LPL/Planetary Science Field Trips:

Nevada Test Site

Friday: History of the NTS

This information is taken from the NTS News & Views, a newsletter for federal and contractor employees of the Department of Energy. This is the Special Souvenir Edition, April 1993, edited by Derek S. Scammell.

"Charlie," a 14-kiloton device, was dropped from a B-50 bomber on October 30, 1951 at Yucca Flat. The test, part of the Buster-Jangle series, was the eighth detonation at the Nevada Proving Grounds. The first test was "Able," conducted on January 27, 1951.

"NASA's Apollo astronauts use Test Site craters to prepare for Moon surface.
Because the "Schooner" and "Sedan" craters at the Nevada Test Site had features similar to the topography of Moon craters, astronauts used them to train for their missions. Astronauts for Apollo 14 exercised at Schooner crater, and visited Sedan crater in November 1970. Apollo 16 astronauts visited the Schooner crater in November 1970, and exercised there in October 971. Apollo 17 astronauts conducted exercises at Schooner and on Buckboard Mesa in August 1972.

Although the exercises at the NTS were only a small part of their training, voice transcripts of the Apollo missions show that their work at NTS craters contributed to astronaut performance on the Moon. Astronaut H. H. Schmitt referred to "Little Dan" crater (named by astronauts) on Buckboard Mesa while describing a 600-m lunar crater in the Haemus Mountains west of Sulpicius Gallus.

"Typical American community" destroyed at test site to test Civil Defense protection for nuclear attack.

On May 5, 1955, a 29-kiloton device named "Apple II" was detonated from a 500-foot tower on Yucca Flat. It was the second nationally televised nuclear test associated with an extensive civil effects program. The first shot was "Annie" on March 17, 1953. Annie was part of a civil effects test named Operation Cue, conducted by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FDCA). The FDCA completed 40 separate projects in Operation Cue. All were designed to evaluate the effects of nuclear detonations on civilian communities and to test the emergency response capabilities of Civil Defense organizations.

The FDCA constructed "a typical American community" complete with houses, utility stations, automobiles, furniture, appliances, food, and even mannequins simulating the people who might live in the town. The houses were constructed of different materials with varied exteriors, and were heavily instrumented. Fresh foof was flown in from San Francisco and Chocago and placed with the mannequins in kitchens and dining rooms throughout the test area. Today, only the shells of two houses remain, one of brick and one wood frame building; all other buildings were destroyed by the explosive force of the test.

"Sedan" tested use of nuclear explosives to move earth.

The Atomic Energy Commission(AEC) conducted the nuclear excavation experiment "Sedan" on July 6, 1962. The detonation was part of the AEC's Plowshare Program to develop peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. Sedan was the second in the Plowshare seriesl the first test, "Gnome," was fired on December 10, 1961 naer Carlsbad, NM.

Sedan was a 104-kiloton nuclear device detonated 635 feet underground to develop the technology to use nuclear energy for earth moving projects. The explosin displaced about 12 million tons of earth, creating a crater 1,280 feet in diameter and 320 feet deep. The force of the detonation released seismic energy equivalent to an earthquake magnitude 4.75 on the Richter scale.

In June 1963, employees of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and Reynolds Electrical & Engineering Co., Inc. winched a nine-ton drilling rig to the floor of the crater on a ramp of metal matting 550 feet long. The rig was used to determine the depth of the fractured area, and to penetrate ground zero to collect additional scientific data.

Parting Shot

Hundreds of saucer-shaped craters varying in diameter and depth, create a "moonscape" terrain at Yucca Flat. As of December 7, 1993, 925 tests (including 24 joint US-United Kingdom tests) have been detonated at the Test Site.

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Last Modified: November 9, 1995

Created by Barbara A. Cohen