The Atomic Testing Museum In Las Vegas ~ Not Far From The Strip!
About three miles from the Las Vegas strip...
If you're looking for something to do here in Las Vegas that doesn't involve bright lights, gambling, extreme people watching, (well, ok, so you might still be able to do a little of that at the museum)... take a break and spend an afternoon in the Atomic Testing Museum, which is located at 755 East Flamingo Road, just a short drive off the strip.
Back in the 1950's, Las Vegas wasn't only known for bright lights, nightlife, the mafia, gambling and showgirls. It was also famous for the well known "secret" of atomic testing that went on just 65 miles from Las Vegas, out in the desert.
These "mushroom clouds" were actually visible from the strip and people would travel to downtown Las Vegas to watch the clouds that would rise from the Nevada Test Site. This was the most well known testing site in the nation at the time. It is in a very isolated location, a good distance away from any populated areas.
In one part of the museum, you can see artifacts from Indians who lived on the test site. They were relocated to allow nuclear testing to take place. I found the infant carriers on display in this museum that were used by the Indians to be fascinating. According to the sign at the display, you could tell from looking at the top of the carrier whether the child in it was a boy or a girl.
The NTS (Nevada Test Site) was established by the United States Department of Energy to allow military officials to learn what the effects were of nuclear weapons. Atmospheric testing (above ground testing) took place at first, until about 1962, when the operations were moved underground into tunnels.
A total of 928 nuclear tests took place. Of those, 828 were underground and were moved there due to fears of fall-out dangers. This is an important part of the history of the United States. At the time, other countries (primarily the Soviet Union) were working on the development of this technology as well. It was thought that the reason our country never ended up being involved in a full scale nuclear war was because of the testing that showed the horrible effects these bombs could have. Atomic testing was credited with keeping both sides of the political arena back then from using them. This period of time in our history was referred to as the "Atomic Age."
This museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and is located inside the Frank H. Rogers Science and Technology building. The artifacts are presented in a way that make them understandable through interactive modules, films, actual equipment used at the time and timelines. Their purpose is to educate, document and inform people of the impact that nuclear testing had on the local level, as well as nationally and globally.
The impact here in Las Vegas was that the community was stabilized and it made the community famous for something other than the glitz and glamor of the strip and the tourism that went along with that. And when you consider the hundreds of government jobs that were placed here, as well as the government funds that flowed into the area, this nuclear testing had a huge economic impact.
The nuclear testing facility operated from 1951 until 1992 and this museum provides you with a fascinating glimpse of why we needed to develop these weapons in the first place. Almost more interesting than that, though, is the pop culture that surrounded the Atomic Age (just take a look at the "Atomic Fireball" candy box, soda bottles and a box of Kix cereal that contained an "atomic bomb" ring on display there). It's almost as though you are walking through an antique shop!
In other areas of the museum, you can watch films (one of which is in a theater that is made to resemble a fallout shelter)... and you can see displays of safety gear, as well as testing devices and explanations of all the operations that were carried out at the NTS.
To me, one of the most fascinating pictures on display is that of the area where the underground testing took place... there are huge HOLES everywhere. It resembles the surface of the moon. It is really interesting!
Because of the ruggedness of the terrain there, it was even used at one time as a training area for NASA astronauts.
High speed photography is used, as well as video, to capture the impressive images of the bombs as they exploded, and there are some graphic video's of homes that are very close to where the bomb goes off. Through these images you can see how a home could have been "vaporized" in just a matter of moments. This is really a remarkable sight and I am so thankful that these bombs were used very rarely. Nuclear testing became important as a deterrent to an all-out nuclear war.
Whether you are into history or not, this museum is a fascinating, interesting trip through a time that was very important to our country... and it is a trip well worth taking! Science here is presented in such a way that it really makes you think... and after all, isn't life all about learning the important lessons taught to us by history?