In the boundless ocean of space, a beautiful ship sails serenely around the sun. Our earth – Lovelier than the moon, this fragile ship travels one hundred and sixty thousand kilometres every hour.

Space is full of countless such ships.
But our Earth is special.
It is the only ship which carries life –
the only ship with voyagers on board.

Four hundred thousand different kinds of life make their home on Earth.
Together, they make it beautiful and precious.

But this ship was not always like this. Many million of years ago, the Earth was a blazing ball of fire. Slowly it cooled.

Millions of years passed before the first voyager appeared. Life first appeared in the sea – a tiny single-celled creature, which evolved into many shapes and forms. More and more voyagers peopled the earth. We humans were the last to come on board.

If the life of this ship, our Earth, were to be measured as one year, then human beings appeared just forty-eight minutes ago. And all our civilisations, our science, art and history are a mere twenty eight seconds old.

In these twenty eight seconds, the human race has cherished the Earth and made it even more beautiful. We have conquered the mountains and explored the mysteries of the fathomless seas. We have turned rivers in their course and illuminated the darkness. We have greened the desert and gathered rich harvests.

But among us, there are also some who crave destruction. It is because of them that the human race – the newest voyager. On the beautiful ship – has now become a threat to the ship.

In the last 40 years – less than a moment in the life of the earth we have planted nuclear weapons – more than a thousand of them. Enough to destroy the Earth more than fifty times.

Have we all gone mad? If it is destroyed once, will there be anything left to destroy a second time?

A beautiful ship in the sky! Planet earth with translucent water of the oceans, atmosphere, clouds...
A beautiful ship in the sky! Planet earth with translucent water of the oceans, atmosphere, clouds…

Glimpses of terror

Year 1945

The dark clouds of the Second World War were just fading. And the people, cowed and fearful, were waiting for peace to dawn – when, without warning,
two beautiful cities of Japan were swallowed up in a terrible storm of destruction.

6th August, 1945
Hiroshima, a lovely city on the bank of the Ohata river
was just awakening to a clear and peaceful morning.

The pilot had no difficulty in lining up his target.
Suddenly, the earth was shaken.

9th August, 1945
The earth was shaken once again.

This time it was Nagasaki, again in Japan.
The bombs which destroyed the two cities were called “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”.

The explosive power of “Little Boy” was equal To 12.5 kilotons of TNT.”
“Fat Man” could match 22 kilotons of TNT.
“Little Boy” exploded 1850 metres above the ground and created a fireball.
The temperature at the centre of the ball was:
Ten million degree Celsius.
By the time the ball hit the ground
Its temperature was a mere 4000 degree Celsius.

Water boils at 100 degree Celsius
And we all know what happens if
Boiling water splashes on our body?
Iron melts at 1400 degree Celsius,
And Tungsten at 32 degree.
Imagine what happened to these cities
when the temperatures suddenly rose to 4000 degree Celsius?

92 per cent of the buildings in a 13 square kilometer area around the centre of the blast were destroyed. Houses, schools, factories – everything was burnt to ashes. For three days nothing and no one could enter the two cities. Medicine, food, doctors – nothing.

There are very few photographs of this incident. But those we have are terrifying.

A police man, tired after being on duty all night
returns to the police station in the morning.
In a split of a second, everything disappeared.
All that was left were shadows burnt into the wall.
A shadow policeman, and a shadow ladder leaning
On the wall beside him.
Those who were some distance away
from the core of the blast, survived.
They are the ‘Hibakusha’.

They have painted pictures of
what happened that day-
glimpses of unbelievable horror.
To escape from the heat people jumped into
the river Ohata.
But the water was also boiling
There was no escape.
The Ohata became a river of death.
A teacher
led her students out of the school.
She told them – keep shouting your own names,
even your parent won’t recognise you in this state.
This was the last lesson she taught.
Eight kilometres away from the
hypocentre at Hiroshima
A mother looked for a place to cremate her dead child.
There was nothing left for the funeral pyre.
Everything had been burnt already.
A child looked up at the plane
In the sky, with wonder and joy –
little knowing that it carried death – a
blazing death, that left only ashes.
Amidst terror and destruction,
humanity still breathed.
Those who were themselves
in need of help,
were helping others.

Was it necessary to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The then American President Truman wrote, “The war has been won but the bomb might well put the United States in a position to dictate terms at the end of the war.”

The cost of this act was the lives of three hundred and forty thousand human beings.
The two bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Were like little crackers compared to those we have now.
Today nuclear bombs with destructive capacities equivalent
To several megatons of TNT
have been put in place in many locations.

What is T.N.T?

TNT is Tri-Nitro Toluene – an explosive material. One gram of TNT is the standard unit to measure the destructive power of all other explosives. If gunpowder equivalent to one megaton of TNT were to be loaded on a train, the train would be 400 kilometres long. Nuclear fission and fusion have made it possible to pack the explosive power of millions of tons of TNT into a small bomb.

What is Fission and Fusion?

The explosion of an atom bomb is the result of fission. A fast moving neutron smashes into the nucleus of an atom of radioactive Uranium 235 or Plutonium 239. The impact of the neutron hitting the nucleus breaks up the nucleus into two smaller nuclei. It also produces three new neutrons and releases a large quantity of energy.

The new neutrons break up other nuclei, leading to a chain reaction. The immense energy thus released leads to an explosion which generates a great amount of heat and a stream of dangerous radiation. All these combine to produce total destruction.

The explosion in a hydrogen bomb is through fusion. The temperature required to begin the process of fusion is like the temperature at the centre of the sun. A small-scale explosion through nuclear fission is used to create such high temperature. This small explosion triggers the process of fusion. Two atoms of Hydrogen combine together to make an atom of Helium. The energy and radiation released through this process are several times greater and many times more destructive than the energy produced through nuclear fission.

If a small quantity of radioactive material is used for fusion, a large number of neutrons are released. These surplus neutrons are called high energy neutrons and can make a bomb called the neutron bomb. The neutron bomb carries a destructive power several times greater than the atom bomb or the hydrogen bomb.

Earth – this beautiful ship sailing through space
today carries on board explosives equal to
Twenty thousand megatons of TNT.

If this load were to be shared by all of us,
Each person would have to carry a burden of 4 tons.

The total population of the world has doubled since 1945
while the nuclear arsenal has increased
not less than fifty thousand times.

Gun-powder was invented some six
hundred years ago.

Today if a few nuclear bombs were to
explode together,
Their strength would be far more than the
combined strength
of all the explosives used in the
last 600 years

We know this
yet in the last 50 years, we have
been moving inexorably closer
to self-destruction.

Atom Bomb 1945-
I.C.Bomber 1948-
Hydrogen Bomb 1951-
I.C.B.M. 1957 –
Submarine Missile 1960 –
M.R.V. 1964 –
M.I.R.V. 1968 –
Long Range Cruise Missile 1976 –

The sea, home to the first life on earth,
now swarms with death.
The race is on to take this madness into space.
Laboratories will be set up
and laser guns installed in space.
All this will be controlled and monitored by
Computers. Expensive computers.

Computers which can and do commit mistakes.
Computers have even mistaken
a flock of birds crossing a country’s border for a
missile attack and automatically
Start preparing for retaliatory action.
Scientists think such mistakes are
acceptable for computers.
Computer systems can also fail.

But the consequences of such failures
are far more dangerous than small mistakes.
What will happen if a few bombs are
launched and explode by mistake?
Everything will blow up. A dark cloud will cover the sky,
which will take the shape of a mushroom.
The cloud can rise to a height of twenty four kilometres
three times the height of Mount Everest.
Strong winds at the speed of up to several hundred kilometres per
hour will move in to fill the vacuum created by the
rising mushroom cloud.

Anything that comes in the way of this storm
of searing hot winds will turn instantly to ashes.
Slowly, the radioactive dust in the air
will begin to cool and settle on the earth.
Radioactivity will poison
all the water, all the soil, every plant and tree.
It will enter every human being left alive
to punish succeeding generations for the crimes
Of their ancestors.

The cost of the arms race:

The military expense of the whole world for a single day
Is enough to eradicate malaria from the face of the earth.
The cost of one modern tank
Is enough to feed one hundred thousand people for eight days.
The cost of a tank
Is also enough to set up five hundred schools for thirty thousand children.
The cost of one fighter plane
Is enough to run health centres in thirty thousand villages.
The cost of one nuclear submarine
Is enough to provide education to one hundred and
thirty thousand children from the twenty three poorest developing nations.
Twenty per cent of all scientists in the world are engaged exclusively in weapon development.

This does not mean that no one is speaking against the arms race, or that the wrong and destructive use of science is not being condemned. The scientists who made the first nuclear bomb and worked for the Manhattan project, opposed nuclear bombs even before they were used for the first time.

Since then hundreds of thousands of people have raised their voices against the arms race and continue to do so. Here at Hiroshima, this tombstone has been erected in memory of those who died in the atomic explosions.

Inscribed on it are the words:-

“Rest in peace for
The mistake shall never be
Are we keeping our promise?
You would have taken twenty minutes to read this text.
Earth, our beautiful ship, has, in the meantime,
travelled approximately
thirty five thousand kilometres.
You have to decide,
will this voyage continue?

A Beautiful Ship in the Sky [Published by Youth for Nuclear Disarmament, New Delhi, India, 1999.

1923 words | 19 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: planet earth
Tags: #radioactivity, #destruction, #hiroshima, #space, #temperature, #bombs, #explosion, #computers, #atom bomb

You may also be interested in these:
How Green is Your School?
Runu and Chotu
How Do Fish Survive in Icy Waters?
Hi-tech Schools
The Lake and the Birds