There’s an easy-to-overlook, 5 Compass Albuquerque attraction whose long name and subject might turn off some potential visitors. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is for everybody. It began as the Sandia Atomic Museum in 1969 and changed its name to the National Atomic Museum 4 years later. In 1991 the United States Congress named it the official repository of historical items related to the nuclear age. Now a Smithsonian affiliate and the only national museum in New Mexico, it’s at 601 Eubank Boulevard in southeast Albuquerque.
Just inside its front entrance, a periodic table is embedded in the floor to remind visitors that this is a serious place of learning. A docent greeted us there and told us what we would find beyond it. Nuclear-related technological info, including a display about how nuclear waste is transported, was to our left. Science-based stuff including nuclear medicine was straight ahead. History, including the Manhattan Project of course, was to our right. All of the 18 themed areas were interesting. I especially liked #4, “Secrets, Lies & Atomic Spies” and hearing the story of the Packard limo that was used to transport scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Found in a Gallup junkyard, it was lovingly restored and put on display for the museum’s 2009 grand opening.
Often while there, volunteers who really knew their subject would stop and ask me if they could explain something. Often, there was something that needed explaining, like The Gadget model. A nuclear implosion device, it looked like a menacing soccer ball with a confusion of wires barely containing its power.
Through a back door was Heritage Park, a bonus experience in the form of a collection of historic planes, like a B-29 Superfortress. Boeing built 3,970 of these during World War II and they returned for combat in the Korean War. There are usually fighter jets and missiles on display too. Mechanics and restorers stopped what they were doing to tell us about their subjects and their jobs.
It’s not all science. I now want to play Uranium Rush, find the movie The House on 92nd Street, and see the newly renovated exhibit being set up “Uranium: Enriching Your Future”. On my way out of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, I wrote in my notebook. “A fantastic museum that tells the entire story of the nuclear age in all its facets”.