Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Plaza in Santa Fe has changed little through the years. The Governors Palace that occupies one side of the Plaza is one of the oldest buildings in the United States. The Indians sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Palace building have peddled their jewelry there for many years. The Plaza is a place where time seems to stand still.
When I visit the Plaza, I walk about half a block up Palace street to see the address and plaque commemorating one of the greatest achievements and changes in the history of mankind. The address is 109 East Palace and is the site of a little office where all those who participated in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos had to register and be cleared before proceeding to the site where the atomic bomb was to be constructed. The story of this place is the subject of a fascinating book by Jannet Conant. She tells the remarkable story of the Manhattan Project. All the great scientist involved in the project had to be cleared and go through this office. Folks like Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and Richard Feynman entered through the portals of the simple little building at 109 East Palace. These men changed the world.
In my life there have been many scientific advance, but two stand out as extraordinary and tower head and shoulders over all the rest. The merits of these two great scientific achievements can be debated, but they are the crowning achievements in the world of science that changed mankind and our way of life. These two projects were; the Manhattan Project that resulted in the atomic bomb and the Apollo Project which resulted in placing a man on the moon. Both projects were a highly focused effort by our greatest scientific minds to accomplish a mission.
It would be wonderful, if today we could have a similar project to develop another energy source. This would end the crisis in the Middle East almost as fast as the atomic bomb ended WW II. After all, we are fighting for oil in the Middle East and without the need for oil there is no reason to fight. We need someone like a Roosevelt or Kennedy who can articulate that vision and has the political clout to launch the mission.
One of the ironic things about the Manhattan Project is that it also, at least, partially solved our energy crisis, but people in ignorance and fright have not accepted nuclear energy.
Also, ironic and somewhat haunting is the site of the plaque commemorating the Manhattan Project at 109 East Palace. !09 E. Palace is a gift shop and the adjacent shop at 107 is a gallery which has a courtyard extending behind 109 in which the plaque is almost obscured on a back wall. The courtyard is filled with Mexican Art commemorating their big holiday, Day of the Dead. This art work consist of figurines and paintings of skeletons going about life as if they were alive. It’s an eerie reminder of the results of the Manhattan project and also what may result from our reluctance to solve the energy crisis which ironically has the answer inscribed on that plaque at 107-109 East Palace.


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