July 16 - 1945 - The Trinity Nuclear Test
The very first time a nuclear weapon was detonated was in the desert of New Mexico, right at the end of World War II. It was the culmination of the Manhattan Project, which had been going since 1942 and was specifically designed to help the United States create a nuclear weapon before any Axis powers. The leader of the Manhattan Project was General Leslie Groves, a capable military engineer. Yet he need a physicist in charge of the science, and he chose, perhaps surprisingly, the Berkeley Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was able to focus on the key objective of the Manhattan Project, while also pulling together different groups and various ideas. As summer 1945 approached, the Nazis were defeated and the war began to focus on the final invasion of Japan. With the Trinity Test, all of the work done by the Manhattan Project reached its goal. Perhaps that goal was even reached slightly early, because President Harry Truman wanted it done before he arrived at the Postdam Conference. The Trinity Test beat that goal by a day. The men working on the Manhattan Project celebrated the successful test, but Oppenheimer noted at the time a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: "I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Less than a month later, nuclear weapons were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.