The physicist John Wheeler is known by most of the scientific community for his success in popularizing the term “black hole”, although his research spans many fields including relativity, quantum theory, and technology. fusion. He collaborated on the Matterhorn B Project in the early 1950s, a widely condemned American effort to develop hydrogen bombs.
One bad day in January 1953, Professor Wheeler forgot top-secret documents relating to the hydrogen bomb program on a train, as he moved from his home New Jersey to Washington, DC. This is the typical case of a professor who often appears on the silver screen: very good at his field of expertise but often forgets about the world around him. Only what happened to John Wheeler was real, and he accidentally dropped the national secret.
The science historian Alex Wellerstein detailed this story in the journal Physics Today. Mr. Wellerstein works at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, with expertise in the history of nuclear weapons and the history of nuclear technology in general. Describe yourself as “a devoted mouse in the archive“Mr. Wellerstein maintains a number of databases that he himself creates, stores and tracks all digital files that he has saved over the years from official sources, from collectors. private and some documents you found.
Research papers that are not published in leading journals will usually appear on blogs with names Restricted Data by Wellerstein. He is also the one to keep active for NUKEMAP, an interactive tool that allows the user to model the impact of a nuclear weapon on any location you want.
Wellerstein knew about Professor Wheeler’s story when reading documents from the 50s that have been declassified by the US Congress, specifically this document was issued by the Commission for the Association of Atomic Energy. “This was a very powerful committee in the 1950s,” Brother Wellerstein told ArsTechnica. “Many strange stories emerge from here, since not a single member of the committee thought that one day these details would appear in public, so they were surprisingly straightforward.“.
The hydrogen bomb literature has been declassified and obscured its critical points.
Even the documents show that someone asked why they recorded these details and why, when no one could read them? They did not imagine that a historian named Wellerstein would later bring this story to light.
Professor Wheeler’s story appeals to Mr. Wellerstein not only because of its historical background, but also because of the extremely interesting details obtained after a long and difficult investigation. But this story comes from one side, that is Mr. William Borden, director of the contemporary committee and also the person who was fired after the unfortunate incident of Professor Wheeler, so Wellerstein searched the old documents. looking for more information. He even used the rights outlined in the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ask the FBI to provide a file regarding Professor Wheeler.
“They worked so hard to reconstruct exactly what happened, so they interrogated everyone a million times.“Mr. Wellerstein said.”The FBI became a bridge again between Congress, the Atomic Energy Commission and Mr. Wheeler, because neither group wanted to work together.“.
Not just a report
What special thing lies in the documents that Professor Wheeler lost? The excerpt from Wellerstein’s article published in Physics Today answers somewhat of the big question: “The hydrogen bomb document is not an ordinary technical report. It is a government weapon that is aimed directly at the political enemy of its creator“.
In 1949, the Soviet Union detonated the first atomic bomb, a loud bang that had the potential to dislodge regardless of the strategic military advantage the US had previously gained. Some physicists, with two guides, Edward Teller and Ernest Lawrence, argue that the solution to solving the situation is a new kind of nuclear weapon: a hydrogen bomb with the power of fusion. not fission; however, the weapon that still needs a detonator is a nuclear fission bomb.
But many other scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, who previously held the Manhattan Project and is often referred to as “the father of the atomic bomb“, disagreeing with hydrogen bomb construction; Oppenheimer argued that this technology was redundant in that context. The current president, Harry Truman, sided with Teller and Lawrence through the bomb project. hydrogen but the group of physicists have yet to find a common voice.
In March 1951, Teller and Stanislaw Ulam drafted the design of the hydrogen bomb, a model asserted by even opposition scientists to work. The experimental device nicknamed “Mike” exploded successfully in November 1952. However, Mike was not ready to go to battle because it required 80 tons of refrigeration equipment to keep the fuel. deuterium in a liquid state.
Mike was the world’s first successful explosive hydrogen bomb.
Meanwhile, the proposal to make hydrogen bombs sparked a war taking place on the political arena, a “civil war” between scientists on the Atomic Energy Association; many of them still disagreed with Oppenheimer due to the sharp criticism of the old professor. Accountability passed to director Borden: he had to compile a history of hydrogen bomb research and development based on available documents, but the article had to support the Oppenheimer rebuttal campaign. Mr. Borden sent a six-sided document to Wheeler, wishing to have a winch professor from Princeton examine the technology of making bombs.
Wheeler took a number of classified documents on the train on his way to Washington – he intended to read it immediately to avoid paying the hotel fee for a day of research in his room. While Wheeler did not dare to confirm what happened when asked later, he still recalled the following details: he put the confidential document in a white envelope, put the envelope in an envelope. bigger than vanilla, then put them in his briefcase and leaned against the wall, and he sat on his briefcase.
According to Wheeler’s instructions, the coach sleeping on the train, Robert Jones, awakened the professor at 6:45 a.m. Wheeler then took his briefcase to the washroom at the end of the car and did his personal hygiene. Below is an excerpt from Wellerstein’s article that was published in Physics Today:
At that time, two people were using the sink and one was sitting in the toilet. Not letting his courtesy stop him from taking action to protect national secrets, Wheeler climbed onto the sink platform and tried to peek through the bars on the bathroom door. He couldn’t see the envelope anywhere, but saw the other man and could see that he was reading nothing. Wheeler watched the man until he finished his work and opened the door to leave, and immediately Wheeler ran in and reached for the vanilla-colored envelope lying behind the water pipe. The envelope still looks intact.
But when Mr. Wheeler returned to his seat and opened the envelope to look, he found that the white envelope containing the classified documents had disappeared. Thanks to the help of the coachman, Mr. Wheeler tried to find the white envelope on the train, even asking the lost board to see if anyone returned the envelope, but to no avail. FBI embarked on a thorough investigation but could not find any documents anywhere.
Map of the train wagon where Mr. John Wheeler rested for the night of January 6, 1953.
The secret papers disappeared forever, to this day no one knows where they are located. And like all unanswered mysteries, a variety of theories emerged. Wellerstein himself believed in the possibility that the prescriber had found the documents but then threw them away instead of reporting to the authorities, because they thought it was better to pretend not to know. Obviously, some claim that some faction’s spy has some classified documents, but there is not enough evidence that this hypothesis is feasible.
According to Wellerstein, Mr. Wheeler lost documentation to make the hydrogen bomb at a very sensitive time, especially considering how different the hydrogen bomb structure is from the nuclear bomb. This is a technology that is hidden by a mysterious veil, but there is no technology secret. Brother Wellerstein said: “This is not a miraculous material, nor is it difficult to fabricate it. You just need to know how to assemble it properly“.
For lawmakers and military commanders, this loss both makes the United States lose its strategic advantage, but it puts them at risk of secret technology falling into enemy hands.
“Hydrogen bombs are supposed to offer many advantages, because spies watching the Manhattan Project don’t know much about it. You have the basic principles of how to build it, but you don’t actually possess a hydrogen bomb. Now there is the possibility of a complete loss of advantage if the technology were to fall into the hands of the Soviets“, Mr. Wellerstein commented.
These documents were lost, causing the political career of some to be clouded, and director Borden was among the victims. After being fired, Mr. Borden went back to study law and then became… a full-time conspiracy theorist. He had a particular grudge against Professor Oppenheimer, and then the campaign to attack the eminent physicist contributed to the loss of Oppenheimer security privileges.
What about the fate of Professor Wheeler, who lost the secret file number? He escaped, only receiving a letter containing a few harsh words of reprimand from the Commission. “As a scientist, his worth is too great. They said that they could not punish him without disturbing the nuclear development program“Mr. Wellerstein closed the story.
Refer to ArsTechnica