open to the public, and we made our way south to check it all out.

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Needless to say, we had a blast! 😉

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