JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 171
Now we are all sons of bitches—Kenneth Bainbridge, Trinity Director.
There were many profound thoughts in many profound heads there in the desert, at the reaches of the Jornarda del Muerto ("The Dead Man’s Walk", a formerly nearly-impenetrable stretch of desert in the Llano Estacado) at the Trinity Test Site, Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945 for the successful testing of the first atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer famously cited the Gita (“Now I am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds…”): Enrico Fermi was so busy with his little and excruciatingly wonderful experiment with strips of paper calculating the effect of the blast (he reckoned a very-close 10,000 tons) that he didn’t actually hear the explosion; Edward Teller thought Tellerian thoughts, and so on. Actually the observation points (like S-10000 and Campania Hill)were crowded with big brains: in addition to Oppenheimer, Teller and Fermi were people like Hans Bethe, James Chadwick (whose discovery of the neutron sort of started the whole thing), Richard Feynman, George Kistiakowsky, Phil Morrison, Robert Serber, Vannevar Bush, James Conant, and many others. The were all thinking pretty big things (except for the occasional if-you-can-believe-it stuff like that which maybe came from Feynman’s mouth, which was “hot dog!”). I think that Bainbridge’s statement was the best, and truest, summation of the morning’s activities.
In a strong and inestimable claim to naïve weirdness, Edward Teller—at about 5:00 in the morning, waiting for the explosion with the others—broke out a bottle of sunblock lotion, applying it to his face and hands. The bottle was passed around and was used by others. I can not imagine what must’ve been going through the mind of any observer watching these scientists prepare themselves for the blast, except perhaps for “oh, s___”).
Just about everyone wrote of the moment in their memoirs or reflections, and I’ve read a lot of them; the description that stands out from the others to my mind, the one that put an understandable spin on an untranslatable moment, belonged to the ueber-literate Morrison. He wrote that although the flash and the brightness were stupendous, there was something else that was more astonishing—that was the blast of heat from the shock wave that he felt on his face in the cold desert morning. He was 10 miles away from Zero, and in those few moments when the scientists had recreated the birth of the universe, he was an epoch in time away from the 32 simultaneous detonations that set the bomb off 5:29:45 am.
At almost the same moment as the blast, Little Boy shipped out on the Indianapolis (which would encounter its own horrific date with the future on her return trip) from Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard at San Francisco.