Periodic Table: Vela Hotel

Madeline Whitacre discusses ‘60s nuclear reconnaissance satellites

December 4, 2023

Vela Satellite, April 1970 (pu B70013kn015) 1280x1280
Vela Satellite, April 1970 Los Alamos National Laboratory

Mix one part nuclear sleuthing, one part space exploration, and one part 1960s international relations. Strain through the Lab’s Physics division and add a garnish of historic test ban treaty. You’ve got yourself a fine recipe for Vela Hotel, the subject of this month’s Periodic Table.

National Security Research Center historian Madeline Whitacre looks back 60 years to the initial launch of Vela Hotel, a series of curiously named reconnaissance satellites the Lab helped develop to detect nuclear testing in outer space. Vela Hotel was a facet of Project Vela, a larger U.S. Department of Defense project to develop nuclear event detection technology in space, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. The Vela satellite program ensured compliance with the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty.

The Periodic Table is the Bradbury Science Museum’s casual, ask-me-anything program held at projectY cowork. Gather with other science enthusiasts and talk with a special guest Labbie about their unique work. The Periodic Table is always free.

Monday, Dec. 11
5:30-7 p.m.
projectY cowork
150 Central Park Square

About the speaker

Madeline Whitacre started her career at the Laboratory as an undergraduate student in 2017. She received her bachelor's degree in history from the University of New Mexico in 2018 and became a regular staff member at the Lab. She completed her master's degree in museum studies from Syracuse University in 2022.

Whitacre has conducted research on various aspects of Lab history including topics related to women and minorities and institutional changes. She has contributed to various book projects in support of the National Security Research Center, focusing on the history of atmospheric testing and Los Alamos Nobel laureates.