Atomic Testing Museum
755 E. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
$16 Youth (7-14)
$18 Sr., Mil., Student
Free Children 6 and Under
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A
At a Glance
What is it?
A museum, library, and art gallery devoted to the Nevada Test Site, the spot about 60 miles outside of Vegas where they used to do above ground nuclear weapons testing.
Where is it?
On Flamingo Road, just east of Paradise, a little more than a mile east of The Strip.
Is it worth the cost?
Even museum-phobes should find the low entry fee a bargain.
What else do I need to know?
They have Albert Einstein action figures. That’s gotta be worth something.
What’s the bottom line?
An informative, entertaining, educational, and emotional experience that you really shouldn’t miss.
If it had stopped with the Albert Einstein action figure in the gift shop it would’ve been worth it, but the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas goes way beyond kitsch into a thoughtful, fascinating, respectful, and at times moving portrayal of the role Nevada played in developing America into a world superpower.
The Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute operates this amazing facility on the ground floor of the Frank H. Rogers Science and Technology building on the campus of the Desert Research Institute, about a mile from The Strip. Encompassing a permanent museum, an exhibition hall with rotating displays, a gift shop, and a library facility, the National Atomic Testing Museum examines the history of nuclear weapons testing, focusing primarily in the role of the Nevada Test Site 65 miles from Las Vegas.
That test site operated as the country’s primary nuclear weapons testing facility from 1951 until 1992, with above-ground explosions going off regularly in the early days well within sight of awed residents and tourists in nearby Sin City.
You enter the museum through a recreation of the guard station at the edge of the test site and are immediately confronted with giant photos of the awesome and fearful power of what went on there. Both horrifying and somehow beautiful, the photos set the tone for the rest of the museum, honoring the scientific achievement while never losing sight of the psychological, societal, and literal fallout the testing brought with it.
The museum is packed with artifacts, interactive exhibits, photos, videos, and recreations of test site locales, all done in an easily accessible way. For instance, the timeline of the nuclear test site facility is interspersed with monitors showing pop-culture video of the eras in question. This is a genius move, allowing visitors to get a deeper sense of the time by seeing what the people were watching, listening to, and wearing.
There’s a lot to see here, so take your time or you could miss the letter from Albert Einstein calling for careful development and testing or the one from the captain of a Japanese fishing boat caught in fallout of testing in the Pacific. A entire wall is filled with nuclear themed memorabilia from the era (chewing gum to lunch boxes); another with Geiger counters and the badges workers at the test site had to wear to monitor radiation exposure; corners are set up with replicas of 60s era bomb shelters and an office from the test site; several theaters show fascinating short films about different aspects of the testing facility including one in an interactive theater with vibrating seats and gusts of air timed to the big screen depiction of the bomb blasts.
Hands on sections include video kiosks with a selection of informative short films; spin browser displays allowing you to step through a bomb blast frame by frame; manipulator arms so you can test how good you’d be at picking up nuclear material behind protective glass; radiation counters and materials on which to test them; natural history and geography displays; and much, much more.
The main facility runs you through the history of the land as far back as the first Indian settlers, through the above-ground and underground testing, and all the way through modern day with a chunk of the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center offering an emotional perspective on where we’ve come.
A large hall adjacent to the main facility will house rotating exhibits of atomic themed art, photography, and more plus play host to regular readings and community events. A library /reading room houses video, books, and more than 380,000 declassified documents including radiation records for the men and women who worked at the facility.
The National Atomic Testing Museum is run by a group of dedicated people, many of whom worked at the test site during its heyday. Their devotion to preserving these pieces of history is evident from the moment you walk in the door – these are people who are proud of what they have accomplished and for good reason. This is an essential part of the cultural heritage of the city and an educational facility that manages to entertain as it teaches.
The museum is located on Flamingo Road just east of Paradise Road (near Silver Sevens Casino), about 1.5 miles from the intersection of Flamingo and The Strip (where Bellagio and Caesars Palace are located).