Boyce D. McDaniel, 84, a Manhattan Project physicist who...

Deaths Elsewhere

May 21, 2002

Boyce D. McDaniel, 84, a Manhattan Project physicist who was the last man to check the atomic bomb before the first test of the device in July 1945, died of a heart attack May 8 in Ithaca, N.Y.

Dr. McDaniel had recently finished his doctoral work at Cornell University in 1943 when he was invited to join the Manhattan Project team. McDaniel was paid $250 a month and worked 10- to 15-hour days at the secret Los Alamos, N.M., facility.

As part of the cyclotron research team, he played an important role in helping to identify the amount of the isotope uranium-235 needed to create the atomic fission to detonate a nuclear bomb. By the summer of 1945, sufficient quantities of uranium-235 and plutonium-239 had been processed to create the bomb.

The test was scheduled for 4 a.m. July 16, 1945, on the Alamogordo Bombing Range in the New Mexico desert.

One of Dr. McDaniel's tasks was to check the bomb's radiation levels every few hours, from atop a 100-foot metal tower.

"During the evening, a misting rain had been falling," he recalled later, "and by the time I started up [the tower], there were thunderstorms playing around the site with frequent flashes of lightning followed by rolling thunder. With considerable fear and trepidation, I made the trip to the top and returned safely, heaving a sigh of relief."

He was the last man to touch the bomb before it was detonated at 5:29:45 a.m.

Dr. McDaniel recalled that he and his colleagues "stared intently into the darkness. Then came the last-minute countdown. ... Finally, the brilliant flash of an ever-growing sphere was followed by the billowing flame of an orange ball rising above the plain."

Within a month, bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrendered.

After the war, Dr. McDaniel joined the faculty at Cornell.

E. Lee Cheeseman, 88, who played a central role in developing and testing atomic bombs in the 1940s and missiles carrying nuclear warheads in the 1950s, died May 14 in Bellevue, Wash.

Mr. Cheeseman was assigned to A-bomb tests as a Navy engineer after missing a chance to work on the Manhattan Project.

He enlisted in the Navy as an engineer after earning a degree at the University of Texas and turned down a Manhattan Project job because officials would not tell him enough about the top-secret project to develop the first A-bomb.

Mr. Cheeseman was in charge of instrumentation for Operation Crossroads, the A-bomb testing at Bikini Atoll, in 1946, and later was chief of A-bomb production at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico.

In 1950, Mr. Cheeseman was hired by Hughes Aircraft to develop missile and radar projects in Culver City, Calif. Three years later, he took a job with the Boeing Co., where his projects included the Bomarc and Minuteman missiles, supersonic transport and 747 jetliner.

John Gorton, 90, a former Australian prime minister who voted himself out of office, died of pneumonia Sunday in Canberra.

Mr. Gorton was elected to the Australian Senate in 1949, promoted to the Cabinet in 1958 and served as government leader in the Senate. He became prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party on Jan. 10, 1968, a month after Prime Minister Harold Holt mysteriously disappeared while swimming at a Melbourne beach.

Mr. Gorton's breezy style made him popular with voters but also made him some powerful enemies, including members of his own party and the government bureaucracy as well as Australia's most powerful media baron, Sir Frank Packer.

In 1971, Defense Minister Malcolm Fraser - a future prime minister - resigned in disgust at Mr. Gorton's leadership, sparking a challenge. When the ballot among Liberal lawmakers split 33-33, Mr. Gorton used his ballot to vote himself out of the party leadership and prime minister's office.

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