Nathan Safferstein, a U.S. counterintelligence agent assigned to the "Manhattan Project" designed by the U.S. Armed forces to produce the atomic bomb during WWII, died Tuesday night in the Bronx at age 92 after battling a prolonged illness according to his family. Safferstien was a supermarket manager in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut when he was recruited by U.S. military officials into the counterintelligence service and sent to New Mexico, where he served as an agent, eavesdropping on conversations between scientists, transporting uranium for use in nuclear testing, and delivering secret messages to military officials. He also signed his name on the now infamous "Little Boy," the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. After the war, Safferstien retired to civilian life, where he ran Storecast Corp. a merchandising and marketing company. He is survived by his two sons, daughter, and five granddaughters.
The Manhattan Project was a codename for a top-secret military project that took place between 1942 and July 16th, 1945, in which the United States Armed Forces under the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt cooperated with a team of theoretical physicists to build an atomic fission bomb capable of leveling entire cities. The project’s origins can be traced back to a letter sent from famous physicist Albert Einstien to President Roosevelt concerning the recent discovery of nuclear fission by German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, as well as the dangerous possibility of a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany. This combined with the attack on Pearl Harbor compelled Roosevelt to commission the army to embark on a project of nuclear armament.
General Leslie Groves and Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer oversaw the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer was installed as the director of the main laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in which he and a team of physicists recruited from academic institutions across the U.S. designed the blueprint necessary to the ultimate creation of the atomic bomb. Working in conjunction with two plutonium production and enrichment plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington, and also receiving assistance from the U.S. Navy and the DuPont Corporation, Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos lab finally completed the project on July 16, 1945 with the successful "Trinity" nuclear bomb test in a desert in New Mexico. In total the project took nearly 3 years and 2.2 billion dollars to complete.
The project itself produced two bombs, the "Little Boy," dropped August 6th, 1945 on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and the "Fat Man," dropped August 9th on Nagasaki. The bombings irrevocably changed the future of United States foreign policy, thrusting the world into the "atomic age" defined by a nuclear arms race between the United States and the former U.S.S.R. As a result of the atomic age and the years proceeding, the world has seen a massive nuclear buildup. There are believed to be more than 19,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, though that number is uncertain.
Nathan Safferstien was a good man. He was beloved by his family, hard-working, and described as genial. While he did do important work for the Manhattan Project, which would end up changing the course of history as we know it, world leaders now would be prudent to heed his words upon seeing the devastation wrought by the bombing of Hiroshima: "let's … never have to use it again."