76 Years Ago, the US Detonated the First Nuclear Weapon
Brandywine Peace Community
PHILADELPHIA, PA (July 16, 2021) — The first atomic test blast in human history took place on July 16, 1945. It was code-named “Trinity”. The place in the New Mexico desert which was chosen for the Trinity test site was known as Jornada del Muerto (“Journey of Death” or “Dead Man’s Trail”).
July 15, 1945, the day before the Trinity test, Frank Oppenheimer (the brother of the scientific head of the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb’s chief designer, J.Robert Oppenheimer) had set up an experiment designed to simulate the fragility of Japanese houses. At dusk, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who years earlier had affected the first atom chain reaction, was offering wagers on whether, if the test was successful, it would ignite the atmosphere, and if it did, would it just destroy New Mexico or the entire world.
July 16, 1945: 76 Years Ago
The following is taken from “JOURNEY OF DEATH, a narrative of the events from July 16, 1945, the first test of an atomic bomb code-named “Trinity” to August 6, 1945 and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima”, written in 1993, by Richard A. Conti for the Brandywine Peace Community.
…”At 2a.m. busloads of visitors from Los Alamos and beyond began arriving at the viewing site, 20 miles from ground zero.
At 3:15a.m., the rain moved past the base camp. At 4a.m., the wind shifted away from the shelters. At 4:40a.m. the final weather report came. By 5:30a.m. the weather at ground zero would be possible [for the Test] but not ideal. The scientists and officials agree to set T=0 at 5:30a.m., just before dawn.
The arming party went to the test site to complete the preparations, timing switches were thrown. The arming switch was thrown. A string of ground lights — part of an Air Force test — was lit. The arming party left the test site and returned to the control Bunker. At 5:09 and 45 seconds the countdown began.
At the viewing site, the visitors were told to lie down on the sand, turn their faces away from the blast, and bury their heads in their arms. No one complied. As Manhattan Project Physicist Edward Teller [“father of the H-Bomb”] said, they were “determined to look the beast in the eye.’ He put on some suntan lotion, then passed it to the others who also applied the lotion, in the pitch-blackness of the night 20 miles from ground zero.
At 5:25a.m., a signal rocket went up, then a siren in base camp went off. Ten miles from ground zero trenches had been bulldozed for the men who would watch from this place. The scientists lay down in the trenches, facing away from ground zero.
The two-minute warning rocket fizzled. A long wail of the base camp siren signaled the time. The one-minute warning rocket fired at 5:29a.m.
When the countdown reached 30 seconds, four red lights slashed on a console, and the charging of the Bomb’s firing unit began.
At 10 seconds, a gong sounded in the control bunker. The men lying in their shallow trenches at base camp might be laid out for death. One of the observers, 20 miles away, got out of his car. Everyone felt the tension as the last few seconds passed.
Despite the fact that everything was controlled by automatic timer, one man could interrupt the test at any time. He held a knife switch in his hand and stared at the dial on a voltmeter while he listened to the countdown.
At 5:29 and 45 seconds the firing circuit closed. In a millionth of a second, conditions at the center of the Bomb core resembled the state of the universe moments after its first primordial explosion.”
* * *
Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, and the atomic bomb’s chief designer, would years later recall what he thought in the wake of the “Trinity” test.
“We knew the world would not be same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bagavad-Gita: Vishmu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, he takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
Exactly three weeks after “Trinity,” the US dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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