Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Question Of Science

I have been asked by Starbuck what happened to the SuperConducting SuperCollider (SSC).

It was canceled by Congress in 1994 at the 83% completion point. All it's assets were given away, or tossed. At least the additional Comanche Peak nuke unit brought online to power the SSC now benefits the Dallas/Fort Worth megaplex with its additional power, eliminating many of the electrical brownouts that so often hit the area in summer.

We actually had Hazel O'Leary--who became Secretary of Energy under President Clinton--come to the SSC and tell the staff that the government had better things to do with the money than toss it into a hole in the ground in Texas.

That was the Clinton Administration's typical attitude towards all things scientific. Say what you might about Bush Sr., but he understood the necessity of taxpayer supported research to support our nation's technological edge, once our greatest asset worldwide.

National labs--both private and public-- everywhere, suffered disasterous setbacks in financing and personnel during the Clinton years and have never recovered.

There is a long list of research projects that produced marvelous things that are now wasted and tossed away. I list a few below:

The YF-12.

Later known as the SR-70 Blackbird, the YF-12 was originally designed to be a high altitude intercepor fighter to counteract a perceived Soviet threat that never materialized and was converted into a spy plane. That's a mostly unknown fact. We have nothing to replace it.

The XB-70

Yes, we had a supersonic bomber that actually flew and performed beyond expectations. The Valkyrie, a stunningly beautiful aircraft, had two prototypes built and flying, but was cancelled by Congress because it was "upsetting the Russians". The Russians built their "foxbat" intercptor-- a pirated U.S. design-- to meet the threat of this new and deadly U.S. bomber. We have nothing to replace it.

The Original Space Shuttle

The originally designed space shuttle never had that huge fuel tank with those giant strapped on solid fuel boosters to get it into orbit. The tanks and solids were a supposedly temporary solution, until the manned first stage could be funded. This manned first stage was to be used to boost the shuttle into orbit, then return to earth much in the same way as the shuttle itself, and completely reusable. Congress refused to fund it, and we have nothing to replace it.

The Safeguard Missile Intercetor System

The Safeguard system was the forerunner of the Patriot. It was fully operational, using two interceptor missiles, the long-range Spartan and the short-range Sprint. The highly advanced radar system (for it's day) was a marvel of science. It was canceled by Congress because it upset the balance of power concept championed by the MAD (Mutuially Assured Destruction) theory, and was upsettting the Russians. The Patriot system-- a more recent effort-- is only marginally effective, has no long-range component and is--in my view--inferior.

Boeing's SST

Boeing had designed a beautiful SuperSonicTransport, a passenger aircraft that would be a technological generation ahead of the Concord. Boeing had built a full-sized prototype, but the project was abandoned because the boys with the money could see no financial return on the investment.

The Space Shuttle

We are abandoning the Space Shuttles and we have nothing to replace them with, except with the older technology of using rockets to launch manned capsules. Even Bush's amusing call to return to the moon uses no new technology--since we have none--it is intended to build a slightly larger version of the old Apollo.

Sad. We should have a manned presence on Mars by now.

So, Starbuck, the SSC suffered the same fate as all of America's research efforts... either cancelled so the money could be used in better places than holes in the ground in Texas, or abandoned becuase the Russians were unhappy.

There are other examples, many still considered classified. Amusing, since the rest of the first-world nations are passing--or have passed--us by.

What little effort being done here in the United States today is too little, too late, and the engineers doing it are only amusing themselves by re-designing the wheel, and making new trinkets using twenty-year-old technology.

Does that answer your question?

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