Under the Hood

            Under the hood, up there at the top of the Thors, a W-49 hydrogen warhead was bolted in.  Nominal yield was 1.44 megatons. It is supposed to be a design variant of the Mark 28 warhead. They were manufactured by the thousands. The  W-49s were designed for the Thor and the Atlas rockets.  A silver bullet about 20 inches in diameter weighing about 1700 pounds. They came out in 1958.  It was the big revolutionary change in warheads. When they made the Mark 28  and the Mark 49 they made weapons that were technician proof.  Almost nothing to screw up. There were no detonators or batteries to test. The designers encapsulated everything, the high voltage batteries, the detonator wires, the implosion sphere, the secondary. Only one connector cable. Connect it up to the fuzing system in the rocket and you are ready to roll.   For any kind of surgery on the warhead it went back to the factory.  The diagram is from the Global Security.Org website.        

         There is a lot of plutonium  inside.  The exact amount is classified. The Nagasaki bomb is supposed to have contained 10 pounds. The compression of the plutonium seed in the center of the implosion sphere  starts the reaction going. Then there is the plutonium wick, a cylinder about three feet long. When all the detonators fire in the primary, it compresses the seed and it goes super-critical, flooding the area with X-rays and neutrons, igniting the plutonium.          

           The lithium burn produces the fusion process. The one detonator that the range safety officer can fire by remote control is designed to disintegrate all the active material. There will be no powerful implosion wave that produces super-criticality. The explosion will, however, explode all the TNT in the primary, vaporize everything inside the weapon case and generate the kind of intense heat that you get in a blast furnace, where metals fuse with each other. [1]The enormous heat and explosive wave of the triggering TNT turns all this uranium and plutonium into a deadly cloud of very fine dust.  Everything that’s bad for humanity is there. [2] A warhead exploding normally consumes most of the plutonium and leaves mainly short-lived isotopes. When the plutonium is merely fragmented and becomes clouds in the air it’s another matter. An atomic dud can kill thousands of people just like poison gas.  It just takes a while. Most will die of cancer.  

          When the Australian government looked at an old British atomic test area in the south of Australia in 1993, they found that the ground zeros of normal detonations had very little residual radiation.Yet they found all these test sites that had a yield of under a ton of TNT were terrifically radioactive and very dangerous to the natives living in the area. 

            Cleaning up after these safety tests and developmental tests, the Australian government had to deal with residual plutonium with a half-life of 24,100 years. In order to make these areas safe for the aboriginal settlements nearby, they had to spend a lot of money. 

                   The British testing was  to verify that their weapons were one-point safe by detonating weapon primaries in a variety of unorthodox ways that simulated crash conditions. Planes crash, after all.  The odds are that a one-point safe weapon will go off full scale in a plane crash is supposed to be less than one in a million.  In Maralinga, the British constructed a number of heavy steel platforms called “featherbeds” that held the bombs and warheads being tested.   The explosions they produced were not nuclear, but the featherbeds were enveloped in the fireball.  Fragments of  radioactive steel from the featherbeds made great souvenirs to sell to tourists. Clouds of debris were caught by the prevailing winds, leaving mile-long plumes with very radioactive soil and trees. Plutonium is awfully to clean up, because when the metal weathers, it spreads, it dissolves, it sinks. [3] You need to bring out the bulldozers and sometimes you have to go down deep to get it all. 


[1] A particle recovered from Johnston Island was an amalgam of steel, uranium and plutonium and demonstrated to testers that:”The Pu and U were presumably dispersed by explosive high temperature and pressure and was sprayed onto a stainless steel fragment of the bomb or rocket assembly. Plutonium oxidizes readily and probably underwent this chemical transformational the moment of explosion.”  Also see: Physical and Chemical Characterization of Actinides in Soil from Johnston Atoll, Wolf, Bates,Buck, Dietz Fornter and Brown. Argonne National Laboratory.

[2] Maralinga Report: www.industry.gov.au/resource/Documents/...waste/martac_report.pdf



[3] Physical and Chemical Characterization of Actinides in Soil from Johnston Atoll, Stephen Wolf, John K. Bates, Edgar C. Buck, Nancy L. Dietz, Jeffrey A. Fortner, and Neil R. Brown, Argonne National Laboratory, 1997

The Self-Destructs start

Yes, the technology was at this level. The year was 1962,we had Radio Shack style double pole double throw switches, and plastic adhesive markers in the firing shack. The testing started on launch area one at Johnston Island with certification tests with dummy warheads to verify safety requirements. On June [1] 4th, 1962 Thor missile was launched from Johnston Island just after midnight.   This was BLUEGILL. According to one source (The official DASA report) the missile flew what seemed like a normal flight, but the newly installed tracking system lost it. The Thor missile carried three instrumentation pods, one of which had ejected before the missile had to be destroyed. All three pods were picked out of the sea and returned to Johnston Island by the Navy. No missile debris was recovered.


 "There were multiple problems with the tracking systems." griped Bill Ogle, "Clouds cleared at midnight. Five minutes after launch we self-destructed.  The PMR (Pacific Missile Range) lost track of the rocket, and the beacon-tracking MPS and EG & G’s timing system failed earlier in the flight. “Something has to be done about the Range Tracker radars and the computer."   Because of the large number of ships and aircraft in the area, there was no way to predict if the missile was on a safe trajectory, so the range safety officers ordered the missile with its warhead to be destroyed. "No nuclear detonation occurred and no data was obtained," said Ogle.

Ogle doesn’t tell us what happened to the weapon debris, and there was no documentation that the task force attempted to track the plume of radiation. The experience they will have with other self-destructs of that warhead showed that the amount of vaporized plutonium was substantial [2].  The debris and fallout might have fell some distance out to sea, but there were  destroyer escorts and other ships doing reconnaissance work out there. [3]


On June 19 1962, just before midnight, the second high-altitude launch was attempted, code-named Starfish. The Thor flew a normal course for about 59 seconds after liftoff.  Then the rocket motor stopped and the Range Safety Officer hit the self-destruct switch. The missile was between 30,000 and 35,000 feet of altitude. A substantial amount of debris fell on and in the water around Johnston Island.

According to Ogle, “59 seconds after launch the missile flared and exploded.  The warhead destruct signal was sent 64 seconds after launch. Debris rained on the island, fortunately doing no serious damage. Investigation of the pieces and the telemetry data made it clear very soon that the mock RVs carried up with the missile had disturbed the flow of gases from the turbine exhaust, sucking the hot gas back against the boat tail and weakening  the structure. The engine had torn itself loose and flown right through the fuel tanks.” [4] 

Note that the self-destruct signal was not sent until five seconds after the rocket exploded. A researcher, possibly at Argonne National Laboratory, opined that the contamination coming from the Starfish launch was really a more significant source of radiation than the spectacular Bluegill Prime explosion to come because the altitude of the blast meant that the debris was widespread, coming down around the living quarters, the mess hall, the MATS facility, the lagoon and Sand Island.  The Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Underwater Demolition Team swimmers spent 2 weeks recovering debris from the lagoon waters around Sand and Johnston Islands. The presumptive course of the rocket, based on the debris field, was northwest, paralleling the shore and passing over Sand Island. They recovered 251 pieces of the system, some of which were plutonium contaminated.  The number of people exposed to the fallout from Starfish is unknown.  



[1] The Nautilus institute website says: “The high altitude test codenamed Bluegill on 3 June 1962 started normally, but as the missile neared the point of detonation high in the sky after 13 minutes of flight, the tracking ships lost contact with it. The safety team decided to detonate the warhead by remote control, and the missile was destroyed at high altitude about 36 kilometres south of the atoll. No contamination was recorded at the atoll.    http://nautilus.org/apsnet/cleaning-up-johnston-atoll/ This position, plotted on the map of ship positions on Bluegill Triple Prime (page 47B), has self-destruct occurring at same location as Bluegill Triple Prime, slightly south of the island.

[2] 500 barrels of radioactive debris were buried at sea.

[3] see fleet diagram for Dominic, Bluegill Triple Prime map 47B

[4]ibid, Ogle page 422.

Knocking out transformers and satellites...

Starfish Prime was fired on July 8th, and this Thor worked perfectly, exploding its 1.4 megaton payload at an altitude of 250 miles, in the heart of the Van Allen Belt. The scientists and the military were delighted with the test, even though it wiped out communications in much of the Pacific area, and knocked out electrical transformers in Hawaii. 

                It lit up the sky, knocked out about 300 streetlights,  damaged a telephone company microwave link, and generated headlines in the Honolulu papers. Maybe the people in Johnston Island were delighted because this was a weapons test.  All the havoc it raised with electronic systems across the Pacific indicated to them that a modified version of this Thor detonated at high altitude might be able to destroy enemy satellites, incoming ICBM warheads, and hamper communications in an enemy state.

      It had many unexpected victims. Hawaii civilian communications, the British Telstar satellite, which had been launched only days earlier.  Soon it would stop working. On 13 July, 4 days after the shot, the U.K. launched the satellite Ariel. Soon it was unable to generate sufficient electricity to function properly.  From then on until early September, satellite designers and sponsors barraged Washington with complaints, and Washington forwarded Johnston Island the bad news. The solar panels on seven other satellites began to lose their ability to generate power.

       The STARFISH detonation had generated quadrillions of high-energy electrons, which were trapped in the Earth's magnetic field and became a lethal barrier for anything in orbit.[1] People at NASA began to think about the implications of the Thor explosions for their manned space program. Gus Grissom had one more thing to worry about. Joint Task Force 8.3, Los Alamos, and Livermore had forgotten or chosen to ignore that there was a lot of equipment up in space that was ours or belonged to our allies. 

[1] Page 232, Operation Dominic I, Defense Nuclear Agency 

                      BLUEGILL PRIME


Self-Destruct Three: This was a hell of explosion, right on the pad.  You can watch it unfold on You-Tube here.  The explosion starts at 19 minutes, 17 seconds and goes on for quite a while. Task Force Eight’s armada surrounded the island that night. It included the carriers U.S.S. Iwo Jima and the Yorktown, an armada of ships and almost 8,000 sailors and marines.   Seven hundred non-essential personnel, many of them engineers and scientists, had been evacuated from the  island. Left behind were a lot of enlisted men, launch crews and the technicians monitoring the cameras and radars in their underground bunkers, one of which would soon get much too hot for comfort.


The A-test watchers 400 miles away in Hawaii crowded the peaks, having barbecue dinner and breaking out the beer. The public’s appetite for spectacular fireworks had been whetted by Starfish Prime. 


The safety officer, the heroic Lt. Commander P.  Kwert sat with his two DPDT switches waiting. I don't know where he was sitting, but he must have been close in. Looming over him  was the Thor, wreathed in fumes.   The Thors had been positioned in England during the early years of the cold war, when the U.S. did not have ICBMs that could reach the Russian heartland from the United States.  When the Minutemen and the Polaris missiles began to come on line,the rockets were brought back from England. Douglas retrofitted them for these AEC  experiments. aimed at turning the Thors into  anti-ballistic or anti-satellite weapons.


The camera was pointing at the rocket, and the explosion was part of the  official movie put out by Task Force 8.[1]  There were big card games underway on the U.S.S. Yorktown that night and all the ships were listening to the countdown.  9-8-7…. Sailor Dale K. Olson aboard the destroyer U.S.S. John S. McCain, remembers the night. 


I got a real sick feeling knowing that there was a fully active A-bomb on the rocket.  I monitored the count-down and opened the outside hatch (against orders – but what the hell, if it blew who would know?) when we heard the abort code. Hell of a fire ball!”


A valve had opened that shouldn’t have, and the missile ignited 20 to 30 seconds early. An oxygen-fueled fire raged around the base of the rocket before lift-off.    William Ogle watched the missile’s struggle.  He said it lifted up a fraction of an inch, and then settled back and burned. The fuel tanks exploded and the Safety Officer  hit the self-destruct switch in the warhead.  It was an enormous explosion that seemed to have four or five different detonation points. It went on and on, First the kerosene, then the LOX tanks, then the booster.  The self-destruct unit fired in the warhead and the second stage blasted off like a piece of fourth of July fireworks before exploding high above the rocket. Debris rained down and the fire raged for four hours.  Great clouds of radioactive dust drifted down onto the taxiway, the barracks and the main runway. Inside the air force control bunker the temperature was sweltering.


The DRTA (Defense Reduction Threat Agency)  radiological study describes the Bluegill Prime disaster: DRTA is one of four names carried by the sponsoring agency. I believe it started as AFSWP (Armed Forces Special Weapons Project), became DASA (Defense Atomic Support Agency, became the Defense Support Agency  (DSA)  , finally became DRTA.  


“Plutonium material mixed with the flaming fuel drained into trench cables and was carried away in the smoke from several fires. This resulted in a deposition of alpha contamination on the launch pad complex that represented a major contamination problem. Contaminated debris was scattered throughout the wire-enclosed pad area and neighboring areas. Metal revetment buildings were highly contaminated with alpha activity. Burning fuel flowing through cable trenches caused contamination on the interior of the revetments and all equipment contained therein. Fuel, which spilled and flowed over the compacted coral surrounding the launch mount and revetments resulted in highly contaminated areas. Prevailing winds at the time of the destruction caused general contamination of all areas downwind of the launch mount.” [2]


The bomb watchers in Hawaii were disappointed when there was no bright glow in the south at launch time.  At five AM, Joint Task Force Eight issued the following statement:


“A check with Johnston Island discloses no injuries to personnel and no hazard from any radioactivity as a result of the deliberate destruction and burning of a Thor missile and nuclear device on the launch pad last night. All missile fires have been extinguished.


      The press release was picked up by the Honolulu and the west coast papers and run more or less verbatim. With no reporters on the island, there was no reality check. They said there was no hazard from any radioactivity? That was that.

        There were crisis meetings on the U.S.S. Iwo Jima,  the flag ship of the operation.  At first the brass thought that they could get the launch site back in business in a matter of weeks, but then there were reality checks when the guys on the ground reported back on damage and radiation readings.   Shortly thereafter the Commander of Joint Task Force Eight ( General Starfish) and his Scientific Deputy (William Ogle) left for Washington “to promulgate” further decisions. They turned tail and ran, leaving lower ranking people to clean up the island, and get it ready for more launches. 



Michael Thomas'  crew was quartered in a barge about the length of a football field from  the explosion.  He was a crewman on one of the 26 Navy Neptune long-range reconnaissance aircraft assigned to Dominic  to keep civilian shipping and spy ships out of the danger zone. 

" Located within the launch site area was the missile shelter building, a couple of large  steel  blast revetments and fuel and oxygen tanks. The  shelter, resting on a train-like apparatus would be driven back about a hundred feet before each launch.  The Safety Officer was   located in the shelter during the launch.  He is the one who made the decision to destroy the  warhead in order to avoid an accidental detonation as the rocket burned and blew apart on the pad, a proper decision under the circumstances."

"Although we on the island had suddenly become expendable, what was at risk was the task force offshore which included the USS Yorktown and the USS Iwo Jima.  We could have lost the whole mother goose along with 9000 sailors and Marines. The contamination was spread over an area that included the first 500 feet of the runway, the taxiway, two parked P2V aircraft, some of the Army's living quarters, the swimming pool, the mess hall, and the latrine. The major potential health hazard was from intake of alpha-emitting plutonium and gamma rays from americium isotopes (americium 241 is a daughter product of plutonium 239 with a 13.2 year half-life. Plutonium half-life is, oh, about 25,000 years.

The health hazard was further compounded when a third P2V overhead was forced to land due to insufficient fuel for a return to Barbers Point in Hawaii. He touched down square in the middle of the contamination blowing it all over hell's creation. The next day the USAF C-124 landed and added to the corruption of the island. Much later on the afternoon of July 26th the VP-6 crews would be ordered back to Barbers Point, each of us unknowingly taking off through the radioactive debris. It all became sort of a death-wish farce after awhile."   



                                This is part of the command group meeting digesting the bad news. 

                                                                             Map of island in 1962




                          A map of the contaminated land in 1980, eighteen years after Dominic 1.  

                   The borders of the island as it was in 1962 are partially sketched in.  






Below are the readings below, in CPM ( counts per minute) of launch area 1 soon after the blast. This does not include contamination in the rest of the island.  Right next to the Thor, the readings were in the millions  of CPM.

The  readings after 2 weeks of decontamination were still as high as 100,000 cpm


The other scheduled atomic tests on Johnston Island were put off and the ships in their task force scattered back to their homeports. Ogle had hoped to have the launch site ready for more launches in a month, but the people with the Geiger counters told him it would be three or four months to clean up the mess.   Official lies done by public information officers become the truth. There were no reporters on the island, and every one of the thousands of people involved in Dominic I had been sworn to secrecy.  The worst of the radiation was coming from the remnant of the rocket and the steel and concrete in the launch structure.  Only the  great half-melted mass of the Rocketdyne rocket engine was left of the Thor.  When years later, the men involved in Johnston Island began to develop symptoms and went to their local VA hospitals, no one could help them. There was no radiation problem on the island, no accident, no incident, nothing in their service records that they were ever at this place called Johnston Island. 


Two  Neptune long range reconnaissance aircraft had been caught on the ground, sitting off the taxiway, when the rocket exploded.  Their crews were quartered in a barge. The aircraft had been keeping the so-called Johnston Island danger zone clear of other aircraft and ships. Mike Thomas was there. 

" The contamination was spread over an area that included the first 500 feet of the runway, the taxiway, two parked P2V aircraft, some of the Army's living quarters, the swimming pool, the mess hall, and the latrine. The health hazard was further compounded when a third P2V overhead was forced to land due to insufficient fuel for a return to our base at Barbers Point in Hawaii. He touched down square in the middle of the contamination blowing it all over hell's creation. The next day the USAF C-124 [1] carrying  a fully equipped decontamination crew landed and added to the corruption of the island. Much later on the afternoon of July 26th the VP-6 crews would be ordered back to Barbers Point in Hawaii, each of us unknowingly taking off through the radioactive debris. It all became sort of a death-wish farce after awhile. [2]


The Navy crewmen were kept on the island for five days.  They were told nothing. Between flights they were  told to relax and get in some swimming in the lagoon. The Marine officer in charge of the helicopters stationed in Johnston Island, however, did hear the buzzing of the geiger counters and guessed there was a lot of contamination there.

[1] This contained the full suited decontamination team sent in by Holmes and Narver, a construction outfit in Honolulu.


[2] Source:  Website of the "Sharks" http://www.patronsix.com/html/vp-6_blue_sharks_nuclear_tests.html


In an effort to continue with the testing program, US troops were sent in to do a rapid clean up. The troops scrubbed down the revetments and launch pad, carted away debris and removed the top layer of coral around the contaminated launch pad. The plutonium-contaminated rubbish was dumped in the lagoon, more pollution for the surrounding marine environment. The JARS study politely notes:


Sea-disposal of radioactive waste for control of the radiological hazard was then considered expedient and proper…there was no effort made to analyze the magnitude and extent of the radiological hazard resulting from the destruction of a nuclear device on a launch complex.”[ii]


The top fill around the launch pad was scraped by a bulldozer and grader. It was then dumped into the lagoon to make a ramp, so the rest of the debris could be loaded onto landing craft to be dumped out into the ocean. An estimated 10 per cent of the plutonium from the test device was in the fill used to make the ramp. Then the ramp was covered during later dredging to extend the island (The lagoon was dredged in 1963-4 and used to expand Johnston Island from 220 acres to 625 acres). The JARS study notes that:


“much of these [contaminated] sediments may have been incorporated back into the islands in the 1964 dredging and filling work, and thus much of the plutonium contamination from Bluegill Prime may have been redeposited on the island. Any contamination not redeposited on the island through dredge and fill operations still contaminates the lagoon” [iii]  iv.

[i] US DRTA: JARS, page 1-119-121

[ii] US DRTA: JARS, page 1-121

[iii]US DTRA: JARS, pages 122-23


iv   Cleaning up Johnston Atoll

By Nic Maclellan (Pacific News Bulletin, 200))



Essentially each of the self-destructs was a small scale "dirty bomb". Debris fell on Johnston Island, Sand Island, and in the lagoon.   Civilian employees were brought in from Hawaii to aid with the cleanup, and additional army and air force units were brought in to clean up the island.  Evidence of the lasting toxicity of the debris is seen in four plutonium samples that EG&G sent to Los Alamos eighteen years later.  In 1981 a piece of contaminated coral registered 2.2 million counts per minute (CPM), a hunk of metal was 3.22 million CPM. 


  The DOD narrates in their official study of Dominic One:


"After the blast readings over a million counts per minute (CPM) were obtained. This was a major contamination problem and it was necessary to decontaminate the entire area before the badly damaged launch pad could be rebuilt. After about 2 weeks of decontamination efforts…areas (were still above 100,000 CPM) .  (There were )high levels of contamination. Loose or chipped paint or concrete was dumped in the ocean, and the exposed areas were repainted… Roughly 2 inches (5 cm) of topsoil (coral) was bulldozed over the embankment  into the lagoon waters at the northwest corner of the pad.. Revetments were washed, scrubbed, and painted."

                      DOD unclassified document #6040F   DOMINIC I  June       1962


Intense pressure from higher-ups in the defense department and the President put heat on Task Force Eight to resume testing. Another piece of official history said the damage to the launch site was considered “minor.”  Three months later launch area one was back in operation, and a new launch area was finished.   On October 14,1962, another Thor was scheduled to be launched. When they felt the launch area was clean enough to use, they repeated the shot. BlueGill Double Prime had to be destroyed at 109,000 feet, contributing to the contamination.  Shortly after launch on the night of October 15th,  the Thor again failed. This failure was apparently due to troubles in the guidance system. The Thor crews and, for that matter, everyone else were tremendously dejected. 


Terry Scheidt was there as a civilian during the 62 and 63 testing period. Later he worked for NASA.


“48 hours prior to each detonation, all island support personnel were evacuated 200 to 300 miles downrange. My detachment remained at ground zero, as we provided tracking safety for high-altitude launches. Three tests failed, for which the launch rocket exploded and the radiation debris was scattered over the island, reefs and reef waters. The collected debris was buried on-island, which further contaminated the island, along with the reef waters and sea life. Our fresh water was made from the seawater. What were we drinking? The reef was ultimately used to enlarge the island runway, alas further contamination. While extending the runway, many  boys who worked the dredgers brought in from the Gulf Coast never realized they were being exposed. I also never knew, as each day I would walk the newly dredged areas looking for seashells not realizing the danger. No one was ever told of the danger. I have only talked with one person I worked with since, a helicopter pilot who was assigned to one of our tracking ships that participated. The pilot did get cancer of the lymph glands and was denied medical coverage.”

Starbird effectively gave up on the Thor, suggesting that the Douglas representatives sit to one side for a little while and contemplate the situation. At first the Task Force opted for a final attempt to make the BLUEGILL launch successfully with the reliable solid-fuel Hercules missile.”[1] Starbird proposed that the trouble with the Thor was maybe partially due to the pods.  “Of the nine pods flown, only five had been within the acceptable range.”  All the failures meant that the launch team was switching back and forth between three different launch vehicles, the Thor, the Nike-Hercules, and the new rocket, the Strypi, and it was causing them a lot of aggravation.


On November 1, the deadline for bringing the testing series to a close was fast approaching. Finally they decided to make the fourth attempt at Bluegill using a Thor. The launch took place just after midnight on October 16th, and was finally successful. I count four self-destructs over the island and the nearby waters: Starfish, Bluegill, Bluegill Prime, Bluegill Double Prime.  They had eight Thors, four were self-destructed. And then we have the duds and the fizzles.

[1] Ogle, ibid Page 430


                                                                   Ship Positions, Androscoggin

                      AND THE FIZZLES.....


ANDROSCOGGIN  was a large hydrogen device dropped by a B-52 about 200 miles southwest of Johnston Island.  It was 56+ inches in diameter, 128 “ in length, and weighed more than 6600 pounds. Its total yield that day was only 800 kilotons.  Later in another test it yielded 8.3 megatons. A reasonable assumption was that the primary detonated, and much of the plutonium-loaded secondary did not fission, but disintegrated, as in the one-point aborts. The above map shows the ship positions. The U.S.S. Forster witnessed 41 tests in Dominic.  In the Androscoggin drop it was  50 nautical miles east of the detonation. 


                                                                     Ships Position: Bumping


BUMPING    On the evening of 6 October, 1962, a B-52 dropped an experimental weapon at 4:03pm about ten miles south of Johnston Island, over the open sea. ( 14.6 degrees north, 168.3 E). It detonated at about 10,000 feet of altitude.  All we know of the weapon is that it was code-named Oboe, designed by Livermore.  Close by to the drop zone  were the radar picket destroyer escorts Forster and Falgout. Each normally had a crew of 189.  If you trust the map, the Forster was 390 Nautical miles southwest  of the detonation when it ran into a radioactive cloud two hours after the detonation.   The captain’s log states:


”1837 hours changed course to 210 degrees Radiation of alpha particles 0.4 CPM on M scale of alpha meter. 1847 changed course to 030. 1906  hours activated water washdown system.  1926 hrs the ship was decontaminated."


This was another relatively large thermonuclear device (39.37” in diameter, 78” in length and weighing 1155 lbs).  The detonation strength was only 11.3 kilotons. It should have been in the megaton range.    (The DASA narrator says: “Considering the great distance from the detonation point, any connection between this incident and the BUMPING test is extremely unlikely.”  Where on earth could a radioactive cloud have come from if it wasn't the BUMPING test? The blast had only been two hours before.  


. For a while in August there were rumors that the President was so disgusted with all the Thor failures that he would call an end to the operation. He wondered why Starbird  had chosen the Thors [1] for the series and launched an investigation. There was an attempt made by Betts and other people in Albuquerque to keep the test series going, but Norris Bradbury at Los Alamos put an end to that kind of talk.


         “LASL (Las Alamos Scientific Laboratory) has considered with care your informal request concerning our possible interest in additional experimental shots in the Dominic program…It appears to us that the only real arguments for additional Dominic tests at this time arise out of a fear that atmospheric testing will soon be discontinued….being old, tired, and sour, and the writer cannot forebear to notice that LASL is shooting about 25 shots per year at Nevada, has just shot 12 at Christmas (Island). And presumably (we) expect to shoot a similar number in the Pacific in a year’s time. Livermore’s program is comparable…Whether are we drifting, when a jaundiced observer looking at the overall behavior of U.S. missiles might easily conclude that nuclear weapons were about 10 years ahead of their corresponding delivery systems.  In any event, LASL does not feel that the world will come to an end if we do not do other than spend a year studying what happened in Dominic, experimenting in Nevada, and preparing as good designs as we can in the light of the nation’s needs for testing in the Pacific a year from now.”[2]

                                                                                 August 2nd, 1962


There was increasing resistance in Washington to the high altitude testing. “The effects of Starfish on satellites and the Van Allen belts were now becoming well known.” [3] Herbert Scoville of the President’s Science Advisory Committee told Gerry Johnson of Livermore Labs that he thought the DOD was irresponsible in proposing any more high altitude detonations.


The implication was that they had done enough damage, and they should call a halt to any more high altitude blasts.  Kennedy by then really did not wish to do any testing in outer space. “URRACA" was thrown out by the President.  Dominic was going to launch Bluegill on September 23rd now that the launch pad work was done, but the September  5th National Security Council meeting  changed everything. The Mercury program was going to launch Wally Schirra for six orbits of the earth, and the results were in about the tremendous radiation boost that the Starfish Prime shot had given the Van Allen belt. Washington thought that URRACA might put our astronaut in danger. Bluegill Double Prime was put off until October first.  


Unfavorable weather forced a delay to the night of October 15th. Shortly after launch…the Thor again failed in flight, and the warhead and missile were destroyed. This failure was apparently due to troubles in the guidance system.  "The Thor crews and for that matter, everyone else, was tremendously dejected. Starbird effectively gave up on the Thor, suggesting that the Douglas representatives sit to one side for a little while and contemplate the situation."


The problems with the  high altitude shots (Project Fishbowl) seemed to come from a variety of places. It wasn't just one source. There were the Thors. The engines  and guidance systems failed. It got to be the talk in Washington that the Thor's presence in England in the fifties was a "Paper Tiger."  If the balloon had gone up, the Thors would have failed in alarming numbers. But maybe not.  There were radar tracking troubles, and perhaps most importantly,there were the pods that had been installed on the base of the Thors and seemed to disturb the air flow and the rocket's resulting trajectory.


Dominic 1 finally came to an end. CHECKMATE, a high altitude shot with a new Strypti rocket, worked, and as Ogle pointed out, scoring high in aesthetics, a beautiful green and blue ring with silvery spikes. On October 31, KINGFISH was fired successfully, using their last Thor rocket, their last re-entry vehicle, and their last pods.

       “The rest of the night was spent in celebration.”_ 


Then the island emptied out. It had been a rough, bruising exhausting operation for the people involved, and I imagine that everyone  was glad to leave.  The launch areas were now quiet, but the Air Force had plans for them.  


On October 26, General Starbird was called back to Washington, relieved of command and given a desk job in Washington.  Admiral Mustin took over command of Task Force 8.3.  



[1] The project seemed to have done a very careful study of the alternative rocket systems available.  The Redstone was an old rocket that didn’t have the reach required by the experiment organizers, the Polaris had many advantages, being brand new, but they didn’t have enough in the inventory for immediate use, and many modifications would have been required. The Thors had been successful in 25 out of its last 27 launches, evidence that might suggest that it wasn't the rocket that was the problem, but the ground-based tracking apparatus, RF interference, and the pods that had been grafted onto the body of the Thor.  

[2] Ogle, page 406 

[3] Ibid, Ogle 428