JF Ptak Science Books Post 2336
The "Princess and the Pea" comes to mind with this story, except that the pea was located above the mattresses, suspended from cable above them. It was the ultimate pea.
That "pea" was an atomic bomb. It was suspended in inside a 100-foot tall metal tower in the desert of Alamagordo, in the Jornado del Muerto, the test shot to see if the bomb worked, the near-culmination of the work of 100,000 people and billions of dollars, and the great potential decision-maker on the outcome of WWII
This was the Trinity Test--July 16, 1945.
The bomb was hauled up to its position in the tower, dangling there, not much protected from the elements which that night of the test threatened lightning and wind. What of the cables failed? And the bomb fell?
The last-minute fail safe was a large pile of mattresses. They would cushion the fall. The bomb would not explode, but it could be heavily damaged. And in this makeshift way the enormous investment was protected.
The bomb was detonated at 5:29 that morning, creating at 1100'-wide crater, causing the atmosphere around the explosion to turn blue from heavy radiation, and raising a 40,000'-tall mountain of smoke, a result of its 15kt yield.
The tower of course was vaporized.
I assumed too so were the mattresses--even if they were Army-issue.
It is a secret irony of some sort that while pre-detonation betting was going on by the scientists about the yield of the device with a side wager on whether or not the atmosphere would be set on fire, that the stop gap measure preotecting the bomb if it fell was a pile of mattresses.
[Oppenheimer and General Groves--standing too close for comfort--at the footings of the dissolved tower, afterwards, their whie footies in place for radiation protection.]
But it all worked out.