Guests at the Last Frontier pool watched as a mushroom cloud rose from the Simon Test, part of the Operation Upshot-Knothole, at the Nevada Test Site outside of Las Vegas on April 25, 1953. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce issued a calendar for tourists, listing the scheduled times of the bomb detonations and the best places to view them.
When I saw this photo shared on Facebook by the National Atomic Testing Museum (Atomic Museum), I was thinking what a contrast from just eight years earlier when Enrico Fermi was taking bets ahead of the Trinity test about whether a nuclear detonation would ignite the atmosphere and possibly destroy the world. That’s an episode recounted in John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic which I saw at Lyric Opera in the 2007/8 season.
I knew Fermi wasn’tserious, but hadn’t understood that by that time that particular catastrophe had already been ruled out by scientists as even a remote possibility, but the idea that it at least might have been possible lived on in the more popular imagination for some time.