LASL’s Sleeping Beauty was an experiment on the design of an alpha-n initiator – the first in a series of such tests. Equipment was located in an underground bunker at Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert, some 250 miles south of Los Alamos – and only 1,600 feet from ground zero of a spectacular success, the world’s first nuclear explosion. But Sleeping Beauty did not involve the use of fissionable material – and she was an embarrassing failure.
In November, 1942, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and Colonel John Dudley visited Jemez Springs, near the Valles Caldera – a large volcanic crater and field in northwest New Mexico. Having considered other locations for the creation of a laboratory, the group found themselves in this remote part of New Mexico in pursuit of a location to bring together the various scattered groups who had been working on “problems” relating to the potential creation of a nuclear bomb.
The scientists, technicians, and engineers began arriving in March of 1945 as the pace and scale of operations grew each day. Originally designed to hold 160 people, it eventually held close to 300 and needed to be expanded. At its peak a week before the detonation, there were about 325 engineers, scientists, technicians and soldiers at base camp.