Science historian Wolverton (The Twilight Years: The Final Years of J. Robert Oppenheimer) constructs a well-researched and fast-paced history of U.S. nuclear testing in space, particularly Operation Argus in 1958 and Operation Fishbowl in 1962. Operation Argus tested the feasibility of using space radiation generated by nuclear detonations as a defense against a nuclear missile attack; Fishbowl was designed to test the effects of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) created by nuclear detonations. Wolverton highlights the two main drivers of the tests: the world-famous astronomer James Van Allen, who discovered highly charged particle belts circling the earth, and self-taught nuclear engineer Nicholas Christofilos, who wondered whether artificial versions of these fields could be created to shield a region from nuclear attacks. As Wolverton recounts, both tests were scientifically challenging and extremely dangerous: while Fishbowl involved launching nuclear missiles from an island, in Argus the live warheads had to be launched using unreliable rockets from a ship in stormy winter seas. False steps in either could have resulted in nuclear catastrophe and permanent environmental damage to the planet. Wolverton keeps the book from bogging down by balancing science with the personalities involved, the Cold War context, and the drama of risky experiments. This is an appealing and informative history. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/03/2018 Release date: 11/13/2018 Genre: Nonfiction
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