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The Atomic Testing Museum shines a very different spotlight on Las Vegas as one of the most unique cities in the world, and is sure to intrigue and surprise you in unexpected ways.
The museum is only a couple of miles from Bally's, which is on the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road, making it very easy to visit.
From Bally's you go east on Flamingo.The first main cross street is Paradise Road where the Silver Sevens casino is and about a block past that, on the same side of the street, is where the Atomic Testing Museum is.
The Las Vegas that's most popular is certainly very unique and by now quite familiar to millions of people.
A city well associated with its Mob past, Elvis, the Rat Pack, Howard Hughes, Steve Wynn, Benny Binion's Horseshoe and World Series of Poker, Wayne Newton, Jerry Lewis, Andre Aggasi, Celine Dion, Oscar Goodman, Siegfried and Roy, and many others.
A city that makes millionaires out of everyday tourist and gaming executives.
A city that has always put on historic spectacles from Evel Knievel jumping the fountains at Caesar's Palace, to hosting the biggest names and events ever in boxing history, to dramatic spectacular implosions of iconic hotels.
A city that creates, re-creates and features stars of all stripes … even pawnbrokers. You’d think that would be enough for any city to lay claim to.
But there's one huge piece of history out here that most everyone, either living here or just visiting, give little thought to.
A place which happens to hold one of the most important pieces of American history just 75 miles from Las Vegas, and featured at the Atomic Testing Museum -The Nevada Test Site.
It's now officially called 'Nevada National Security Site'. I'm not sure of why the name change but since it's the name everyone still recognizes it by, I still call it the Nevada Test Site.
You'll be amazed at all that has gone on at the Nevada Test Site since its creation within the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range on Dec. 18, 1950 by President Harry S. Truman.
The Atomic Testing Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, isn't just about history though. As you can imagine it does a fantastic job of covering that, but it also brings things along up to the present day.
This museum is a comprehensive look at the full range of events, issues and impact to our world once the Atomic Genie was let loose from his bottle.
The Atomic Testing Museum has a huge range of material they pull together that helps in seeing the bigger picture, and it's a relevant now as it ever has been.
I cover certain parts of it here but believe me, there's a lot to explore at this museum. This page would definitely turn into a mini-book if I tried to cover even half of it!
It all began with the test called Trinity on July 16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The final designs created two different Atomic devices. By August 6, the first was dropped over Hiroshima with the second one dropped 3 days later on Nagasaki.
The resulting death and destruction altered the course of human history unlike anything else before and ushered in the Atomic Age, changing our world forever.
The end of 1947 saw the beginnings of the Cold War and the expansions of communism. By 1949 the Soviets had the bomb and Mao established his Peoples Republic.
Within that decade it became, to say the least, a perilous unstable time in the world. Mutual Assured Destruction, M.A.D, was the only thing keeping a nuclear exchange in check.
During the early days the U.S. did nuclear testing in the Pacific. The island atolls of the Marshall Islands, Bikini and Enewetak is where detonations, away from populated areas, took place.
It was soon realized there was a need for a safer place with more secrecy and better logistics for these test. That's when the Nevada Test Site came into the picture.
Here's an example of something I never knew until I saw it at the Atomic Testing Museum. It's a little piece of Vegas history that occurred with that first detonation.
It was in January of 1951 and no one in Las Vegas had been informed of what was about to begin. They found out when the town felt the shake, rattle and rolls from that first blast.
Many people, thinking it might be an earthquake ran outside. Soon, in the distance, they could see the mushroom cloud rising from the Test Site.
As news trickled in on what had actually happened, there was a panic and uproar by city officials, businessmen and casino owners. They feared this kind of testing would destroy the city’s tourism. But guess what?
Instead people were fascinated by this immense science. It resulted in actually increasing tourism. Eventually businesses incorporated atomic themes into various features to highlight it.
When dates were announced, tourist as well as locals would make viewing plans. They gathered on the edge of town, rooftops or other higher ground to see the blast and mushroom cloud rise.
The test were roughly 75 miles away but people from as far away as 100 miles could feel and see the effects.
The Atomic Testing Museum also details how the atmospheric testing had consequences for ‘downwinders’. That was the name given to those who were affected by the radioactive dust that usually traveled northeast.
It was mostly Utah residents who were the major recipients of these effects, which was too little understood at the time. That led to scores of lawsuits and eventual settlements to many of those affected.
From 1951 to 1963, there were over 100 atmospheric test at the Nevada Test Site. From 1963 to 1992, there were 828 announced test conducted underground.
Some were multiple, simultaneous blast which raises that figure up even more if counting each individual detonation.
Each test had its role in advancing our understanding in blast and atomic science. They increased our ability, knowledge, and/or capabilities in numerous atomic applications too.
As you'll learn at the Atomic Testing Museum, the Nevada Test Site was home to all kinds of nuclear science. One example is BREN, short for Bare Reactor Experiment-Nevada.
BREN, a tower erected in 1962 at Yucca Flats was taller than the Empire State Building. Its purpose was to better understand the effects of radiation on the city of Hiroshima and it’s survivors.
It became the model for gauging the effect of various levels of radiation exposure. This was done by hoisting an unshielded reactor to different heights up and down along a steel mast. The amount of radiation that reached a mock village on the ground was then measured and studied.
Another example of something I never knew until I saw it at The Atomic Testing Museum was the farm project.
The EPA maintained an experimental 36 acre farm for 15 years to study the effect of radioactive fallout on the human food chain. This included uptake studies on farm raised crops, soil, beef, milk and other foodstuffs from various farm animals.
This knowledge helped gauge acceptable radiation levels on all of these food sources.
One unexpected feature at the Atomic Testing Museum's was the Ground Zero Theatre. It brings you as close as any of us will ever get to a unique historical event. Being part of a viewing gallery to a detonation.
The theatre has a short film that sync’s sound and sensation to an atmospheric test. It adds a feel of what was experienced by those who once witnessed this kind of testing.
On various walls, you'll see timeline display boards that highlight events for each decade. You'll also find a monitor station with video of detonation films. You control the speed of the video and it can be slowed down to watch things frame by frame if you want.
There's been critical information learned regarding nuclear accidents as well as protocols for responses to nuclear events and other hazardous materials.
Those associated with the Nevada Test Site, with their years of experience and critical knowledge gained at the Site, are often consulted when the worst of these events occur.
Russia's Chernobyl disaster is a well known example but as you'll see, there were quite a few more alarming incidents many of us aren't aware of. I certainly wasn't and it surprised me to see some these.
The Site has also been home to rocket development, alternative delivery systems, detection and recording technologies as well as optic and electro-optic science.
Many data capturing innovations also began here. The list of technological advances and discoveries are wide and far reaching.
The Atomic Testing Museum features the letter written to FDR signed by Einstein, describing the outcome of experiments by Joliot, Fermi and Szilard - three of the worlds top physicist at the time.
In it they state the likelihood in the very near future of successfully creating a chain reaction by splitting the Uranium atom, along with the urgency for the President to not delay in pursuing the research.
FDR got the message. Sooner, rather than later, someone was going to develop the capability.
Those who condemn the dropping of Atomic bombs on Japan tend to ignore a critically important perspective that's chronicled at the Atomic Testing Museum. One cannot fairly judge those decisions outside of the context and realities of those times.
In the years leading up to World War II, Germany had a high percentage of the best minds in the world of physics.
There was no doubt the Nazi's seriously desired this kind of power. The biggest fear at the time was Hitler getting the ability to create the first atomic bomb.
No one knew how far along they were but we knew historically they were known for their engineering excellence.
Naturally there was also the fear that Japan would also get their hands on the technology. Not by development but by striking a deal.
When you look at the brutality of those regimes during those times, then you'll get a sense of the context and the position the U.S. found itself in.
Fortunately for the Allies many of the best minds in chemistry and physics began fleeing Germany as Hitler’s power grew, with many of them coming to America.
The stunning atrocities committed by the Third Reich leaves no doubt as to the mass destruction the Nazi’s would of unleashed on any who stood in their way had they acquired the bomb first.
By April/May of 1945, Nazi Germany was defeated but Japan was still fighting. The war in the Pacific was quickly draining what was left of America’s manpower and resources after so much of it had gone into the war in Europe.
There was no doubt as to the large number of deaths and casualties America would of had to eventually sustain in having to invade Japan because of culture. It valued honor and death before surrender.
One only has to remember one of the most feared weapons they later unleashed ... the Kamikazi's
The first bomb verified that assessment. It took 3 days of waiting, and yet another drop of the most destructive weapon the world had ever seen, for Japan to finally surrender.
The Einstein letter was 1939, and it proved to be a critical part of all the scenario's that eventually led to America being the first to develop the bomb.
Even before being reminded about it again at the Atomic Testing Museum, I've always found it incredible that such advanced scientific work was being accomplished during that time period.
Most often in my mind, 1939 represented the later years of the Great Depression - a period of harsh, simple times rather than the time of world changing science and the dawn of the Atomic Age.
The science since then is just mind blowing when you think of how far and how fast we've gotten to where we are today.
In the last exhibit at the Atomic Testing Museum you'll see two artifacts that have confused some. They've commented on why they are presented there, but they made sense to me.
One is a piece of the Berlin Wall. The wall was a towering symbol of the Cold War and the ever present danger of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
There were some serious incidents that almost ignited that exchange which have been made into films.
The tearing down of the Berlin Wall was a symbolic ending to the Cold War and to the decades of global fear. Unfortunately, the specter of the Cold War seems to be rising again.
The other is an I-beam of the World Trade Center along with a tribute honoring those who died and sacrificed there during that event.
The restraint and responsibility of being the worlds most powerful nuclear country still leaves us vulnerable to attacks like this. It highlights the present danger of regimes that want our destruction - much like the Soviets did.
All the more reason why it's critical we do what we can to not let irresponsible and radical regimes become nuclear. Imagine what would of been the results of a nuclear suitcase bomb on 9-11.
Those were my thoughts on these two artifacts after seeing everything at the Atomic Testing Museum.
The Museum also has a Reading Room filled with material from agencies, departments and programs associated with the Test Site and nuclear science in general for you to explore.
You’ll also find a Gift Shop for you to purchase items of the Museum. After visiting the Atomic Testing Museum, I was reminded of many things I hadn't thought about in a long time. And quite a bit I never even knew.
I left there with an expanded perspective not just about Las Vegas and the Nevada Test Site, but also about America's role in world history.
It left me with a clearer sense of just how difficult a role it's been for this country in helping to avert the need for a nuclear exchange by any nation.
We aren't perfect and mistakes are made, but when I looked at all that has gone on and the countless Americans involved throughout the years in this work, one thing comes through.
We always strive to do better and in many ways, we have. But yes, there's still more that can and needs to be done.
That's my perspective and invariably you'll have your own, but there's one more thing you may notice. The Atomic Testing Museum focuses on the record of events and history, not ideology. It just tells it like it is.
The Nevada Test Site section of the Atomic Testing Museum is permanent and larger so it has more to see there. I recommend you begin there before seeing any other exhibit, which for me was the Area 51 exhibit next to it.
I went from the amazement of the Atomic Age and the Nevada Test Site right into the otherworldly UFO program featured in the other section of the Atomic Testing Museum - Area 51.
I don't know if that will still be there for your visit so check the Atomic Testing Museum website to see what exhibit is there. As popular as Area 51 has been, I wouldn't be surprise if it is.
Unlike the Nevada Test Site part of the Museum, they don't allow photos or videos to be taken inside of the Area 51 exhibit so be aware of that if you were counting on being able to do that.
That's why I only have pictures that I took of the outside of this exhibit.
Through the years, I've been more familiar with the subjects covered in this part of the Atomic Testing Museum because of its popularity.
Even so, I found it full of information on UFO's and the phenomenon that I wasn't aware of, since it's still a growing body of work.
This exhibit is structured with temporary walls within, that wind around in a maze like fashion as they feature themes from area to area.
It starts off all along one far wall with a black-light illuminating the way. The walls are used as a canvas to display written and pictured items down the whole run, all related to larger, historical UFO themes, including pieces on Roswell and other incidents similar to it.
One section of the wall featured rock art that highlights what is hard to describe in any other way. It surely looks like the ancients depict a very different being among their own, and a few notable ones are displayed here.
If you were to research this, you'd find there are more than a few examples in ancient rock art that clearly depict a very different being along with what appears as symbols of ascending or descending near them.
You’ll see and read on the walls, as well as within displays, other incidents that still remain unexplained and unanswered.
One sections features statements by notable individuals regarding their UFO experiences, as well as other similar incidents reported by hundreds of people throughout the world over many years.
One section on Groom Lake delves into the Skunk Works projects that were housed there. This section covers some very interesting items and details about that work, along with features on reverse engineering.
Another section has a piece on Rachel, Nevada which is the closest town to Area 51.
For years there were reports of strange UFO sightings over Area 51 by locals and visitors. Once covered by the media, the area experienced an a explosion of even more new visitors.
The little cafe in Rachel, which is the main stopover for those who spend time observing the skies over Area 51, decided to capitalized on the phenomenon by changing its name to the A’Le’Inn and catering to all things Alien, as you’ll see in one of the video features.
Likewise the State changed the name of State Route 375, which runs along by Area 51, to the Extraterrestrial Highway.
The whole thing has become quite an adventure of the unusual that still draws both the serious observers and those who just have to see this whole thing for themselves.
Where else can you take a picture of yourself next to a road sign of a real State Route called Extraterrestrial Highway!?
Another section of this exhibit took me back about 25 years.
It featured a section on George Knapp, an investigative reporter I often saw on our local stations. Back then I had a friend who had seriously gotten into the UFO phenomenon and through him was introduced to many of the subjects in this exhibit.
Not long after my introduction, along comes George Knapp with his feature story on Bob Lazar. I remember well the unfolding of that story and the craziness that surrounded the whole incident for months.
I won't be a spoiler and go into details about Bob Lazar though. Instead I'll save that for you to see yourself.
I will say if you’re a big skeptic about all of this, his story, as well as John Lear's, will give you some pause - especially when Bob Lazar talks about element 115.
I was glad to see the present day updates on Bob Lazar and that he's doing well. His story is one of those that gets deeper and more interesting with time.
Doing the Nevada Test Site section first, you’ll definitely get the feeling there's been a lot of incredible science you haven't gotten to really know about.
After all the things you learn in the Atomic Testing Museum, you may find yourself wondering, like I was ... ‘If they were doing that kind of incredible stuff in the 30's, 40’s and 1950’s, how much of a stretch is the stuff in Area 51?"
That's another reason this makes both of these exhibits a really cool pair to see back to back. Give yourself at least 4 hours to enjoy this Museum, especially since there are two sections you'll want to see.
To get to the Museum, from Bally's on The Strip and Flamingo, head east about 2 miles.
The first main cross street is Paradise Road where the Silver Sevens casino is and about a block past that, on the same side of the street, is where the Atomic Testing Museum is.
The Atomic Testing Museum address is 755 East Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119. For more info, visit the Atomic Testing Museum website.