The video: Deep in the desert northwest of Las Vegas, five brave Air Force officers (and one photographer) volunteered to stand on a small patch of ground below where an atomic bomb was about be detonated above — 10,000 to 18,000 feet above, depending on the source. "They weren't crazy," says Robert Krulwich at NPR. "They weren't even being punished." The year was July 19, 1957, and the small cluster decided to deem the spot "Ground Zero. Population 5," and scrawled such on a handwritten sign. In a video of the incredible moment, an F-89 Scorpion detonates the nuclear rocket, and you see a bright white flash. A few seconds later, you hear a thunderous boom while the sky above goes dark and is engulfed in a blazing ball of fire. (Watch the video below.) The experiment and footage come courtesy of the Air Force, which wanted to convince the American people that using nuclear missiles in the atmosphere was safe for everyone down below, and would even prove useful in the event of a Russian attack with similar nukes. "They didn't win this argument," says Krulwich.
The reaction: What's amazing is that the men in the video "were not greatly affected by the blast," says Sophie Bushwick at Discover Magazine. Countless others exposed to nuclear fallout end up developing cancer. But at least three of them, including the cameraman, went on to live past age 80. Well, "of course the Pentagon wouldn't be rushing to admit these men died from radioactive exposure that they were placed into by the Pentagon," says Sam Biddle at Gizmodo. Thankfully America stopped testing atomic bombs in 1992, "but we can only hope the perverted schoolboy enthusiasm for nukes died sooner — and stays that way."
Take a look:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 5 tricks to making a mind-blowing burger
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why America is duty bound to help Iraqi Christians
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- What if The Purge was real?
- Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
Subscribe to the Week