United States. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date

In this interview, Peter Nanos discusses: family background and childhood in New Hampshire; decision to study at the Naval Academy; fraternal culture at the Academy; experience as a Trident Scholar working with Ralph Goodwin; Ph.D. at Princeton as part of the Burke Program; working in Bob Dicke’s gravity group on the first large-scale measurement of the polarization of the microwave background; work on the timing of the crab nebula pulsar; thesis advisor Dave Wilkinson; getting feedback on his thesis pre-publication from Bob Wilson; working with Captain Al Skolnick on the Navy High Energy Laser Program to demonstrate the ability to down supersonic aircraft with the Mid-Infrared Chemical Laser (MIRACL); decision to stay with the Navy as an engineering duty officer (ED); various assignments as ED, including on the USS America; involvement in Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986 U.S. bombing of Libya); effects of Reagan’s increased military spending; power of nuclear deterrence in reducing worldwide war fatalities; work with and promotion to director of Naval Strategic Systems Programs (SSP); use of the first GPS; START Treaty; work with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA); Drell commission to determine safety of the Trident II D5 missile; creation of the National Nuclear Security Administration; director position at Los Alamos; response to reports of “lost” nuclear material; explanation of laboratory shut down; position as associate director at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA); creation of R&D Enterprise at DTRA; investments in nuclear detection technology; experiences running exercises; work with the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins; and post-retirement consulting work. Toward the end of the interview, Nanos reflects on demanding technical excellence and on the value of his training and study of physics, “the liberal arts of STEM.”