While I was in Santa Fe in July, I took the opportunity on my way back to Albuquerque to catch my flight to stop by the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History again. This was my second visit – having initially made a quick visit to the museum in July 2018.
Roughly speaking, the museum is divided into three sections – two indoor (nuclear weapons and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy) and the aircraft and missile display area outside. The weapons section is the first part you walk through at the beginning of touring the museum. It describes the history of the development of nuclear weapons – including the race America was against countries like Germany and Japan to develop this technology. It also includes discussion of the famous letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt that led to the creation of the US national effort that became the Manhattan Project.
There’s an interesting exhibit that creatively recreates the scene at the Los Alamos Laboratory as this work was underway. I was particularly struck by the several old mechanical desktop calculators in the display – as the math involved in designing these weapons wasn’t perfected using computers but, rather, slide rules and these old calculators.
The rest of the weapons section includes examples a many nuclear weapons – including facsimiles of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan that led to the end of World War II with that country. As you walk through this display of weapons, it’s striking how they start out being relatively large but then shrink down in size to much smaller dimensions.
Outdoors in the aircraft and missile display area are examples of the Boeing B-29 used over Japan along with a beautifully preserved Boeing B-52 and also a Boeing B-47. There are a number of smaller aircraft as well – along with a replica to the tower used at the Trinity test site in New Mexico where the first test of an atomic weapon was conducted.
I’ve visited this museum twice and learned new things each time. On my recent visit, they were showing a film about the B-52 bomber which was quite interesting. I didn’t know that back in the 1950’s General Curtis LeMay (heading up the Strategic Air Command) had B-52’s in the air constantly that were armed with nuclear weapons and flew toward the Soviet Union only to then turn back and return. Only after a couple of nasty accidents involving aircraft crashes with nuclear weapons on-board did this practice moderate.
The other thing I learned about Albuquerque is what a nuclear city it is. Just a few miles from the museum site is one of the largest storage sites for nuclear weapons in the world – something called the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex (KUMMSC) where the US stores nuclear weapons – most waiting to be removed from service and disassembled.