Story and Photos By Bill Newcott
August 6, 2020
“Let me show you the gadget,” says James Walther. My eyes take a moment to adjust as we step from the glaring, hot air of an Albuquerque, New Mexico summer into the dark, cool expanse of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History — its usually busy galleries eerily empty in this year COVID-19.
The museum’s director leads me past an array of unlit displays — the stretch sedan America’s first atomic scientists rode across the New Mexico desert…a hunk of uranium from Hitler’s nuclear program…equipment used to build the first nuclear bomb — until we stop in front of an enormous spherical device.
The thing bristles with dozens of cables, each linked to what appears to be a kind of spark plug. It’s shiny, complex, strangely beautiful — and with a little bit of bad luck it could have incinerated and irradiated hundreds of thousands of Japanese in 1945.
This is the Third Bomb.
After a jaw-dropping detonation in New Mexico — known to history as the Trinity Test — the world’s first atomic weapon was dropped by the United States on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When the Japanese failed to immediately surrender, on August 9 a second atomic device was detonated over Nagasaki. Still, there was no definitive word that the Empire was about to give up as some persistent Japanese government war hawks were willing to gamble the U.S. didn’t have any more of these devastating weapons. We can still wait out the Allies, they said. But they were wrong.
About 80 miles north of where James Walther and I are standing now, in the small town of Los Alamos, scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project were assembling a third bomb, identical to the one dropped on Hiroshima. Known as “Fat Man” because of its wide girth, also referred to as “The Gadget” by its creators, the bomb was both astonishingly advanced and devilishly simple: It consisted of a small core of uranium surrounded by 5,000 pounds of high explosives. When those explosives were detonated at the same millisecond, they compressed that uranium core until it reached critical mass — at which point it exploded with the power of 12 kilotons of TNT.
The first Fat Man had leveled a square mile of Hiroshima. This one would be just as devastating. Fat Man II’s aluminum shell had already been cast by the time the Nagasaki bomb was dropped. All that was needed was (READ MORE)
For Bill's account of his visit to Trinity, the site of the first atomic bomb test, see his story at NationalGeographic.com
You've got four hours between flights at Salt Lake City Airport. You see the signs for Temple Square tours promising to get you back for your next plane. Do you take the chance? If you're Bill Newcott, the answer is, "Of course!"
The name of Princess Cruise's newest ship, Sky Princess, has an unexpected genesis — in the U.S. space program. It honors the untold thousands of women who have played important roles at NASA since its earliest days. The ship's "godmothers" are Capt. Kay Hire, who logged more than 700 hours in space, and Poppy Northcutt, NASA's first woman mission control engineer, whose team calculated Apollo 13's safe return to earth after its near-disastrous explosion.
You don't just walk up to a gorilla in the wild and say "Howdy," according to the folks at African Safaris and Travel. Here are their great ape-friendly tips: Stay at least 21 feet away, or else the gorillas will stop acting normal...keep your voice down...to prevent spreading diseases among gorillas, don't eat, drink, or (gasp!) smoke anywhere near them...no flash photography...and don't stay longer than an hour.
Travel insurance is more important than ever in these COVID-19-blighted times, but make sure you know what your insurnce covers — and especially what it does NOT cover. According to Forbes.com, don't expect an insurer to pay up for, among other things, fear of travel, Ignoring government travel warnings, pre-existing medical conditions, or even a destination that gets shut down by a second COVID-19 surge.
Lots of people take advantage of low-cost off-airport parking at nearby hotels — using a private lot can save you 80 percent or more off airport prices. But if you're on an early morning flight you might be able to do that one better: lots of hotels have stay-park-fly packages that include a room the night before your flight. I've found that, even including the hotel night, this can be a cheaper option than parking at the airport. Check travel sites like TravelZoo and ParkSleepFly for deals.
Get a good look at the diagram above — a peek at your possible future flying coach on an airliner. This seat may look uncomfortably thin and rigid, but the patent holder, SE Aeronautics in Bend, Oregon, insists it provides unsurpassed legroom and enough recline to allow comfortable sleep. In fact, they claim, it's just about as comfy as a typical business class seat.
We'll never get to race from city to city a'la Europe, but that blur you see heading from Washington, DC to Boston next year will be the next best thing: Amtrak's newest generation Acela train. It's a sleek speedster that will reach speeds of 160 mph-plus, some 15 mph faster than the current stock. Plus, the trains will have a totally redesigned interior that Amtrak claims will be more roomy — while at the same time accommodating more travelers.
Everyone knows the soaring Neo-Gothic church on New York's Fifth Avenue — but decades before that St. Patrick's was built, this beautiful church in lower Manhattan served as the cathedral for the City of New York.
Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel writer and editor; former Expeditions Editor of National Geographic Magazine and Travel Editor of AARP the Magazine
The New York World's Fair--who knew there was such a big world out there?
I could live out my days on Santorini!
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