A Glimpse Behind The Fence

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Los Alamos County Councilor

If Robert Oppenheimer suddenly appeared at your home or college campus and asked you to go work on a project that he could not tell you about in a place that he could not elaborate, would you?

Recently, that question was asked of myself, Councilor Sara Scott, Councilor Randy Ryti and other fellow tourist as we had the wonderful opportunity to peek into some of the wonderful attractions that are part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, or MPNHP for short.

Our tour began at the Bradbury Science Museum. There, the wonderful staff of the park and Bradbury Science Museum greeted us. We began our introduction to the whole National Park, followed by a video on the unique role Los Alamos played in the project. Then, we were ushered on the bus to begin sightseeing.  

Our first stop was at the Ashley Pond cabin deep in Pajarito Canyon, or as locals might know it, TA-18. We received a great history of the population of the Pajarito Plateau from the ancient Puebloans to the land grants and finally the Ranch School. Getting to peek into the cabin, one immediately saw how simple, yet elegant it was. It was a wonderful tale that was made greater by two Red-tailed hawks serenading us as they flew overhead.

After the cabin, we then proceeded to Battleship bunker where the final test before the Trinity Test took place. In that small bunker, the final implosion experiment was initiated and observed. That last experiment proved, in theory, the nuclear weapon implosion design could work. However, only the Trinity test a couple days later would ultimately prove that the world would entered the nuclear age.

Our final visit was the Slotin Building. Named for Louis Slotin, this building tells the story of the dangers of nuclear criticality research. There, park historians shared the stories of the Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin’s accidents. Hearing these stories and seeing where Slotin stood the day of his fatal accident was awe striking. The effect these accidents had on future nuclear criticality research is still taught around the world.

Twenty-eight months. That is how long it took to bring the world from nuclear theory to the nuclear age. The sheer effort of those who would work on the different sites across the project was daunting. Not just those in Los Alamos, but from all over the region, people came together for the common mission and purpose. Together, they built and experimented in ways the world had never seen, and forever changed the world.

It is humbling to call the place that brought the world into a new age home. For those, like me, who have grown up in Los Alamos, these building always sat behind the present fence at TA-18. For years, I wished I could see what was behind that fence, and finally, the dream came true.

I have left out much of what we learned because I do not want to spoil the experience. I encourage everyone to try to make it on these tours. They are limited due to security, but worth the time. If you cannot make the tour, please visit the MPNHP visitor center. If you would like the full history of Los Alamos, consider also going to the Los Alamos History Museum and Bradbury Science Museum. The wonderful staff and volunteers will be happy to take you on the journey of Los Alamos.

So, if Robert Oppenheimer showed up at your door and asked you to join him, would you?