The Day Five Men Willingly Stood Under a Nuclear Explosion

September 12 10:53 2016 Print This Article

(Popular Mechanics)  – In the 1950s, fear of nuclear-armed Soviet bombers led to the creation of the Genie rocket. Fired from an American or Canadian fighter jet, the Genie had no guidance system. It merely had to be aimed at a Soviet bomber and the 1.7 kiloton nuclear warhead—packing the equivalent of 1,700 tons of TNT—took care of the rest.

The 221-pound warhead was only used once, in a test code-named “John.” On July 19, 1957—59 years ago today—a single Northrop F-89 Scorpion jet flew over Area 10 at the Nevada Test Site. At an altitude of 18,500 feet, a single Genie was launched. It traveled 2.6 miles before detonating in midair.

Amazingly, five men had volunteered to stand directly under the detonation point. The men, Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Don Lutrell, stood their ground as a nuclear explosion went off 3.5 miles above their heads.

Science of the time had pretty well established that the men would not come to any immediate harm, being too far away from the explosion. But while researchers of the 1950s may not know what we know now about the dangers of radiation, there appears to have been no obvious reason for the men to do such a thing.

One man who didn’t volunteer to be at ground zero: the man operating the camera, George Yoshitake. According to Yoshitake all six men present, including him, would develop cancer while in their 40s and 50s. Bruce, Ball, Bodinger, and Hughes all died of cancer, while Yoshitake developed stomach cancer and Luttrell developed colon cancer.

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