Monday, July 5, 2010

Discover something; blow it to Hell

I've seen a few folks posting this NPR video about a U.S.-launched space-based nuclear explosion in 1962.  The video is creepy enough.  But I hadn't read the scientific background of the test.  The story starts four years earlier, when scientist James Van Allen discovers radiation belts around the Earth.  (These are now called the Van Allen Belts.)  Apparently, the same day that Van Allen announced the existence of these belts, he
agreed with the military to get involved with a project to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to see if they could disrupt it.... The plan was to send rockets hundreds of miles up, higher than the Earth's atmosphere, and then detonate nuclear weapons to see: a) If a bomb's radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might "alter" the natural shape of the belts.
The article quotes Colby College's James Fleming as saying, "This is the first occasion I've ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up."

Not the same sort of ethical debates we usually have in the social sciences.

3 comments:

Marc said...

"This is the first occasion I've ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up."

Nah, Cortez was centuries ahead of him.

Rob Rushing said...

Nice. And if nuclear explosions had disrupted the magnetic field that keeps us from being quick-fried into raisinettes by solar radiation?

Seth said...

Simple. We pilot a craft into the Earth's core and set off a massive nuclear explosion. To nuclear explosions -- the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.