• Back to Alamogordo.
  • The army leased a ranch in the middle of the Jornada del Muerto site and converted it into a military police station and field laboratory.
  • They thoroughly vacuumed it to make a makeshift clean room and sealed its windows with black electrical tape.
  • Just like Ray’s infamous kill room.
  • Nearly 2 miles to the northwest, they marked out the spot for Ground Zero.
  • Three concrete-roofed observation bunkers with bullet-proof glass portholes were dug 10,000 yards north, west and south of Ground Zero.
  • From there, the test would be controlled and the explosion would be filmed and measured.
  • Scientists wanted to determine the symmetry of the implosion and the amount of energy released.
  • They also wanted to get estimates of the damage that the bomb would cause and study the behaviour of the resulting fireball.
  • The biggest concern was the radioactivity the test device would release.
  • It was hoped that favourable meteorological conditions would carry the radioactivity into the upper atmosphere.
  • As they were proposing to do the test in the middle of the thunderstorm season, the army stood ready to evacuate the people in surrounding areas.
  • Two towers were built.
  • One was 800 yards south of Ground Zero.
  • Made of heavy wooden beams, it was 20 feet high, topped with a broad platform like an outdoor dance floor.
  • One day, the contractors returned to find that it had disappeared.
  • Harvard physics professor Kenneth T. Bainbridge, recruited from MIT’s radar project, the man in charge of Project Trinity, had loaded the platform with canisters of radioactive waste from Hanford and surrounded it with 100 tons of high explosives.
  • Before dawn on 7 May, he detonated the largest chemical explosion ever set off to test the instruments and procedures in a practice firing.
  • The tower at Ground Zero had been prefabricated in steel and was shipped in sections to the Trinity site, where concrete footings had been sunk 20 feet into the rocky desert floor.
  • The four feet were 35 feet apart and the tower rose 100 feet above the ground.
  • Near the top was a platform with a removable centre section and corrugated iron sheets on three sides.
  • The open side faced the camera bunker to the west.
  • Above the platform was a $20,000 electrically driven heavy-duty winch.
  • On 12 July, the plutonium core was taken to the test area in an army sedan.
  • The non-nuclear components of the bomb left for the test site at 12:01 am on Friday the 13th.
  • The idea was to put a ‘reverse English’ on the ill-luck of that day.
  • ‘reverse English’ – Billiards. a spinning motion imparted to a cue ball in such a manner as to prevent it from moving in a certain direction.
  • As they rode through Santa Fe in the small hours, the convoy sounded a siren.
  • At midnight because the army did not want to risk some late-night drunken driver speeding out of a side street into a truck full of high explosives.
  • Final assembly of “the gadget” –  which was its nickname – took place in the ranch house.
  • Before it began, one of the physcists, Robert Bacher, asked for a receipt from the army.
  • As Los Alamos was technically part of the University of California, he didn’t want the university to be liable for the several million dollars-worth of plutonium they were about to vaporize.
  • Imagine that conversation – so…. Where’s our plutonium? Ummm we blew it up. You WHAT? That’ll be $2 billion, bucko.
  • Then the team installed the neutron initiator that would trigger the explosion between the two hemispheres of plutonium.
  • These were hot to the touch due to the alpha particles they were already giving off.
  • HOT JAMES BROWN (Bowie FAME riff, Carlos Alomar)
  • The plutonium ball was then placed inside a cylinder of U-238 tamper.
  • The core was then driven out to Ground Zero, where it arrived at 3.18pm.
  • The five-foot sphere of high explosives had arrived that morning.
  • Remember the way a plutonium implosion bomb works is that want to compress is using convention explosives wrapped around the outside of the shell – the beer can experiment.
  • This was wrapped around a hollow globe of U-238.
  • At 1pm, the winch was used to hoist the 2 ton ball of high explosives from the back of the truck and lower it onto a skid.
  • Norris Bradbury, the navy physicist in charge of the assembly, said ‘We were scared to death that we would drop it,’ ‘because we did not trust the hoist and it was the only bomb immediately available. It wasn’t that we were afraid of setting it off, but we might damage it in some way.’
  • A white tent was erected over the assembly, ready for the cylindrical plug containing the plutonium spheres and the initiator to be slid into place in the centre of the ball of tamper inside the explosives.
  • Boyce McDaniel, one of the assembly team, said   ‘Imagine our consternation when, as we started to assemble the plug in the hole, deep down in the centre of the high-explosive shell, it would not enter,’ ‘Dismayed, we halted our efforts in order not to damage the pieces, and stopped to think about it. Could we have made a mistake?’
  • To maximize the density of uranium in the assembly, the clearance between the plug and the spherical shell had been reduced to a few thousandths of an inch.
  • Three sets of the plugs and tamper spheres had been made back in Los Alamos.
  • In the haste of their construction, not all the plugs fitted into all the holes.
  • Surely they could not have brought the wrong ones.
  • Then Bacher realized what had happened.
  • In the heat of the ranch house, the plug had expanded, while the tamper sphere, insulated by the explosives wrapped around it, was still cool from Los Alamos.
  • The world’s smartest guys forgot that heat makes shit expand.
  • So feel better the next time you forget something obvious.
  • Reminds me of that time I tried to insert a plug into your ass and your shit had expanded.
  • The team left the metal of the plug and the sphere in contact and took a break.
  • Later, when they checked the assembly again, the temperature had equalized and the plug slid smoothly into place.
  • That evening, the last block of explosive was Scotch-taped into place.
  • The detonators were installed the following day.
  • At 8am on 15 July, the device was hoisted up the firing tower, stopping at 15 feet for a team of GIs to stack army-issue mattresses under it in case it should fall.
  • While this was being done, news came that measurements from the test-firing indicated that Trinity would fail.
  • Everybody blamed George Bogdanovich Kistiakowsky, the Ukrainian born physicist who ran X-Division – the team that developed the shaped charges for the imploding the ball, and also developed Wolverine’s skeleton.
  • but he was adamant.
  • Get it? Adamant? Wolverine’s skeleton was made of adamantium?
  • he said. ‘Oppenheimer became so emotional that I offered him a month’s salary against ten dollars that our implosion charges would work,’
  • While this was going on, Little Boy, the uranium bomb with its gun mechanism, was leaving Los Alamos for Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
  • From there it would be flown to San Francisco, where it would be loaded on to the USS Indianapolis and padlocked to the deck in an anonymous 15 foot crate for shipment to Tinian.
  • They apparently didn’t need to test it.
  • Although all of its components had been tested, no full test of a gun-type nuclear weapon occurred before the Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima.
  • Then came good news.
  • After a night analysing the data from the test-firing, Hans Bethe called to say that something was wrong with the instruments and even a perfect implosion would have registered as a dud.
  • ‘So I became acceptable to local high society,’ said Kistiakowsky.
  • Groves, Bush, Conant, Lawrence, Farrell, Bethe, Teller and Chadwick, head of the British contingent at Los Alamos and discoverer of the neutron, arrived in the test area.
  • It was pouring with rain.
  • In the control bunker 5.7 miles to the south, Groves and Oppenheimer discussed what to do if the weather did not break in time for the test scheduled at 4am.
  • At 3.30 they pushed the time back to 5.30, when the meteorologist Jack M. Hubbard forecast there would be a break in the weather.
  • ‘You’d better be right on this, or I will hang you,’ Groves told Hubbard.
  • Then he Called the governor of New Mexico, getting him out of bed to warn him that he might have to declare martial law.
  • Many precautions were taken to prepare for all sorts of doomsday scenarios.
  • Soldiers were posted in several nearby towns in the event that they needed to be evacuated.
  • Groves, who was already concerned for the safety of Amarillo, Texas, a city of 70,000 only 300 miles away, placed a call to New Mexico Governor John J. Dempsey explaining that martial law might need to be implemented in the event of an emergency at the site.
  • The Army Public Relations Department prepared somber explanations in the event that disaster occurred and lives were lost.
  • I’d love to see a draft of that to see how they were prepared to spin it.
  • These days Trump would just call it fake news.
  • Fermi spent the wait annoying Groves.
  • ‘He suddenly offered to take wagers from his fellow scientists on whether or not the bomb would ignite the atmosphere, and if so, whether it would merely destroy New Mexico or destroy the world,’ Groves recalled.
  • ‘He also said that after all it wouldn’t make any difference whether the bomb went off or not because it would still have been a well worthwhile scientific experiment. For if it did fail to go off, we would have proved that an atomic explosion was not possible.’
  • A betting pool was also started by scientists at Los Alamos on the possible yield of the Trinity test.
  • Yields from 45,000 tons of TNT to zero were selected by the various bettors.
  • Fermi was willing to bet anyone that the test would wipe out all life on Earth, with special odds on the mere destruction of the entire State of New Mexico!
  • At 4am the rain stopped.

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