By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 1, 2018)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For service members and families stationed at Fort Bliss, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is a comprehensive place to learn about our nation’s nuclear history. A lot of that history took place relatively close by.
Not only did scientists create the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico, they detonated it at the Trinity Site, on the northern side of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. In addition, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a disposal site for nuclear waste created during the research and production of nuclear weapons in the United States.
The museum, located at 601 Eubank Blvd. southeast, is down the road from Kirtland Air Force Base, and it includes a series of engaging exhibits and a nine-acre park that displays a variety of equipment and aircraft associated with the Atomic Age.
Although there is much more to the museum than information about the region’s role in creating the world’s first atomic bomb, the museum has several exhibits that would serve as a perfect primer for visiting the Trinity Site during one of WSMR’s two yearly open houses the first Saturdays in April and October. The next one is April 7.
For example, “Critical Assembly: The Secrets of Los Alamos 1944,” an installation by American sculptor Jim Sanborn, gives visitors a glimpse into the scene of the bomb’s creation, while around the corner are replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man, the bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively.
The museum also contains a replica of “The Gadget,” the code name scientists gave to the bomb they tested at the Trinity Site July 16, 1945. In addition, the museum has the flag that flew over the Trinity Site on display, although a sign says its damaged state has more to do with New Mexico’s harsh winds than the blast.
Outside in the park is a 100-foot replica of the tower that held The Gadget before it exploded. The tower’s interpretive sign includes the government’s unclassified purchase request for the tower.
Other items outside include a 280 mm Atomic Cannon, nicknamed “Atomic Annie,” that is attached to an Army truck and was the largest nuclear-capable, mobile artillery piece the United States manufactured. The government retired it in 1963, according to a sign.
The tower and the cannon, however, are only two of 25 exhibits in the park. Ever wanted to know what the inside of a Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile looks like? This is the place.
Back inside, the museum has a variety of exhibits that range from nuclear medicine to nuclear power to nuclear waste transportation and much more.
One interesting exhibit rotates a radioactive lantern mantle (containing thorium) and a salt shaker from an old, reddish-orange Fiestaware set next to a radiation detector. The detector’s needle jumps a little when the lantern mantle goes by, but maxes out when the shaker goes by. Why? The company used to use uranium to make the reddish-orange color for the dishes.
In all, however, there is too much to list here. A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum is the nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field, and it is chock-full of information about nuclear science and history.
For more information, visit the museum’s website at www.nuclearmuseum.org. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 10 the museum will hold a Discover STEM Day where children can learn about engineering and more.