The NTS was established by the United States Department of Energy because military officials knew little about the effects of nuclear weapons. The site was home to atmospheric testing until 1962 when, fearing fall-out dangers, operations were moved underground. A total of 928 announced nuclear tests took place, with 828 of them being underground.
This important part of history is preserved at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. Science can be compelling when presented in the right way, and that’s just what the museum has done with its unique displays and educational resources. The museum was established in order to preserve the legacy of the NTS and to promote public accessibility and general knowledge about the site. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is located inside the Frank H. Rogers Science and Technology building, which is only a mile from the Las Vegas Strip.
Built to chronicle the atomic age and its impact, the nearly 10,000-square-foot building houses artifacts from the NTS, and records the dramatic and fascinating history through a series of interactive modules, timelines, films and actual equipment and gadgets from the site. Both sides of the story are presented, from experiences of the on-site workers to protestors of the site. It strives to educate, inform and document the impact that nuclear testing had on a global, national and local level.
“The impact it had on Vegas was that it stabilized it as a community, and put it on the map for something other than the downtown Strip,” said Maggie Smith, director of marketing and special events
The tour begins with a two-minute video that is presented on three screens and explains the reasoning for the establishment of the NTS and its involvement in the Cold War, as well as a brief history of the NTS. From there, a succession of galleries continue to bring to life the story of atomic testing with brilliant displays of safety gear, testing devices and a comprehensive list of all operations carried out at the NTS.
The Atomic Age Gallery shows a parallel of world events with pop culture throughout the years, presented side-by-side in interesting timelines, along with television screens showing “signs of the times” videos in order to set the tone of the era. Proving the popularity and dominance of nuclear testing at the time, a case of pop culture icons on display includes Atomic Fireball candy, soda bottles and Kix cereal boxes that once contained an atomic “bomb” ring.
Perhaps the most interactive part of the museum is the Ground Zero Theatre, a bunker replica where visitors view a 10-minute video of an atomic explosion. The multi-sensory experience features thunderous sounds, bursts of hot air and vibrations.
Another short film is shown in the Silo Theater and explains the versatility of the NTS, as well as its many uses, such as the fact that because of the ruggedness of the terrain, NASA astronauts also used the site for training purposes.
In the Stewards of the Land galleries, which are dedicated to the early settlers and displaced Native Americans, light is shed upon the personal aspect and effects. They contain crafts and various objects utilized by the settlers on the land before it was turned into the test site. The personal stories of site workers are also shared on four television screens around the room, surrounded by photos of the people involved at the test site.
High-speed photography and video used to capture the images of bombs and explosions are on display as well, and an interactive computer allows you to scroll through the progress of a bomb in slow-motion, an eerie simulation that proves the incredible power of a nuclear blast. “The amount of photography makes the test site one of the most well documented secrets ever,” Smith said.
The final gallery, Today and Tomorrow, brings the experience full circle with a piece of the Berlin Wall and a beam from the World Trade Center that are on display, proving that in this age of global awareness, this chunk of history has never been more pertinent.
Also located in the museum is the Harry Reid Exhibit Hall, where traveling exhibits are on display. From now until the end of August, Michael Light’s “100 Suns” is featured. Light’s 100 drawings are based on images from the era of atmospheric testing, including some that were previously classified material. Smith describes them as “horrifically beautiful.”
A gift shop is also available and includes interesting souvenirs, as well as books, mouse pads, t-shirts and hats.
Whether you’re a history buff or just want to spend an afternoon buffing up your history, visit the Atomic Testing Museum where science is thought-provoking.
-- Review by Mandy Hoskison
MAKES A TERRIFIC GIFT!
National Atomic Testing Museum
755 East Flamingo Road (one mile east of the Strip)
Las Vegas, NV 89119
The National Atomic Testing Museum is open to the public:
• Monday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
• Sunday from 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Last Ticket Sold at 4:00 PM
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