Act II Scene I
The Oppenheimer’s house in Los Alamos.
It is the night of July 15, 1945. The scientists and Army soldiers have left Los Alamos, and are now at the Alamagordo detonation area on the desert floor, more than a hundred miles away. Women have been prohibited from the test site.
Kitty and her Tewa Indian maid, Pasqualita, are sitting alone in the living room, drinking. Kitty scans the dial of her radio while Pasqualita occasionally checks on the Oppenheimer’s sleeping children. Kitty, in a long soliloquy, sings of the war, of death and of the resurrection of the spirit: “Now I say that the peace the spirit needs is peace, not lack of war, but fierce continual flame.”
Orchestral Interlude: Rain over the Sangre de Cristos Mountains.
Seven month-old Katherine Oppenheimer awakens, crying. Pasqualita takes the baby and comforts her by singing a lullaby and continues to watch the rain over the mountains.
Act II Scene II
The “Trinity” test site at Alamagordo, New Mexico. Midnight, July 16, 1945.
The plutonium bomb has been mounted on the detonation tower and all personnel have been cleared from the surrounding blast area.
Robert Wilson has to climb the tower one last time to attach a measuring instrument to the bomb. From the top of the tower he can feel the wind and rain buffet his face, and he sees flashes of lightning in the distance. Meteorologist Jack Hubbard is at the foot of the tower making wind velocity measurements ordered by Groves. Wilson confesses his extreme anxiety about being around the bomb in the middle of an electrical storm. To Hubbard a test in the middle of such weather is a “blunder of the first magnitude”, and he points out that the high winds could scatter lethal radioactive debris for miles.
While Wilson and Hubbard are at the tower, Groves, Oppenheimer and the others wait nervously at the Base Camp observation bunker for the storm to pass.
The scientists’ talk returns to a unsettling concern: whether or not the detonation might set off an uncontrolled chain reaction ending in the destruction of the entire earth’s atmosphere. Teller muses, “Might we not be setting off a chain reaction that will encircle the globe in a sea of fire?”
A rumor has it that Enrico Fermi, one of the team’s most respected scientists, has been taking bets on whether such a calamity might happen. Oppenheimer reminds them that they already have data confirming that such a result is not possible, but it hardly brightens the mood of gloom pervading the test site. With the rain still coming down, Groves disregards Hubbard’s warnings about the storm and orders all to prepare for the test shot at 5:30 AM.
Act II Scene III (Countdown Part I)
The final countdown begins at 5:10 AM.
Groves complains to his aide about the behavior of the scientists that has caused him endless security headaches: “This program has been plagued from the start by the presence of certain scientists of doubtful discretion and uncertain loyalty.”
Everyone waits, each absorbed in his own thoughts, the men in their bunkers at a distance of two miles from the explosion, Kitty and Pasqualita in the house back on the Los Alamos mesa.
Oppenheimer, whose normally thin frame has shrunken even further to 98 pounds, is in a state of extreme nervous exhaustion. He tries to calm himself by reading from a battered book of poetry he has brought along. Instead, he is beset by hallucinations.
Pasqualita, having drunken heavily during the night, has her own visions: “News came on the frost, ‘The dead are on the march!'”.
At Base Camp the men make a betting pool. Each tries to guess the yield of the bomb. Oppenheimer surprises everyone by his pessimistic prediction of a very low yield–“a fizzle”, Teller calls it. Even Groves is unable to conceal his depressed state and also guesses a low yield. Teller scoffs at their timidity and predicts a powerful explosion.
Oppenheimer suddenly is overcome by a terrifying vision of Vishnu described in the Bhagavad Gita: “At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous, full of mouths and eyes…terrible with fangs…when I see you, Vishnu…with your mouths agape and flame-eyes staring–all my peace is gone; my heart is troubled.”
Act II Scene IV (Countdown Part II)
Groves is concerned that Oppenheimer, “our high-strung director”, is going to have a nervous breakdown.
The storm breaks and the sky over Ground Zero suddenly clears. A warning rocket arches in the sky and a siren sounds. Everyone waits in a state of uncertainty. At Zero minus two minutes another warning rocket goes off but sputters out prematurely.
At Zero minus sixty seconds a different third rocket appears in the morning sky, signalling the final sixty-second countdown. Base Camp resembles an outpost of the dead: scientists and Army personnel are scattered about, hunkered in their shallow bunkers. There is no movement or whisper of activity, only the rhythmic voice of the countdown announcer over the loudspeaker. At Zero minus 45 seconds an engineer flips the switch for the automatic timer. The triggering circuits begin to fire in rapid precision.
“Zero minus one.” There is an eerie silence, and then the bomb goes off.