• U.S.

The Atom: Bingo Blast

2 minute read

“Bingo! There she goes—and what a wallop. Everyone felt it.”

So, last week, cried Washington Democratic Senator “Scoop” Jackson. The cause of his elation: he had just heard of the on-target success of the first U.S. attempt to fire a Polaris missile with a live nuclear warhead from a submarine.

Since U.S. nuclear testing was resumed near the Pacific’s Christmas Island, there have been eight explosions of airplane-dropped atomic devices to check out new weapons designs, and one underwater shot to study antisubmarine techniques. Security rules prevented anyone from disclosing what the air tests showed, although California’s Republican Representative Craig Hosmer described one airdrop at which he was an eyewitness: “It flashed brighter than the noonday sun. As the fireball developed, it turned to shades of orange, red and purple. Then a white mushroom cloud shot toward the heavens. The morning sun began to shine upon it, producing a new and beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.”

But it was the Polaris blast from the submerged submarine Ethan Allen that excited Washington. It proved that the U.S. has a nuclear warhead that can survive re-entry into the atmosphere, that a regular submarine crew (previous non-nuclear Polaris firings have been by specialists nicknamed “Ph.D. crews”) on virtually undetectable routine patrol could receive sudden orders to fire, send its birds 1,400 miles across the water and hit on target with a force of 500 kilotons.

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