Splitting the Atom, Changing the World America Builds the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1945

Article excerpt

50 years ago this month.

The place: A stretch of desert near Alamagordo, N.M.

The time: Twenty-nine minutes and 45 seconds past 5 a.m., Mountain War Time.

The event: The world's first nuclear explosion, equivalent in destructive force to 18,600 tons of TNT.

The significance, in the words of one of those who built it: "A new thing had just been born; a new control; a new understanding of man, which man had acquired over nature."

The birth of that new thing took place over a remarkably short span.

Going into the 1930s, the atom was single, whole, unitary.

Coming out of the 1930s, the atom was split.

Those first splittings happened on a laboratory level. Through extraordinary effort, and in only a few years, the United States pushed the process from the laboratory through the factory and then out to the test site.

The energy let loose on that New Mexico test site would end world War II, or help to end it. …