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Most of you are familiar with my Cold War fascination, so a trip to Albuquerque would not have been complete without a trip to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque.
The museum is located outside of the Albuquerque Museum District near Old Town. For a brief stint after the 2001 terror attacks necessitated a move from the original site on Kirkland Air Force Base, the museum was relocated nearer to the city’s other museums, but the outdoor display area was inadequate to hold their aircraft exhibits.
For when you are finished with the indoor museum section, there is still quite a bit to see! The museum has four airplanes that reside in the Museum’s outdoor Heritage Park. These very rare iconic warbirds (B29 Superfortress, B52-B Stratofortress, F-105D Thunderchief and A7 Corsair II) would be an attraction by themselves for aviation enthusiasts.
At 5 and 7, a lot of the museum was over the children’s heads. There was a pretty nifty scavenger hunt that kept Claire entertained for a while, but mom was definitely more interested than the children. I would recommend the museum for kids 8 and up though.
However, regardless of their ages, be ready to explain some things to your children. There are some VERY powerful photos of the devastation in Japan after the nuclear bomb drops. While not disturbingly graphic, seeing a photo of a city before and then utter nothingness after is not something you can just gloss over and not patiently discuss.
Luke was not at all paying attention, but Claire and I had a beautiful teaching moment about the costs of war. We saw photos of generals and important Cold War decision-making figures and talked about how the common people were historically who would shoulder the brunt of the devastation of war.
We then doubled back to the replicas of Little Boy and Big Man and talked about how suffering on such a large scale could come from something so small. I was almost crying while answering her kindhearted and confused questions this museum bought to her mind. Heck, I’m almost crying writing about it now. But I was glad I could be there and hold her hand while we talked about it, instead of having her read the cold facts and statistics in a history book.
There is also a lot of discussion about the decision to drop the bombs, and voices that weighed in on both sides of the argument.
But this museum isn’t all about history. It is definitely about the science behind it as well. The great scientists responsible for nuclear advancements are all present here and the faces of the Manhattan Project are detailed. There are also hands-on explanations of a lot of the science involved. Lest we forget the other applications of nuclear science, there are also exhibits about nuclear medicine and nuclear power.
Honestly, in all of the museums I’ve visited in North America, this might be the best. It does an amazing job of packing in science and history at every turn and explaining otherwise difficult concepts to visitors.
Next time I am in Albuquerque, I plan to make a return trip to spend more time here. The kids were a little under the weather and I was a little emotional after some of the material in the museum, and we left before I was ready. In the future, I’d plan three to four hours for my visit here. There is a lot to learn here if you take the time to listen…
Disclosure – We were guests of Visit Albuquerque during our visit to this museum. However, my Cold War obsession and other opinions are my own.