Los Alamos, New Mexico, a quaint city just an hour away from the state’s capitol, is connected to White Sands Missile Range’s most historic mission – the testing of the atomic bomb at Trinity Site.
Years before the testing of the atomic bomb, the core of the bomb’s element was developed about five hours away from the range at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The laboratory was developed in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, a top secret program established to develop the atomic bomb.
“I think context is everything…the world was a very different place back in World War II,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory Chief Historian Alan Carr.
Though the controversy continues to this day about the power and use of the atomic bomb, Carr said the bomb assisted in ending something that had already killed anywhere from 60 to 80 million people. World War II created the largest devastation in terms of casualties.
“We may not be where we want to be now, but clearly we’ve taken a huge step forward to where we were before,” Carr said.
The creation of the laboratory developed a thriving city as an incentive to have engineers come to the isolated area. Manhattan Project Director J. Robert Oppenheimer chose Los Alamos, New Mexico as the location for the secret laboratory because he remembered the area from his time horseback riding throughout New Mexico. After bringing in Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, who was appointed to head the project, they both agreed the space was ideal for the project.
Under a contract through the University of California, the project was able to recruit about 130,000 engineers to work on the project. The facility and mission was kept a secret until after the detonation of the atomic bomb. On the day of the detonation, the public was led to believe the loud boom and bright colors were caused by an ammunition dump.
After the successful detonation of the bomb and the end of World War II, Oppenheimer and his team were hailed as heroes. On Oct. 16, 19XX the city of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer, and the University of California received the Army-Navy “E” award, an award presented for outstanding performance on war production.
Today, Los Alamos serves as a great suburban area in which to raise a family. Oppenheimer and Groves are posthumously celebrated as celebrities throughout the small town. The main attraction in the area is the Bradbury Museum of Science named after Norris Bradbury, the engineer who was in charge of creating a standard of procedures for the detonation of the bomb. According to Carr, Bradbury was known to be calm, cool, collected, and witty even under such a stress driven role.
Ashley Pond, which once served as a skating rink for students of Los Alamos Ranch School, a prominent all boys school that Los Alamos was known for prior to the Manhattan Project, and Fuller Lodge, which served as a cafeteria for engineers of the Manhattan Project, is now an open area that people can visit. Oppenheimer’s home is currently occupied, but because of his legacy the owner has agreed to donate the home to the museum after passing.
Throughout the years, the scientific history and the unique opportunities the laboratory provided brought several scientists from around the world to the area. Robb Hermes, who recently retired from LANL, joined the laboratory in the 70s. He left Los Alamos twice, once to finish graduate school and another time on another job venture, but he always returned to Los Alamos.
“It’s a great place. The reason I stayed is because of the atmosphere here. You’re able to do science and are supported by this large organization,” Hermes said. “Everybody always talks about the good old days.”
Hermes assisted in creating a trinitite exhibit for the museum. He said he volunteered his time for the exhibit and visited Trinity Site at least eight times in order to conduct adequate research. Hermes did this all on his own time.
“To be associated with the Manhattan Project is really nice,” Hermes said.
A bus tour offers visitors a window tour to visit key areas like Bathtub Row, where elite engineers were housed and given the luxury of a bathtub, Oppenheimer’s home, and to the area’s ski lodge, where you have a perfect overview of the entire laboratory.