The Lithium Blues—Or How America Triggered an Out-of-Control Nuke
This story originally appeared on March 17, 2014. You know lithium as the stuff that powers your iPhone, but you may not know that the lightest solid element also powers atomic bombs. Ignorance of lithium’s true nature once sparked a nuclear disaster. In 1954, the U.S. tested its first... Read more
Nuking the Aleutians

Nuking the Aleutians

WIB history September 21, 2018

This story originally approved on Oct. 5, 2014. On Nov. 6, 1971, the United States conducted its most powerful underground nuclear test to date. The massive, five-megaton blast detonated more than a mile below remote, windswept Amchitka Island in Alaska. The Cannikin shot tested a huge warhead the Pentagon... Read more
The U.S. Navy Tried to Create a Far-Out Seaplane Strike Force
This story originally appeared on March 1, 2015. After World War II, the U.S. Navy found itself in uncertain waters, despite its enormous successes in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Blame the atomic bomb. The 1946 Operation Crossroads nuclear tests demonstrated naval power’s vulnerability to atomic attack. And the... Read more
The SLAM Missile Would Have Been a Flying Chernobyl
This story originally appeared on Sept. 7, 2014. It was the perfect airborne death machine—a supersonic drone of nearly unlimited range, loaded with hydrogen bombs zooming around Earth at more than 2,500 miles per hour. To the engineers who worked on its development, it was “technically sweet” and the... Read more
Space Marines With Jetpacks!
This story originally appeared on March 22, 2015. In the early Space Age, everything seemed possible — no matter how crazy. Which is why, in the 1960s, one American engineer seriously designed a space rocket to transport troops wearing jetpacks. This far-out concept aimed to lob Marine jet-battalions into... Read more
Disarming an Atomic Bomb Is the Worst Job in the World
This story originally appeared on April 5, 2015. In the spring of 1952, the U.S. government tested tactical nuclear weapons at the Nevadoa Proving Ground as part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper. It was the third nuke test series in 18 months at the Nevada site in an era of breakneck... Read more
Remember When Australia Pretend-Nuked a Rainforest?
This story originally appeared on Aug. 22, 2015. During the Cold War, nuclear states tested atomic weapons in almost every conceivable environment — deserts, oceans, space, islands. Scientist already knew nukes’ effects on cities. But how would they affect jungles? The Australian government wanted to know. So in July... Read more
For a Brief Inglorious Moment, the U.S. Navy Had a Nuclear-Powered Wetsuit
Originally published on Nov. 26, 2014. You get pretty cold pretty fast when you’re wet. Water absorbs more heat than air—and absorbs it 20 times faster. Without some kind of protection, people can suffer hypothermia even in warm tropical seas. There are several ways to stay warm in the... Read more
His Majesty’s Scary Steam Subs
This story first appeared on Nov. 6, 2015. Like the airplane, the submarine evolved in the early 20th century into a real weapon. But for the British Royal Navy, this posed a dilemma. The Admiralty’s battle plan for its revolutionary new dreadnoughts foresaw high-speed clashes between rival fleets armed with very-long-range... Read more
This Nuclear Outboard Motor Was a Really Terrible Idea
This story originally appeared on Aug. 6, 2013. In the early 1960s the U.S. Navy could have gotten a disposable, atomic-powered outboard motor that would have made America’s warships a Hell of a lot more efficient. But there was the little problem of all that noise and radiation. File... Read more
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