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Podcast: Voices of the Manhattan Project

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sixty-nine years ago today, a huge fireball rose slowly above the New Mexican desert. The Trinity test signified that for the first time, physicists working on the Manhattan Project had successfully split the atom and built the first nuclear bomb.
Photo by Jack Aeby

The Atomic Heritage Foundation's Voices of the Manhattan Project website is an unparalleled trove of historic interviews with the veterans of the project. There's collected historic recordings of everyone from the heads of the project like physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, to more recent interviews with the people that history often overlooks, like the secretaries, technicians and people who just lived nearby.

On this week's podcast, we spoke with the founder and lead interviewer at the foundation, and heard some of the lesser known stories of the Manhattan Project. It's an amazing peek inside America's secret cities of World War II.

Image: Department of Energy
Project leaders J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspect the mangled remains of the first atomic blast. Though central to the success of the project, nearly half a million people contributed to the secret war effort.

Image: Department of Energy

Secret cities to manufacture and assemble the parts for the bomb popped up in Los Alamos, New Mexico (above) Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Often times basic infrastructure lagged behind the scientific infrastructure at these sites.

Image: Department of Energy

This sign at Oak Ridge emphasized just how serious the emphasis on secrecy was at all of the locations. Most of the people working actually on the atomic bomb had no idea what they were building.

Image: Department of Energy

Considering how big some of the facilities were, it's amazing that it was kept such a close secret. This is the K-25 facility, where fissile uranium-235 was separated from unusable uranium-238.

Image: Department of Energy

Most workers only saw a tiny sliver of the project, not nearly enough to put together a complete picture of what was going on. Here women operate calutrons at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, another means to separate uranium.

Image: Department of Energy

After nearly four years of work, scientists assemble "The Gadget" just days before the final test. 
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