War and Peace: The Nuclear Museum in Albuquerque

nuclear museum

We happened to be in Albuquerque during a very cold spell that eliminated most of our planned outdoor activities. We were only going to be in town for two days, so we reached out to our network of friends and travelers on Facebook to get some new ideas of things to do in Albuquerque. A friend, and extensive traveler, insisted we couldn’t leave without seeing the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. I’m so glad I listened to him. He was right; this was a very cool way to spend our last day in New Mexico.

As soon as you drive up there are missiles and aircraft in the parking lot; that got Hayden’s attention immediately. Then when you walk in, there’s a huge periodic chart on the floor, and bright, accessible science displays all around the building. It was very inviting and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for our visit.

The museum arranged for us to meet their director for what I thought was going to be a short interview for our show, and then we’d be left on our own to visit the exhibits. Instead, we were treated to a guided tour of the museum by the director himself. He was delightful and his presentation was so engaging. We learned so much in such a short period of time, it was the best “school field trip” we’ve had on our trip so far.

I was particularly impressed with how many bombs they had on display. We got to see the actual surplus nuclear bombs created for the WWII bombings of Japan, which fortunately were not used. Seeing what the actual Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked like was surreal.  It was hard to wrap my mind around the concept that something so relatively small could create the damage that it did.

The history tour of bombs continued around every corner, showing the evolution of design, size and strength from the mid-twentieth century until now. There were even missiles hanging in the air above us, and it was quite an impressive sight to see the various types created in a 70 year time span. One of the highlights for me was the fascinating glass display case that holds replicas of each version of the presidential “football”, the codes to arming a nuclear weapon. Having only seen “the football” in movies, it was cool to see the real deal in person. The weapons portion of the nuclear museum is very impressive, but it doesn’t stop there.

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Once we’d viewed the nuclear weapons area, we moved on to see how nuclear energy is being used for medicine, for generating electricity, and how it’s being used responsibly to further innovations in the future. Each display was well crafted and easy to understand.

Once the tour indoors was complete, the director left us to explore on our own. We went outside, despite the bitter cold, to experience Heritage Park. This 5 acre lot is a collection of several aircraft, missiles, rockets, and cannons that any kid or history buff would be thrilled to explore. There were many aircraft that were part of WWII, the Vietnam and Korean wars. The underbelly of an enormous B-58 bomber was open so we could stick our head in and see the massive space available to carry cargo in.

There was a Peacekeeper missile, opened up so we could see the insides. I grew up in the Reagan era of the Cold War and I remember hearing about these on T.V. so it really brought hit home seeing history from my generation out on display.

The last relic we got to see was pieces of a nuclear submarine. Even though it was laid out in pieces, just seeing ourselves in relation to the sail of the submarine made it clear how massive these ships are. We were learning so much from our knowledgeable guide that we endured the freezing temperatures and stayed until the museum was closing down.  We ended our visit on a high. The Heritage Park exhibit was the icing on the cake of our outstanding visit to the Nuclear Museum.

Hannah and Avery even commented that before we came they were unsure if they were going to like this museum, but after felt happy we came because they thoroughly enjoyed it. Coming from teenage girls, now that’s a compliment!

Once again I’m grateful for happy accidents like bad weather that allowed us to change course and visit the museum. I’m grateful for fellow travelers who give great recommendations of places not to miss. Lastly, I’m grateful for organizations like the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History for putting together such great learning opportunities that expose my kids to history and science in a hands-on environment. This is a day that we won’t soon forget.

All images via Shannon Watt/Watts in the World

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War and Peace: The Nuclear Museum in Albuquerque

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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