s were a heady time - pre JFK
, pre colour television
, post war. Man was Earth
bound and didn't like it. The war
was over and the USA
was left without direction for its research
President Harry S. Truman had inherited a post-war scientific glut, and with the successful military use of atomic weapons in Japan, science turned its back on destructive technologies in search for something more... idyllic. Combined with an important celestial event, the lunar standstill, the early 1950s saw a rush for something... out of this world.
Science gone mad? Or mad scientists?
RumourRumourQuest 2006has it that the best minds in the United States, lead by newly sworn in Chancellor of University of California, Berkeley Clark Kerr, a professor of Industrial Relations, to seek funding in 1952 from the Truman government for tenure for a project aiming to research alternate ways beyond rocketry for man to reach the moon.
A deadline was set for the project - the 1956 lunar standstill. As explained in that node, this would be the closest point for the moon would be to the Earth for 50 years. As such, it would require less energy to reach the moon than at any other time for a century.
It begins... with a plan.
Chief researcher on what was later christened Operation Slingshot was Wallace Humphreys, an astronomer and budding physicist. Working with colleagues in 1944 on calculations of energy transference from atomic blasts, Wallace had calculated that a team of 5 men, along with 10 tonnes of equipment, could be sent to the moon with a directed nuclear blast. There existed a problem. At the time, the largest payload of such a blast (approximately 3 megatons) would only get such a team approximately 4/5ths of the way to the moon based on the lunar orbit. The war was shortly resolved, and Wallace turned his focus back to astronomy. Noticing that the lunar standstill was coming up in 1956, Wallace and his team, with far more time on their hands, decided to seek tenure for their idea.
Tests, but not as you know it.
Wallace and his team quickly identified that the energy of a 3 megaton blast would indeed propel the estimated crew of their lunar adventure to the moon during the lunar standstill. The obvious dangers associated with the use of directed nuclear blasts meant that the level of funding sought was enormous. More than $1000 nails of modern times, the cost of raw reaction materials alone for fission of this scale was staggering. The drive for atomic weapons had left large amounts of fissile material available for scientific purposes, available through military channels and to be paid for from the secured funding. Wallace managed to secure it through his contacts within the Truman administration and leverage of the new Chancellor.
A small number of nuclear projectile tests were conducted in the Nevada Proving Grounds, using man-made guidance assemblies. These tests showed the forces involved required considerable reinforcement of the "barrel" used to direct the atomic blast. Better results were achieved when the barrel was created not from man-made structures, but drilled directly in to the bedrock of the Nevada desert. The results were overwhelming successes. A device, suitably plugged with a lead stopper, was able to be fired in to extremely high altitudes. The stage was set to ramp the scale of the project up to take human passengers.
With funding secured and the theory tested, Wallace and his team set about designing a craft that no man has ever dreamed of before.
Home away from home.
Early on to Operation Slingshot, it was identified that one of two options was to be considered - either send the team to the moon and get them back within the relatively short timeframe of the 1956 lunar standstill or leave the men on the moon permanently. Considering the hostile environment as the moon, the first option was decided on. The result was the need for TWO multi-megaton atomic devices. The only remaining hurdle was the craft required to get the team and their equipment to the moon. Imagine a craft robust enough to survive a nuclear blast, airtight and spacious enough to allow a team of men to operate. An alloy of lead, aluminium and zinc called Alzip were designed that surprisingly held their form under the extreme forces of the blast. Relatively cheap to manufacture, an enclosed sphere with access hatches was designed and when tested in Nevada, showed that a 30 meter sphere would survive the resulting impact with the moon with fairly minimal padding for internal occupants and enough air for three days of work. The 10 tonne "payload" would consist of a massive drill (to create the returning barrel) and a pre-sprung collector arm, for collecting material from the moon for study on their return. This could be integrated in to the shell of the sphere.
Brave Crew. Stupid Crew.
1953 saw Dwight D. Eisenhower take office. Noticing this potentially dangerous project and worried that it could embarrass his New Deal and Fair Deal programs, Eisenhower secreted the project, hoping to observe the results and proclaim its success to the growing Soviet threat. A team of military test pilots was selected, hand picked for survival of crashes, high-G force operations and weightlessness training. These 5 brave souls, whose names have still not been released, were prepared for mans most daring adventure to date.
The moment of truth.
The crew, complete with second atomic
weapon "return device", was loaded in to the Alzip sphere on March 20, 1956, the result of just under 3 years of intense training. The Nevada Proving Grounds once again formed the focus for the barrel, a 30 meter wide hole bored 45 meters in to the ground. All waited apprehensively for the detonation and propulsion of the crew to the moon.
What happened next.
It was later determined that a minor crack in the Alzip sphere constructed by mafia
labor had buckled in the blast. The sphere virtually imploded, compressed to an incredible degree after the barrel didn't take in to account the changing shape of its enormous projectile. The second nuclear device then detonated INSIDE the sphere through means unknown, reducing the whole complex to molten slag.
The pin on Operation Slingshot was, unsurprisingly, pulled at that stage. Wallace Humphreys and his team were made scapegoats by Clark Kerr, removed from Berkeley, their names stricken from its records in shame. The 5 brave souls who gave their life for this mission are still unacknowledged, and it was a dark, dark day for American science.
- Still chasing a few book titles. Stay tuned to your screens for updates, as they come to hand, and if I find any.