The neo solar system


The Exodus Path, My Struggle.

Although I really did find a way to power the rockets to take hundreds of us throughout the solar system, the only product of my entire career struggle working in so-called "rocket science," was that people wanted to hear the story.


As the "Featured Evening Speaker", again and again,  they would keep me long after I was finished talking, asking me questions. What was so captivating? Was it the stories about how we can actually leave the Earth? Or was it just that I was telling them stories and entertaining them? Or was it my struggle against the real world and reality? I can't tell, so  I am telling the story


The struggle to make a Vision come alive, a kind of Exodus Path to Leave Earth, became intense, compelling, overpowering, and took on a single purpose at the moment when I first found out there was water in space. I knew immediately I could use it.


At the end of that career, after I "retired" and started another,  I had discovered comparatively simple ways to do it:


We would inhabit, occupy, move minor planets and other celestial objects.


After all the effort, all the Visions, I got old instead of making it happen.


This is no science lesson. This autobiographic story describes my struggle, about US government laboratories where I worked, about how I found, and how I tried to tell but was too autistic to tell effectively. I have Asperger's syndrome. And then I got too old, too soon.


I had become excited because everything we would need to inhabit the "neospace", the places between here and the edge of the Solar System, had just become known. Some was already there and telescopes and space probes just revealed it. Some was just developed because of the failed efforts to develop manned Mars missions.


This is not sci-fi. The names are real and the stories happened.


Nature seduced me with the excitement. She let my colleagues and me discover water objects in the space near Earth, in "neospace", the space almost near enough for us to get to and use, between here and Jupiter, Saturn.


Water in space turned out to be everywhere, from the planet Mercury in its the forever dark craters, in the moon, and in mostly everything to way past at least Pluto,


Long ago, when people landed on the moon and when Star Trek inspired us, we thought we could just go there, to space, to the moon, to other planets like Mars or Mercury. But at every turn, we discovered another bad thing to stop us.


We did not find what we needed to live, like water. Our rocket ships were too feeble, too huge, too expensive, and blew up too often. Low gravity in space would float poop, snot and vomit in the air, stinking up the ship and forcing us to breathe it. Low gravity drained our bones of calcium and disabled our lymph system. Space was more radioactive than sitting on pile of old fallout from an atomic bomb. Mars had a little bit of a poison, carbon monoxide, in its carbon dioxide air. Mars would be a poison planet.


So, we gave up. No one even went back to the moon.


Mother Nature only tricked me a little, but she did it again and again. A new problem would suddenly appear just when an old problem was solved.


Mother Nature fooled me. She showed me how it seems there is enough water for us to start leaving Earth. She teased me to think we could be explorers who could inhabit what we explore.


But, she knew I won't get to go there. I am old already. And the world went broke.


More annoying: Mama Nature told us clearly that we were the wrong species for space and she would not let us have the "clear profit" we would need to start The Exodus. She seemed to point to her bulging stomach, pregnant with the new species, her digi-sapiens children, cyborgs, robots, androids.



It's about the water


More than anything, we needed to have water in space. Every time we looked, we would not see any water.  


We simply could not afford to launch the Gulf of Mexico into space. We could not even launch a small fishing lake into space. But that was what we needed. Everything we do to live our lives requires not just water but a lot of it.


We needed Warp Drive. Instead, all we got were feeble toys, little rockets that could barely shove a porta-potty space-can to the moon and back.


We needed strong legs and powerful wings, so to speak. Instead, we were oozing and sliming like snails and clams.  Our space ships needed to be more like ocean cruise ships and aircraft carriers, not like NASA's space jails.


Everything in space was mostly too far apart.  Whatever rocks, moons or planets were there, were so far apart that a very short trip, like to the Moon, would take many days, not hours like an airplane trip. A quick trip to Mars would take 6 months or longer. A trip to Jupiter or Saturn would take years.


I thought the 14 hour plane trip to Australia was a very long ride, in a cramped seat, rubber cardboard food, kids running up and down the aisle, engine noise, white knuckle fear of flying.


Most places in neospace seemed to be barren rock-deserts, harder than sidewalks and as dry as a fireplace.


The other places seemed to be giant oceans with no surface, just gas, poison gas, that got thicker and thicker and thicker, and with hyper-hurricanes the size of the world, and lightning everywhere. That's Jupiter, Saturn and such.


Nothing seemed to work. We would be stuck here with the terrorists and tax collectors, forever. Instead of space travel, we would be stuck here with the Liberals fighting Creationists, all fighting beheaders and rogue atomic bombers, with high unemployment, inflation, a Carbon Usage Tax, and Global Warming.


And it was all about the water.


I should have quit, but it was too exciting.


I don't know of anyone who put it all together. That is why I am telling my part of the story. I put it all together.


Autistic, Like Mongoloids and other Weird People


I was also recently diagnosed to be born with a common and peculiar form of autism: Asperger's syndrome. My genetic breed of human focuses hyper-intensely and takes people literally. We are sometimes called "Aspies".


Most of us Aspies are a bit like Spock, of Start Trek. It makes us a bit difficult to work with or understand. Often we blurt out what's on our mind and interrupt you. We often act inappropriately when we do and say things.


Some Aspies can not look you in the eye. Not me.  I stare, deep. I will hit on pretty ladies and stare deep into their eyes every chance I get. I only do that if their person is totally captivating, and not necessarily for neurotypical reasons.


One of my psychologists said he never met an Aspie with less than 130 IQ. This weird combination of inappropriate behavior, smarts and focus makes me and Aspies like me sometimes hard to follow. More than sometimes. In that aspect, we are like those with Downs syndrome, or Tourette's syndrome, or with other types of autism that favor intelligence.  Mongoloids (Down's people) can sometimes figure big prime numbers in their heads. I can't to that.


I will sometimes go too fast. I will sometimes say things that are simply not supposed to be said that way. Because I am an Aspie, I can't see what's wrong with doing these things at all. If I went too fast or confused you, tell me and I will try to fix it. Maybe not.


If I use inappropriate language or say things that are too graphic and just not proper in mixed company, or that are insulting or too mean,

       too bad.


 I'm an Aspie.


You are supposed to treat me nice, like we treat mongoloids and other weird people.





·          1968 physics grad student and Dyson Starship


Someone Inspired Me

Physics Graduate Student, Anxious for Escape


The rocket science part of my career was a like a fanciful journey by someone too naive to know the difference. I started on this journey when I was a graduate student in physics and read the words in a physics trade journal:



  ".... take a town the size Princeton New Jersey

to the nearest star   ..... cattle and livestock ..... "


The article described a starship propelled by nuclear explosions, atomic bombs.



\ M:\azinc\PROZX\To Inhabit The Solar System\- CHAPTERS drafts\to_occupy_the_solar_system GRAPHICS\Cromeo3.jpg

Nuclear explosions would power Dyson's "Orion Starship"


When we discovered and detonated the atomic bomb, it unleashed a powerful Virus Of Change upon the world. It infected us with visions of really leaving the planet, and not just as ghosts. For the first time, we could see how we could someday inhabit space. The energy released was extreme.


How could we use this? Could we make cars that never need gas? All cars need gasoline.  Could we make airplanes that just keep flying and never need to refuel? Could we heat our homes without ever needing to chop wood or shovel coal into the stoves?


When I heard of the atomic bombs, I was little, 7 years old, and had to shovel heavy coal into buckets and carry them in. My father had to lift the heavy buckets and dump the coal into the mouth of the pot belly stove in the dining room. Could I use nuclear heat to escape this? Even at 7 yrs old, I thought of it personally, as in "Could I use...".


The world was locked in a Cold War and the United States was fighting a real war in Vietnam. At the same time, the USA was preparing to send people to the moon. These were confusing times and depressing times.


Could we use the atomic bomb energy to make rockets? The Germans used rockets to send bombs to England during World War II, to kill civilians, on purpose. Both the Russians and the Americans were making rockets that would kill all the civilians in the whole city all at once, on purpose.


If we would use the nuclear energy to power the rockets, could we go to Mars or Venus, instead? Flash Gordon went to Mars in the movies.


It had been a dismal time, a dark and stormy time, a confusing time. Blacks were Negroes and had to sit in the back of the bus.  People shot the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King. The Democratic Parties of Chicago and Kent State beat us up and killed us because we did not want to go to Viet Nam to kill Vietnamese for them.


And there I was in Cleveland, Ohio, back in the fall of 1968, a graduate student studying solid state physics, nothing at all related to space. I was stuck doing a worthless Ph.D. thesis on "magnetic thin films".


I saw how Physicists with Ph.D.'s were pumping gas and selling shoes instead of getting jobs. Meanwhile the Electrical Engineer PhDs were getting multiple job offers. Not one single professor told me "thin films" were something of extreme value in Silicon Valley.


I was stupid. I had chosen to study Physics in Graduate school, instead of Engineering.


No one had taken close up pictures of anything in space other than the moon. In sharp contrast, the article in the trade journal told us how to propel a rocket ship with people and livestock to the nearest star. The article shocked me.


In those days, most people somewhat expected that kind of shock. The world had just discovered

atomic bombs and nuclear power, and transistors, and color TV, and jet airplanes, and penicillin, and cars, and radio, and plastics, and DNA, and computers, and rockets,

all in one breath,

all within about 40 years,

all within half a lifetime.

It was a shock hurricane of knowledge.



The nuclear devices were extremely powerful compared to anything. The nukes were at least 10 million times more powerful than anything our Life Form had ever seen. It was about 10 million times more powerful than chemicals such as high explosive, food or gasoline. Not a 1000 million, not a zillion, but about 10 million. The nuclear energy made it possible to think about space travel. This was the first realistic proposal on how to do it. It captivated me.


This was the start for me, 40 years ago. Was it Fanciful? Of course. But I was a graduate student. What did you expect? That's what you get when you are a student or a professor. When you are young and a graduate student, anything is possible, even the impossible.


I did not know it was fanciful. "Fanciful" can mean having a curiously intricate quality, or it can also mean unreal, not based on fact. This one, single, fanciful article inspired me to spend an entire career trying to make and power the space ships for us to inhabit outer space.


The starship powered by nuclear explosions was credible because a famous, very respected scientist showed how to do it. The scientist, Dr. Freeman Dyson, showed how to propel a space ship with people on board that could travel far beyond the solar system, and even to the nearest star.


When I first picked up the article I was walking to the physics lab in which I was an instructor. It was October 1968.  There was only time for a few fleeting glances at the tempting pages. All I could skim was that Dr. Freeman Dyson, the physicist author, had detailed his proposal to use atomic bombs to propel a very large space ship to the nearest star, and, at a Flash Gordon speed of up to 1% the speed of light. We did have Star Trek then, so Dyson's ship was just Flash Gordon speed, extremely fast for us, but sci-fi slow.


Quickly skim-reading the article in quick glimpses the whole afternoon, I saw how Dyson would propel his space ship by pounding the back of it with atomic bombs. One huge bomb would explode about a mile behind the huge space ship, one bomb every 3 seconds. The atomic blast would pound a bomb-blast-catcher into shock absorbers and springs. The shock absorbers and springs would cushion the blast and accelerate the huge space ship.


Dyson's description was so simple, it seemed to me we could just go make it tomorrow, if we wanted to.



\ M:\azinc\PROZX\To Inhabit The Solar System\- CHAPTERS drafts\to_occupy_the_solar_system GRAPHICS\graphics\dyson-1968oct-fig-ship.gif.GIF

copied directly  from : Physics Today, October 1968


Freeman Dyson would propel the spaceship to the nearest star

by pounding it with repeating atomic bombs. It was atomic bomb blast propulsion.


Most scientists familiar with the proposal thought it was a bit impractical. Most engineers thought it would not have worked like he said. Dyson was a physicist, not an engineer. A physicist figures the principle of things. An engineer makes things work.


There was a joke:

    If it stinks, it’s Chem Lab.

    If it’s green and slimy it’s Biology Lab.

    If it doesn’t work, it’s Physics Lab.


If you ever tried to do what someone else said was easy and that you should go do it, then you know. You know it was always much easier said than done. Any engineer would tell you how difficult it would be to make Dyson's starship. But, I was a student then and did not know what the "big kids" did.


I do remember this epochal event, that day I got the article, because it really was epochal, for me. It changed everything. Like when someone shot Martin Luther King. I remember where I was, watching the 14 inch round screen color TV in our apartment just before supper. Devastating.  


It tattooed my brain cells like when Jack Kennedy was shot. I remember what boards I was walking across to keep my feet dry between the construction site mud-mess on the university campus. Or when the first Shuttle blew up. Or when Princes Dianna died.  


This Dyson Starship day is a slowly fading brand in my memory.


In those days, using atomic bombs was ok. The Communists were the terrorists then, with real atomic bombs really pointed at every city in the USA, for real. They built an Iron Curtain and they shot people.


Physicists, like some of my professors, invented good atomic bombs, because God was on our side and gave us the bomb first and let us stop World War II with them. Ours were good. Theirs were evil. The Commies were Atheists. That made the Commies bad in the USA, Cleveland and Texas. But, my professors did not talk about it much because it was all Top Secret.



USA atomic bomb


I knew what atomic bombs looked like. Pictures were everywhere.


The communists were going to bomb us with them unless we made our atomic bombs bigger and better than theirs.



atomic bomb


I was ready for escape. We were all ready for escape. Just like now.


I had wanted to find a way to leave the planet from the moment I read the article on Interstellar Transport.


The Interstellar Transport article seemed to be real.


Later that evening I read more. Dyson was presenting calculations.  I read how Dyson really did write how he learned from the secret, atomic bomb tests how to make a starship that could go to the nearest star. What especially caught my eye were the words in his simple figure: "... people and livestock ..."


I read the trip would apparently only take hundreds of years.


"What?" I thought.


The "hundreds of years" was nuts. But I ignored that part.





Credits: Charlou Dolan prompted me as a co-author to write an early version, coaching me carefully on how to write like a neurotypical and not like an Aspie. Neither of us knew "Aspie" at that time. This version is considerably different. Her influence persists.



other interesting chapters/sections recently more refined:


    Cheek on a Megaton Bomb

    Make no long term plans

    Emory's Atomic bomb stories

    Vomit in the Space Ship

    NASA meeting on space and asteroids

    First International Meeting On Killer Asteroids

    The ice would burn

    Bloody Fingernails in Space

    seriously crazy rocket science meeting

    Space Gas Stations Everywhere

   Hazard meeting with Carl Sagan

    Survival_Of The Lucky

    Clear Cutting the Kuiper Belt Comets

    space aliens 10 miles under ...

    Meteor Bomb UFO's

    The Iceship And The NASA Space Meeting

    To Inhabit the Solar System





First Job at the AEC, and the Dyson Starship



When I finally got my Ph.D., Physics doctor degree, I deliberately got a job working for the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). I did that because I wanted to know how to make a starship just like the one Dr. Freeman Dyson described. Also, they were the only ones hiring.


The Dyson Starship would use megaton atomic bombs to propel it. The AEC made just such atomic bombs.


My boss's boss's boss, who hired me, at the AEC laboratory also knew about the Dyson Starship and also wondered how to make one. His name was Dr. Tom Burford. Burford and I talked about it. As soon as I started work, he got me access to the Top Secret documents associated with the work of Freeman Dyson.


In those days the agency was called the AEC. It is now called "Department of Energy.", the DOE.  Some parts of the DOE are another space agency of the United States. There are at least several, not so well known space agencies of the United States. NASA is not the only one. NASA is the adventure one. They do somesaults in space bubble, plant flags and brag. The other ones have to do real work.


You don't like my exaggeration? Too bad. I'm an Aspie.


It seems that most people who don't know me or what I did tell me the only real work NASA does is the deep space science observations. Most people love the Hubble pictures.  They really love the robots on Mars. They despise the zero gravity somersault antics and extremely expensive joy rides. The first time I heard such heresy was on a plane to Seattle for a rocket science meeting. The high paid computer geek young guy sitting next to me loved the robots on Mars. He hated the entire manned program. He shocked me. I did not tell him my job was to develop engines for a manned Mars mission.


One always has a "day job" that you do to get money. One also has a fantasy, a hobby daydream you think about all the time. It's the daydreams that make magic happen. And that is what happened. However, it took a while and was mostly disappointing the entire time. I never got rich either. And I got fired a couple of times. Aspies just have a hard time with social situations, like a boss.


Back in the early 1970's, my first job with the AEC was to analyze beam weapons, like "phasor beams", to shoot atomic bomb-tipped missiles out of the sky. My second job was to work on spy satellites to catch other nations testing or shooting atomic bombs. As a side project, I had quickly maneuvered for one of my first projects to use a kind of Dyson starship propulsion.


My incidental job also included finding ways to get and use energy, such as solar power, fuel cells, geothermal things. That is a totally different story. That one was more profitable.





·         Beam Weapons ... Laser and the Lesson


Laser Beams and Phasor Banks


The beam weapons were a daydream fantasy that many of us had, because the scientists had just perfected lasers and the engineers had just built large subatomic particle accelerators. Both of them appeared to have what you need to make a phasor beam.


"Phasors" were Star Trek language, of course. All the younger scientists and engineers watched Star Trek, even though it was somewhat trite and childish and the acting was bad. We loved it. I related to Spock immediately.


We referred to our work as "directed energy weapons" when we were giving official presentations.


The laser beam weapon started out to be fun, but quickly disappointed me. My boss's boss's boss arranged for me to get a briefing by a Major Axelman regarding a laser phasor beam that would shoot down a fighter jet. That would be really neat. As it turned out, the laser was mounted inside a building as big as 3 houses on a little hilltop in the desert. The little hill was about 2 miles from the side of a small mountain.


Already it was not sounding good. Phasors were little things Captain Kirk and Spock and I could carry with us in our pockets when we land on some alien planet. Something as big as 3 houses would not even fit on an airplane.


Major Axelman said he would put on a face guard helmet and fly the fighter jet between the little hilltop and the small mountain. They would put a target on his airplane and the laser would try to shoot at him.


"What?" I thought, "This guy is nuts."


After they described the laser a bit more, it was clear this would not be a very good phasor beam. The laser was powered by some chemicals. But the chemicals were deadly poison. The laser was only a small prototype and would only heat up the target, not vaporize it, not melt it immediately, not even knock it down. And the engineering details would show that it would not be so easy at all. It was easier said than done.


The laser beam also had to be aimed and focused on the target. My boss's boss paid for a trip for me to see the aimer telescope. At first it was captivating.


We were in one room, watching through a big window.  The workers were in the other room on the other side of the big window, working with the telescope and doing things that looked important. It was a backwards telescope. Instead of looking into the eyepiece, they would shoot the laser beam into the eyepiece. That was clever. The beam came out of the big part of the telescope. Then whatever was at the end of the beam should be vaporized.


The engineers had designed a telescope that would swivel and point fast enough to track a fast fighter jet flying by. The telescope would focus the laser on the fighter jet, and then melt a small, one foot diameter spot on the jet.


"Melt?" I thought, "That's all it will do is melt a small hole?"


This was disappointing. Unfortunately, the laser would never be able to do much more than that, melt the skin of the airplane. And worse yet, during my career, the laser would never be as powerful as the competition.


The competition was just simple, small rockets using real, physical  high explosives. Even a terrorist could fire one from his shoulder.  That was the competition, some rag head with a Stinger missile.


It was fundamental science that stopped it. My boss's boss's colleague, a laser scientist named Dr. Garth Gobeli pointed out that a simple, 1 pound of high explosive would deliver 2.2 million joules of energy in about 5 thousandths of a second to a 3 inch diameter spot on the airplane, and blow an airplane to bits.


Blow it to bits, Vaporize It. That's what we wanted.


The laser power was too small, by comparison. Even 20 years later, the laser would not even be able to deliver 1 million joules. That would be just the energy of less than half of a pound of high explosive. And the laser would take one second to do so, which would be about 200 times slower than the explosive.


In other words, "no blowing anything to bits."


The laser would be as heavy as the heaviest bomb the airplane could ever deliver. The laser was as heavy as a small airplane, was half as energetic and 200 times weaker than a small rocket fired from a fighter jet, or from one of Osama’s buddies.


It was even worse than that. The laser beam had to be focused and aimed by something, an aiming telescope. But the laser was not supposed to blow up that aiming telescope. The telescope would be made of some magical something.


Spock would say that was illogical, hard to figure. If they could find that magical something that a laser won't blow up, then the bad guys could coat their airplane with that same magical something and not be blown up. This was quite illogical.


And there was more bad news. The laser  beam also had to go through the air between the laser and the airplane, and not blow up the air. If the laser was powerful enough to blow up airplane skin, then it would also blow up the air in between. The air would flash and !bam! like lightning, and would sap and drain laser energy.


There did not seem to be any way around it. It just was not working out.


This first phasor beam fantasy was down the drain, for me


Weaponization of Nuclear Explosives


------- Tom Burford and the Orion Documents -------


Our mission: make weapons out of nuclear explosives.


Sandia gave everyone I knew who worked here least one safe certified to hold atomic secrets. Like every new hire, I got to choose what kind of safe I wanted when I got my dictionary, ruler and scissors.  I picked two secret safes, a big, cabinet-style metal document safe and a little cabinet safe. You had to buy your own slide rule.


The small safe was like a two drawer file cabinet, but with 2 inch steel sides, front, top and bottom, and a big, 4 inch combination lock wheel, with a handle thing to open it.  It made me feel important.


The big safe was just a metal file cabinet with metal doors. Two metal bars and a pair of fat, 2 pound, combination locks kept the metal file doors from opening.  This safe was taller than me and wider than a big refrigerator, but only one document deep.


I fully expected to have both safes filled to bursting with Atomic Bomb secrets very soon.  Then I could make a Starship.


It was the politics protocol I didn't follow, and was too naive to realize it.


The obvious protocol was that one does not just go visit with the boss's boss's boss. One is not supposed to go over each of the in-between guy's heads.


Rather instantly, in the first few days Dr. Tom Burford, the boss's boss's boss, and I started talking. He was the only one in the chain of command who thought about things, strategically, philosophically.


The other guys just didn't know that much, I thought. They didn't act like they were driven by any vision or strategy. So I intellectually ignored them.


Burford and I were standing and looking out his second floor, north facing office windows at the Sandia mountains to the east.  Burford was a "Director" working for a Vice President, so he got a 25 foot long run of window, stretching the entire length of his office.


Because he came from Bell Labs, the famous AT&T Bell Labs where transistors were invented and where people won Nobel Prizes often, and because he did some really important work with U.S. Navy underwater acoustics, his long window also faced the best view.


Whenever I visited him, which was many times a week, we both could not resist stopping a second or two to look out those windows. 


You think Big Thoughts better when you see Big Things, mountains, The Layers of Time in the rock strata.


We could see the February snow outlining the rock layers on both the southern and northern Sandia mountain peaks, and we could see ridges along the 15 mile long desert mountain range rising a mile above the already mile-high floor of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mountains marked the east boundary of the city.


The cold outside was so desert-dry and clear we could almost see the branches on old, stubborn ancient pinon trees clinging to sheer, 500 foot rock faces 10 miles away at the top of the mountain.


Burford would most often hold his head down a little and to the side, and slightly manipulate his Pall Mall cigarette, mostly without smoking it. Slightly thin, darker hair, black rimmed glasses, and clean shaven, he always wore a pressed darker suit, never looked disheveled and always seemed to be smiling.


"Did anybody ask you yet if they have to get a passport to visit you?" he joked.


Apparently, some people from back east really were that stupid.  Some acted like Albuquerque was in Mexico, which is a whole different country starting a few hundred miles south of here.


Burford, the person who made the decision to hire me, seemed to be the only one who had that intense, intellectual curiosity, like the people at the university. The rest of the people I met here were smart enough, but they just seem to plod and do work. They didn't think about things.


He smiled and raised his eyebrows. "You know, you can see the geological layers quite well, with the snow outlining them." he said.  "That top layer on South Peak is Late Pleistocene." he asserted.  He knew I liked fossils. He seemed to understand the timelessness and infinity of existence one can see in the fossils.


Actually, I suspected he was planning a neat field trip to that prehistoric-human cave on the other side of the mountain, with a parking area just off the road and 500 feet from the cave entrance. This was a cave that we could actually crawl into, legally. The pollen in the dust on the cave floor and the fire pit way deep inside had enough layers to be dated to something like 14,000 years ago. That was pre-historic man, long before the Indians.


The tip of South peak exposed a 500,000 year record in the Late Pleistocene rock layers. 


"Humans were just learning to make good spears and fire pits when that layer was laid down." he said.


Our silent, 1 second stares at the mountain clearly expressed our deep, thoughts. At least I thought they were deep. I was thinking about Starships and 1000 year trips in space. 


He was probably thinking he could not get his Mercedes Benz close enough to the South Peak to walk to the peak in a half hour on a Sunday afternoon.  There was no road to South Peak like there was to North Peak.


It was a nice break, with the timelessness of the layers of rock in the formation on the mountain, like tree rings capturing 500,000 years of time.


We were supposed to be making weapons of mass destruction. Instead, we were watching snow fall on a mountainside, and talking about fossils. Feeling guilty, we always got back to work pretty fast. Work was mostly exciting.


This laboratory weaponized nuclear explosives.  We took the nuclear explosives the Los Alamos scientists invented and made weapons out of them. 


"What do you think we can do with a nuclear explosive?"  he asked, posing the general concept of trying to figure out how to do something really AT&T-like, Nobel-prize like.


He stared out his window again, holding that cigarette, with the fire end pointed away from him and like he was about to flick the ash off.


"Did you ever hear of the Orion Program? The Atomic bomb powered starship?" I asked.


It was  an outlandish question, quite a bit out of the blue, and completely unrelated to ballistic missiles or weapon effects.


I fully expected he would just not care, and that he would know nothing of the program at all. But I had to try.


"Oh yes, quite impressive.  You heard about that, eh?" he replied, smiling, grinning almost.


"What?"  shouted a loud surprised voice in my head, receiving an instant reward for asking a bold, outlandish question.


"You did?" I answered. This is the first time I met anyone in two years who even heard of it.


"It was really quite impressive.  They actually did some experiments to find out how it could work, with high explosives.  It was kind of cute how the tiny rocket actually worked." he explained. 


"Really," I responded, my neuron circuits jammed, not knowing which of many questions to ask next. He started talking about Dyson's Orion Starship all on his own. I did not have to prod him or coach him about it.


Burford continued, motioning with steady and very mildly graphic, Italian-like gestures how the rapid fire explosives pushed the rocket. I never heard of this before.




His gestures and mannerisms were the opposite of emotional.  My gestures and mannerisms were typically the opposite of his.


As Burford was telling me about the "Orion Test" I realized that instead of real atomic bombs at the real Nevada Test Site, with a real fireball hitting a real atomic bomb catcher, he was talking about a toy rocket loaded with sticks of dynamite.


Instant disappointment.


I thought he was going to tell me they fired some real atomic bombs at a real atomic bomb catcher. But he didn't. All he described were just non-nuclear tests, with high explosives. 


All I could think of while he was talking was "bunch of boys shooting firecrackers under tin cans." Their excuse to waste the money was that they were demonstrating that you could blow up a bunch of bombs behind a rocket and push it.


! Dumb. Stupid !


He was describing some kind of engineering effort, but I was seeing a cartoon story. Every word he said created another picture. A small, toy rocket,  a basket of hand grenades, sticks of dynamite. First dynamite stick blasts it into the sky. Whacks the toy rocket into the air, like it was hit with a hypersonic baseball bat.

Rocket flies off in some direction; like a fly ball; not like a rocket that goes in a well defined direction, but just somewhere. "Rocket" disappears. Just like I would expect something to be if it were on top of a stick of dynamite.  Split second just after the first stick: the second stick goes off. Whacks the rocket in some other random, wild direction. 

Then they all sit around a dark room playing a movie where we see the toy rocket disappear, and they all clap. 


What a disappointment. All I could feel was:

     Not impressive at all.

    What horribly un-visionary experiments. 


But Tom Burford calmly and casually kept on talking, "General Atomics did it. You can get the Secret documents from the Classified library."


"Are they about nuclear things?" I asked, meaning "are they about atomic bombs, or just dynamite firecrackers," and anticipated he would say "No," meaning "just firecrackers."


I already knew I would go away disappointed and would drop the topic forever.  He had just destroyed my Vision of Dyson's Orion Starship.


"Oh yes," he replied.




 "You can go over to that double story building, attached to the library, and get the documents from the Classified  library,"  he said, looking out his window and pointing to the small building across the sidewalk and main road between the buildings.   "You can look them over in your office."


He made it very clear: he was telling me that I should definitely go right now and get the classified documents and definitely read about it.


Not only did he know about the Orion program, he knew where to get the nuclear, secret part of the story. He understood.


This was completely unexpected.


He knew very well that our Sandia Lab could implement the atomic bomb propulsion if we needed to.  He could decide to make something of it if he wanted.


"You think we could find a way to use it? um?" he smiled as he posed his question like a comment.


I was elated.  I thought how wonderful it was that he did not pontificate or mandate that we do it, like some arrogant, aggressive boss.  Instead, he commented it, softly. He often ended his sentences with a combination "um?" phrase, a light chuckle and a smile.




He just told me to go learn about Dyson’s Orion Starship. I knew I had gone to work at the right place.


I walked around his dark wood conference table.


“You know, the Orion really could take us to the nearest star. It’s amazing. We actually did put someone on the moon." I emoted, like a wide eyed graduate student, almost stuttering.


 "I didn't really think we would be able to do it." I blurted again, meaning "go to the moon."


He smiled and replied "Yeah, it is pretty amazing. Exciting."


As I walked out of his office I almost talked to myself embarrassingly aloud. "I can and I will just march across the street and get super secret Orion Starship documents."


I thought this almost audibly, moving my lips.   I almost forgot to say "bye" to Helen, his secretary. I always acknowledged her.


"Burford will tell them to give them to me," I almost audibly said again, almost aloud talking to myself some more, perseverating and staring at the sidewalk, walking with a side to side wagging of my head in step with my gait, unaware of anyone around me, as I headed straight for the library.


I really was just a young kid. Bright, but quite Aspie.




Classified Library


The classified library was just a bunch of memos and documents in a big, two floor room. I expected a "LIBRARY," with mysterious books. I expected high-secret protocol, with a deep underground chamber, protected from atomic bomb blasts and bad guys. I expected something intimidating, with serious credential checking and military uniforms.


I imagined how I would very importantly tell them "Burford told me to get these documents." And then they would obediently and very reverently go get them. 


Instead, I walked into a brightly lit room about the size of two gasoline station garages, and just as spacious. The metal second floor was clearly visible from the metal first floor, and all I saw was rows of metal bookshelves.


Some of the metal was painted that light creamy color and not that poo green or military gray, so it looked somewhat like office space and not a garage or a military depot. That was the positive feature. This was a very bright room.


Not many books. Just documents. All kinds of documents. There were about 6 female helpers who knew where all the documents were and how to find out if I had access to them.


This place was not a library at all. It was a storage room for all kinds of studies plain old regular people wrote.


I found it quite simple to get the documents on the classified version of the Orion Starship. The intelligent females helped. They even knew I had the right access without asking me.


The one nice thing about the classified library I really liked was that I didn't have to carry the classified documents myself. They carried them for me. Special couriers delivered whatever secret documents anyone wanted to the important person's office.


The couriers transported the documents in a special, metal, classified courier cart from wherever to wherever, inside the guarded area.  The couriers checked to make sure the document-taker had the correct secret access. They would not give up the documents until whoever took them personally signed that they took them out of their hands.


All I had to do was tell the smart ladies what I wanted, and it would be delivered to my desk.


When I got back from the Classified Library I blabbed and blabbed to Marylee, our 40 year old, smart secretary, about what these documents could mean.


"That's pretty impressive." she remarked, looking directly at me with a bright smile through glasses that made her eyes seem bigger than they were. I liked her from the moment she looked at me on my first interview. You might say I hit on her every chance I got.  I could really feel her intense intellectual stimulation.


-------  The Orion Documents ----------------


It seemed like this whole pile of "Secret Restricted Data" documents about the Orion space ship didn't take up more than a foot or so of my metal cabinet safe. I really expected more.  


A foot of documents is not very much space in that metal cabinet safe. My save was mostly empty. A mere foot of documents was not very many for a topic so important. 


Once I started talking in the open about Dyson's Orion, another guy appeared and said he heard of it.  "In The Open", of course, meant in a secret building and with people having Secret , Restricted Data clearances.  What he told me, however, was no secret, according to him.


I forgot his name as he was telling me who he was. He told me there was a secret military program based on the Orion, and they were so serious, he even read about some of the detail on how they would assign a Career Officer, for the people who would be on the space base. ¿ No secret? Ok.


After talking to him, I expected these documents would describe a Permanent Space Station military base, between here and the moon, just like he said.


I was looking for it. I couldn't find it. I looked again. I still couldn't find it or any reference to it or any reference to conversations to it. I looked again the next day. I couldn't find anything interesting at all in these documents.


I skimmed them a few times over, stopping at the pictures and figures.  I was confident I didn't miss anything, and puzzled that I just couldn't find the Great Plans for a Great Spaceship Battle Station between the Moon and Earth, like that fellow told me.  I couldn't even find a picture or drawing of a big space station or spaceship propelled by bombs.  The best I could find was depressingly completely feeble. All I saw were a bunch of detailed, boring things. There were almost no secret things that I would have to forget if I ever left this Secret environment. 


I imagined what I would think 30 years from now. Most of this would be too boring to remember. There wasn't anything interesting here to remember. 


I was completely disappointed. The most imaginative thing I could find in the documents was a cartoon-like engineer's sketch of a guy sitting in one of two chairs in some kind of roomy cabin. The chair was not even drawn very well. It was just a sketch and nothing like a John Glenn space chair.  The driver fellow was shown in a simple sketch drawing to be sitting on the top floor. The two floors below him looked like empty small rooms in the back of a big truck. And the basement was full of barrel shaped containers stacked on top of each other like beer kegs, representing atomic bombs to power the ship. 


I was scrutinizing this drawing. It showed a really dinky and clearly horribly inefficient atomic bomb propulsion device.  Nothing like what Freeman Dyson drew.  In fact, it seemed to be drawn in a truly childlike way. The design seemed to be really dumb, like something one of my fraternity brothers would draw up in between periods of getting drunk.  This design looked like the whole set of secret documents were created by a non-believer, non-interested engineer doing a quick project for some marketer who snockered a dumb government bureaucrat out of some money. It looked like the guy in charge needed somebody, anybody, to do the work. It looked like the designer considered the whole concept to be something that some impractical professors suggested.


Why did the designers make it so inefficient? I calculated a horrible small percent efficiency. Didn't they understand?


¿¿Secret?? Every paragraph in a classified document began with some code for its classification. Unclassified. Confidential. Secret. Something.


Not a single thing I cared about or needed or wanted was marked secret or classified or confidential in any way. Huh???


Burford liked the idea that I wanted to look into it. He liked the concept of creating a technology that would enable people go to the nearest star. Bell Labs expected this kind of "imaginative." Bell Labs' ATT were in charge of this place. Burford was clearly a bit Visionary. 


But this document was just plain deficient. I wondered if I really did have all the documents. I visited the classified library again, and a very wide-awake and competent lady re-assured me: this is everything on the topic and everything related to it.


This was not the only disappointment.


The Sandia Lab was an atomic weapon factory. I was definitely sure I did not like it here. Dr. Tom Burford was the only guy in my chain of command who came from Bell Labs. It was quickly clear that Burford was the only one up the entire chain of command who knew anything.


Bell Labs was the place where people earned Nobel Prizes, for inventing things like the transistor. Burford treated me like someone from Bell Labs and expected me to invent things worthy of such a prize.  He understood.


And the rest of these guys were just war mongers.





--------------  Cheek on A Megaton Bomb -------------



Tom Burford asked me "would you like to visit a mountain full of atomic bombs?" He was talking about one of the places where the United States stored some of them. Burford knew that if we wanted to make an Orion Starship propelled by megaton atomic bombs, we ought to at least see what a megaton bomb looked like.  He arranged for us to visit an air base where the United States stored some of the old time bombs. This was our job, to work with the bombs and talk to those who deploy them. Since that was an important job, we were given unlimited air fare and travel allowance to visit wherever we need.  We were Important.


The location of the old time atomic bomb mountain was close to a city  whose name I am not supposed to reveal, confirm or deny. The mountain seemed to be so close to the city that if just one of them would blow up, it would completely wipe it out. 


When I asked a person who was pumping gas into our car if he thought there were any atomic bombs in that mountain, he said "Sure, big ones, lots of them."


I thought it was a secret, so I didn't confirm or deny what I had not yet seen.


His face expressions and his comments scared me just like he wanted. I think he could tell I was a young, gullible out-of-towner.


All I could think of on my way to the mountain was what it would be like: first a flash, then being dead. I could not stop pondering how it would be to be living normal lives, walking around, talking to someone, and then

--- suddenly without warning

--- Nothing, Vaporized, Dead. Totally Gone.


No commotion, no screaming, no moment of terror, just suddenly becoming white hot vapor. These were megaton bombs we were talking about.


We went to the air base in suits, and we were greeted by layers of full-uniform U.S. Air Force officers checking to be sure who we were.


I expected careful protocol, and they complied.  Confident teenagers with machine guns surrounded us, everywhere.  I don't know if they were teenagers, but they looked like it and were certainly younger than me, and they were all seriously armed and in their full battle fatigues. 


We also had to go through layers of guards and multiple, clearly marked, clearly scary electric fences in a somewhat desert area where if we looked carefully we could see mountain tops 100 miles away all along the horizon.  We finally arrived at the entrance of one of the mountains. We passed the final identification test, and the armed teenagers let us inside the tunnel entrance.


Now more teenagers with machine guns and more officers with important looks on their faces escorted us.  Inside the mountain we went through several more gates and secret doors.  Deep inside we finally got to a rather poorly lit room with a low ceiling and the floor space of perhaps the size of 10 garages. I could not really see how big. It was inside a tunnel, so it could not be that big.  The room was full, stuffed, with what look like very long bombs, big bombs on carts with 6 or 8 inch metal wheels. The atomic bombs seemed to be so big they looked like they would not fit underneath a B-52 bomber.  There could have been 10 bombs in there, or 3, or 30.  I won't say, even if there were 100 in there. And, I could not brag that I knew because I only saw one next to me.  I was not able not count them because the whole place was so cramped and people were talking.


None of this part was secret, but I won't tell, either. I might even try to deceive, just to play the game the way it is supposed to be played, the way some of Burford's people taught me. One of them came with us.  And one thing I would say to impress people: there were at least a couple of those big bombs in there.


I just could not resist doing something that I knew I would certainly remember.  No, I would not pee on a bomb.  We were in suits and escorted, and I didn't know what those teenagers with guns would do to a bomb pee-er.


It was just instinct. I put my cheek against one of the more-than-one megaton bombs.  I listened carefully for ticking or humming.  "I don't hear any ticking," I said to Tom Burford.  He chuckled. It was  a line from a movie "The Mouse That Roared". Then I tried to measure bomb by wrapping my arms around it. Of course, I couldn't.  It seemed wider than a pickup truck. I jokingly asked one of the guides "This thing looks so big it won't fit in the bomb bay of the B-52, will it?" 


He laughed and said "No, it doesn't."


 I was totally surprised. I was only guessing when I asked him the question.


"They attach it on the outside, and they can't close the bomb bay doors, even to take off." he asserted. 


"So, what do you do with it?" I asked, quite seriously. 


"We count it." he laughed, quite seriously.


This was the Cold War, and Megatons counted.  Here was a room with many, many Mega-tons to count.


These things are too damn big to put 3 million of them into a rocket ship like Freeman Dyson had in that article I read in Physics Graduate School. I don't know if Freeman Dyson ever got to visit this room. He should have.  They should bring him here.


Burford did say this visit would be interesting.


The emotion I felt somewhat discouraged me. I could feel it nagging me:


           The bombs are too big.







------------    An Evil Weapon  ---------------


I guess it was really obvious I didn't think my boss's boss, who worked for Burford, knew very much. I was young.  I was 26 and I had a brand new Ph.D. in Physics. My behavior was a bit more obvious, a bit less transparent than I thought, and I didn't realize it. I was not as smart as I thought.


Since I talked directly to our boss's boss's boss at random, the guys in between gave me a long leash and let me do whatever Burford and I talked about.  My boss, Bill Goodlaffer, listened carefully to what I claimed the Orion rocket could do. Goodlaffer could figure pretty well.  He listened well, too. He remembered important, key facts. 


He told his boss, Bob Kadiddlehopper, what I said.  The both of them wanted to have someone in their group design a super fast missile, so they could look smart. They wanted some weapon delivery system that could reach some far-away enemy target faster than the Commie Pinko Rapist Atheists at the other end could get out of bed to push their retaliation missile buttons. 


But I didn't like what I heard.


Bill Goodlaffer kept saying things about the Vietnamese and the war that disturbed me. His actions and words verified to me that he was one of those Vietnam War Monger murderers, a Nazi. I thought Goodlaffer was a mobster helping that thug Mayor Daley of Chicago and his completely Un-American police riot at the 1968 Democratic Party convention. I believed that Goodlaffer was an accomplice in the same gang as those National Guard murderers at Kent State,.


Goodlaffer clinched it with the task he told me to perform. He wanted me to analyze a way to drag an unshielded  nuclear reactor behind an airplane.  He said we could "kill the gooks with radiation, " they would fly by, dangling this gamma neutron sparkler behind.


He drew this picture on his chalk board of an airplane with a nuclear reactor dragging on a long cable. He said I should imagine a little biplane towing a banner saying "Eat at Joe's Bar," only the biplane was a B52 bomber and the banner would read "Eat this, you Commie Bastard" as it would spew killer radiation on the ground as it moved along.  He laughed.


"Can you imagine," he chuckled. "The gooks would just fall over. Can't you just see it?" he fantasized out loud, with a bit of glee at how clean the battle would be and how we, he and his guys, what he thought were the good guys, would get to fly away victorious.  He daydreamed out loud, assuming I would be like the four other guys in his group who I could see also had this Nazi tendency. They heard him talking about this and laughed with him.


Maybe the view out his window affected his mind. His second story window had no view at all. His north-facing window viewed the painted, light blue-white and dirty, open-to-the-sky eating area in the center the building, next to where they sold cold-fat, flat, soft French fries and shoe leather hamburgers at noon.


He was standing between me and the window, holding his coffee cup at chest height like he often did, almost blocking the door, with Marylee behind me.  I didn't like it. He said I should analyze towing an unshielded nuclear reactor connected to a glider towed by a long cable behind some suitable airplane.


"Figure a way to make it work. Write a nice report about it." he instructed me, his subordinate.


I could not do it. I just seemed to never getting around to finishing that evil analysis. I was ignoring it. It was too awful. I kept stressing out, about how Goodlaffer was evil.


I guess he wasn't evil. But the Viet Nam war was going on. Traitors did have control of the USA. He was lining up with the wrong guys, guys at the top ordering war crimes just like Hitler and Mussolini.


I found it curious how on the one hand I thought we should stop killing Vietnamese immediately, and on the other hand, at the same time, that we should nuke that Commie city of Hanoi, and make the murderers quit, right now, instantly. I was stressing, and kept thinking, almost aloud as my face puckered, "And we should try President Lyndon Johnson for  Treason. And his accomplices, with him. We should try these traitors in charge of our government like we tried the Nazi's at Nuremberg. Same thing. These government right wing extremist traitors are killing 30,000 guys my age, for no reason."


Goodlaffer was a friendly, professional, and sincere fellow. He was actually a good person. And he liked nuclear explosives, like I did. But he happened to be on the side of those anti-Constitution, evil thugs.


But to me an Aspie, this was perfectly logical.


I think it's an Aspberger, "Aspie" trait, to be able to hold contradictory, mutually exclusive concepts together. My thinking would be illogical to Neurotypicals (NT's). I could keep elements containing apparent contradictions separate. NT's could not.

 Dr. Spock of Star Trek would understand completely. It was logical.


I am a tree hugger, and I love wood furniture and wood decks and hardwood floors.  Stop the war immediately, stop killing people in another country that is not attacking you, and nuke their capital. My boss talks like a Nazi war criminal, and I think he is a good person.  Aspie's can do this.


That is probably why I can be a Democrat and a Republican at the same time, a hippie and a conservative at the same time.


But this Atomic Bomb Weaponization Facility was not my place. I felt it. I knew it. I suffered anxiety attacks over it. A recurring emotion came over me every day as I drove to work, every time I entered the gate:


     These guys are Nazi's. I want out.







----- Beat your Plowshares into Weapons --------


"Could you deliver a big enough bomb to blow up the whole Commie Evil Kingdom all at once?" he asked me, seriously curious. He liked those kinds of phrases. He laughed. I laughed too. It was kind of funny. If we weren't in Viet Nam and the evil traitors were not in charge of the USA, I might like the guy.  Goodlaffer had a likeability, even if his office was rather small.


"How fast does it have to go?" I asked.


"Faster than they can push the button." he snapped back.  Fast mind.


We all laughed.  Goodlaffer was practical, and had a good sense of humor. He was still a Nazi. He was on Mayor Daly's side. Those fellows were Pigs, traitors, and bad. But he was sharp.


We had just finished a loud, hallway conversation where I boasted about atomic bomb propulsion that would make a space ship go "0.1 c,"  a tenth of a percent of the speed of light. I asserted how we humans could send a space ship to the nearest star, with atomic bombs pushing the ship. Huge payloads. A whole town, with livestock.


"I've got the documents in my safe," I asserted. I had hoped that there was still something buried, something I had not gotten to read about yet in the foot of documents, something that would show me how Dyson figured it.


Marylee Brighteye, our secretary, whose voice seemed to go straight into a particular primitive part of my mind whenever I heard her say anything, and whose body made me have involuntary lust thoughts the from first day I saw her, she laughed at Goodlaffer's quick wit. She seemed impressed. This was Big Time Inventions. 


She was 40. I was 26. My wife Terri was way hotter than Marylee, so this was all mind twitter.


I could see how much Marylee was digging it, being there and part of the group of us talking about fast rockets and space ships, and humans leaving earth to populate another solar system. She was smiling and standing up from her desk and looking at us all like that was more fun than any of these guys have had in a while.


This place was usually a pretty boring, sleepy System Analysis Division. 


I knew personally how it was a sleepy, boring place. Goodlaffer's guys did a lot of Really Boring detailed analyses here. They did the kinds of analyses that made one nod and bob one's head with a strong need to sleep, in one's office in front of one's desk in one's warm room all by yourself in the middle of the afternoon.  I knew first hand.


We would be answering questions of deeply head-nodding significance, like "How often should you replace the vacuum tubes on a spare nuclear bomb part you keep in storage, given that you never use it and only intend to use it to blow up Commie missile silos, but only if they shoot first, and only if you had to use the spare vacuum tube thing?"  




Another Systems Analysis question: "What is the best way to bomb a Commie navy harbor if you only have 12 atomic bombs and 3 different, somewhat unreliable rockets that can lob up to 8 bombs apiece?"  


All I could think of for that stuff was "It's warm in this room. I ate too much for lunch."


Bob Kadiddlehopper, Goodlaffer's boss, was standing by Marylee's desk. He often stood around here and would casually ask key questions. He didn't know any answers. He just asked if we could do this or that, or if some other thing was possible. Most of his questions were Top Secret. He didn't know very much science and the only kinds of  questions he asked were just sanity checks. He only remembered what people told him about engineering answers.


On the other hand, he really did know how to ask those damn pointed questions.


Kadiddlehopper always made it a point to talk to smart guys. I guess that is why he got to be boss.  So he stood there, looking at me, and then asked the question.


"Could you deliver a nuclear weapon to Russia in 2 minutes?" he asked me.


My brain wheels were turning.


Kadiddlehopper's question translated into a need for something that went through the sky at just about ten times faster than any rocket anyone knew how to make. Everything else took 20 minutes, he wanted 2.


"Yep. That's what Orion does. Faster than anything," I said, blurting it out immediately, thinking "Dyson Starship."


I thought those words in a flash, and I immediately blurted them out, with my mouth engaged before my brain even thought about it.


"Can you really do that?," Kadiddlehopper asked.


Hesitating, my involuntary face expressions revealing that I just blurted it out without thinking first, because I knew I stepped right into it, I answered "I don't know. I 'd have to figure it."


 I was at least smart enough to ask for more time.


"What would it take to find out?" Kadiddlehopper asked me.


"Oh, some figuring. I have all the Orion documents in my safe," I replied, pointing to my office and the big metal cabinet safe with a foot of puzzling analyses.


"Ok, why don't you go calculate what kind of payload you could deliver," Goodlaffer broke in.


As my direct boss, he commanded me to do it. This might have been a set-up, but I was too Ph.D. to notice.


Goodlaffer's question of "Faster than they can push the button." should have caused me to slow down and think a bit.  But I didn't listen to my mind.  I really should have thought about this.


But all I could think of when Kadiddlehopper asked me the question was an excuse to work on Dyson's Orion Starship Propulsion, for real.


Another excuse to do this is that that a super fast rocket to kill murdering, Totalitarian Communists would be a very good thing.


In a flash, I emoted, I felt the images of how those Stalinist Pigs had hundreds of multi-megaton bombs aimed at us, right now, right at my home in Albuquerque.  I felt how they were evil. I recalled the images of how the communists killed people all the time, for no reason. I thought of what they did in China, and Russia, wherever they occupied.


The fact was, I would do anything to get to work on the Starship engine.


"See if you can get there faster than they can respond," he clarified. Goodlaffer was somewhat smiling.


He had studied physics at some point. So, you could understand how he really would propose far out, totally impractical things.


"How fast is that?" I asked.


"Two minutes," he replied.


"Damn," I thought. Now I had to do it. Fourty years later I wondered if these guys were playing with me. I am still a bit slow.


But, this was my excuse, and I was going to use it. I proceeded to figure how to make a weapon powered by Dyson's Orion rocket.  I would have to learn how big and how small one could make an atomic bomb. I had a perfect reason to go find out all I ever wanted to know about atomic bomb propulsion. I could feel the excitement of what I had a good excuse to do. All I could feel was "Boy is this neat."


This project allowed me to ask any secret question I wanted. I had a Q Clearance, Sigma 3. Heavy Duty. Off I went.


Goodlaffer opened up his metal phone number indexer thing and gave me the names of a handful of people.


He authorized me to talk to them, "anything I wanted to know," he said. This was a blank check.


All I had to do was figure out how to deliver a bomb big enough to wipe out the entire Evil Empire all at once, and do so faster than they could respond.


How big a bomb? As much as we had in silos, probably, all in one bomb.


Within hours of my asking, someone showed me how we could almost certainly make a 5000 Megaton bomb -- a Gigaton bomb. When I asked how big it would be, physically big, I didn't like the answer. It would be so big that no airplane could even budge it, let alone fly it. 


"I see, you can make an atomic bomb bigger a whole lot more easily than you can make it smaller"  I remarked, summarizing.


After a lot of secret talking and figuring and documents and estimates, I thought I might have insulted the guys when I summarized all that serious work. My statement sounded like just plain common sense to me, I thought. 


I learned that small atomic bombs waste precious atomic explosive, like plutonium.  Everybody knew that. Even bad guys.  But I did not know that it was unclassified that bombs waste a lot.


The minor nuance here was that "small" meant "megaton."




"Megaton" blows up the whole city of Albuquerque, all at once. It was no wonder people like me were scared out of our minds about atomic war.  


Focus. This was all about Starships. Focus. The whole exercise was about starships, space ships. I had to keep reminding me of that.


I had to learn about spy satellite procedures first.  I had to learn what the Bad Guys would need to go through to decide to push the Kill-The-World Launch-Button, if they saw us launch. 


It was fun doing this. I sketched the scenario, trying to figure out how much time I had to deliver the weapon.


The Bad Guys, the Commie Atheists, would be sitting there by their secret TV consoles deep inside one of those Russian police states, watching the U.S.A. from space, with special, heat sensitive TV cameras.  The heat-sensing space spy TV would see the bright, white hot plume of our rocket launch, immediately. Even the worst spy satellite, one that a backward nation could launch, would immediately be able to see a rocket launch.


This was easy technology, especially for the Bad Guys. 


Our rocket exhaust was really bright. The rocket had to be that powerful to lift the payload to 100 miles above earth. The exhaust from anybody's rocket was typically brighter than 100  million watts. So, the Bad Guys would easily and definitely see it on their spy TV.  It's a 100 Million watt light bulb.


The Bad Guys are my target people.  As soon as the Target People sitting by their secret consoles would get the message from the spy satellite TV that the Attackers, the Good Guys, are launching, the Target People have to decide: Is the Attacker launching a moon rocket, a spy satellite, a communication satellite, or are they launching an attack on us, the Victims?


Since the Attacker's rocket, ICBM's, won't arrive at their target for another 20 minutes, the Victims have about that long to decide whether or not to push their Retaliation Button.


If they push the Retaliation Button when all we were doing is launching a communication satellite, then they would start a nuclear war that would blow up the world.  Big Decision.


On the other hand, if there were some kind of Crisis, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they did NOT press the retaliation button, they would be destroyed by atomic bombs and we would get away with it. That would be a Tough Decision.


After an hour of worrying about that, I gave up all that what-if-ing this or what-about-ing that and just asked Goodlaffer. 


"What is the longest time I have to deliver the weapon?" I asked Bill Goodlaffer. I wanted as much time as he would let me have. That would let me make a slower rocket.


"Are you going to blow up all of Western Russia all at once?" he joked.


"Yeah," I answered, because that was the whole idea for this exercise. It also meant I would have to deliver a 5,000 megaton bomb.


Incidentally, the bomb would weigh as much as a big space ship with 100 people in it, headed for Neptune.


"2 minutes." he replied, authoritatively.  "2 minutes from us to Russia. Special gift delivered super fast." he joked, nodding his head. He really liked the idea of a super fast, super Top Secret super weapon.  They kept saying "2 minutes". Fourty years later I realize I was the fool who agreed to the stupid "2 minutes," and they were playing it back to me, sticking it to me every chance they got.


"If you take any longer than that, it won't be a surprise. They might launch their rockets and blow us up," he explained, just like any good Systems Analyst would figure.


As I look back on this interaction, nearly 40 years later, I recall it really was exactly like this. Strange that I would remember snippets of the words he used, the way he said them.


The emotion of working on things that could wipe out entire nations in a flash, was real. It was intense. No one took it lightly. Perhaps that is why I remembered it so vividly.


In any case, that was fine. The fact was that if we wanted to be sure the Bad Guys could not fight back, then Goodlaffer's "faster than they can push the button" could mean "faster than the time it takes for their spy satellite to radio down the data."


That would be faster than anything, and faster than Freeman Dyson and his Orion can deliver and faster than anything I can think of.  That's as fast as the speed of light.


I decided to stick with Goodlaffer's "2 minutes to Russia."


This was all about Starships. I had to keep reminding myself.


The payload bomb that I was supposed to deliver would be a bit big, I figured. I was estimating the payload size. To blow up all of the Commie missile fields all at once meant the bomb had to be 5000 Megatons, at least, maybe bigger. Actually, that 5000 Megatons would not be big enough. The unclassified manual shows how bigger bombs get less and less effective. But I had never read anything about bombs.


When I estimated how big, physically, this bomb might be, I got "about the size of a big house"  The 5000 megaton bomb would be at least that big. Maybe as big as an auditorium, like where the high school basketball game is held.  Maybe that would be about the right size.


Nobody much figured my bomb, the details. It was just a paper exercise, and everybody knew it. I could somewhat tell. We were just "the Systems Analysts" to the serious engineers who actually did real things like weaponize nuclear ordnance. I did not realize they were just tossinig me random numbers.


But I could feel the excitement, because this payload was the same weight as a starship space ship.

I started talking to myself. Whispers actually came out of my mouth as I sat at my desk. My emotions clearly enunciated. I stared at the desk, looked at my work, and quietly talked:

   ""But I can't tell anyone the details.

   This is secret work.

   I'm screwed.""


   ""I gotta find out if it works.""


I saw myself standing at the head of Burford's heavy desk,  with Kadiddlehopper and Goodlaffer sitting there listening reverently to every word I say. And then very, very authoritatively I tell them the true clue.


At my desk, staring at my work, but daydreaming vividly of us in Burford's office, whispers came out of my mouth.


   ""We're the only guys who will know how this works.

   All we can tell the people is

       "This is a space ship that can take us to Saturn.""


They all knew that's the way it is when you are doing Top Secret work. They nodded their heads, agreeing.


Snap. Back to figuring. "A megaton atomic bomb weighs about 1000 lbs," according to Freeman Dyson in his "Interstellar Transport" paper.  I learned an accurate weight of one bomb in one of the secret documents. But "1000" was easier to figure, especially since Dyson used it. It did not matter.


I talked to myself some more, but this time only the voice in my head was speaking.

     ""If I tell anyone any  real number, I might get me into big trouble. 

       I don't want trouble.

       I want to make an Orion Starship."


Secrets dominated. How could I tell everyone and still not tell secrets?


I just could not keep myself from fantasizing, getting distracted.  I recalled a stimulating interaction I just had with a crew cut, bearded mathematician, Dr. Gustavus Simmons. Gus told me "Bad guys will talk to you all day just to get one number from you."


I blankly stared at the dull wall, as if looking right through the metal door with no window. I was promoted an all metal office by myself, lit with bright fluorescent lights, with a North-facing window outshining the lights. My window was way worse than Goodlaffer's. Mine was narrow and dirty, really dirty.


The situation of me telling people only what I would be allowed to tell them, and no more, took over the daydream fantasy.

     ""A 1000 pounds to make a megaton.

       You can go look up that one yourself.""


I was on a podium, answering questions from some Journalists. Some were friendly. Some were not.

       "You, commie."

I said, with emotion.


        "You're a third world terrorist.," I said, looking right at the bastard.


        "You can just go find all kinds of official and unofficial numbers about nuclear weapons yourself.

        I'm not telling you." I said.


I was authoritatively sparing with the evil spies. 


I sure told them off. 


I knew I really could not talk about this outside of the security area. And I had to talk to someone, an intellectual someone. So I took a break and went to talk with Gus Simmons. He always came up with outrageous, surprising comments.




-------------------    Crafty Bastards   -----------------


There he was, the mischievous Dr. Gustavus Simmons, with a crew cut and smiling through a grey-streaked beard that reached nearly down to his belt buckle. This time he wore a bolo tie and some drab gray suit pants, and no suit. He was the leader of a small math group under Burford. He was a magician, mathematician and a locksmith who broke into guaranteed-secure Secret safes to taunt the head of Security.


I started in with a strategy question. I asked Gus, directly "When I find out some secrets, what do I say when someone asks me about it?"


I fully expected him to tell me some interesting game theory, like he started to one time before.


"That's easy. Deceive the Bad Guys. Don't lie to them," he replied, clearly happy that I asked him something he could boast about.


"Deceive?" I said. That's lying. I didn't lie very well.


"If you can count on someone to lie, then that guy gives away the secrets because they are bound to lie," he said, expecting me to understand.


"Deceivers are crafty bastards," he emphasized, chuckling a bit.


Gus liked that phrase, "crafty bastards." He used it every time he could make it fit.


"The liars are honor bound to lie. You can often force them to give away a secret just by forcing them to lie."  he told me, looking right at me, to appreciate my response and knowing me well enough to see that I would see right away. 


He was the crafty bastard himself, full of gleeful mischief.  His crew cut hair and very long grey-white beard sent deceiving, opposite messages. Never, ever sloppy, and almost never in a suit, he always played the part of a crafty character. But he wasn't playing it. He was crafty and he was a character.


"Just look at Russian propaganda. When Pravda writes that the reports of a crop failure in the Ukraine are absolutely untrue, everybody there knows they are about to go hungry," Gus narrated, like a story.


"But a deceiver sometimes lies and sometimes doesn't. You can bet that the bad guy has better odds flipping a coin than trying to get the facts from a deceiver." 


Gus was a mathematician. But he also kept a current locksmith license complete with expensive lock-picking tools. He also practiced magic tricks. It was all the same topic to him.  


He used the grade school phrase "Bad Guys," and I liked it. He is the one who taught me to use it.


Gus did pick locks. He would defeat the lock everybody had on the steel cabinet safes. He deliberately did that about every two or 3 years to get attention. He would always carefully show the guys in charge of Top Secret Security how he did it. 


He did this knowing full well it would force the security guys to change all the locks on all the safes in the whole place. Then Gus proudly and very publicly took the credit for finding a security weakness.


The Security guys didn't really mind, too much. They got to blame Gus for all the expense and trouble of improving security. However, they then got to do work they liked, changing locks.


They didn't have anything else to do. There had not been any spies here in 20 years.


Gus was so anxious he manipulated the topic of conversation immediately and proceeded to show me exactly how he broke into the high security locks this time. He reached into his desk and took out one of the older locks that the Security guys had specified for all safes. He set it in front of me. 


I recognized the lock. I had one on my safe when I first hired on. Then pretty quickly, they changed it. I wondered why they changed the locks for no reason.


"You have to make this a highly credible threat," he told me, as he fiddled with some metal things. "If a bad guy can make the tools at home, that's a highly credible threat."


He emphasized the phrase "highly credible threat" with a knowing nod, to make sure I understood. 


Sitting around his metal conference table on the first floor office with a south facing window of the type one can not see through, Gus explained the process one must use to get the undivided attention of the Security guys. Gus liked how I appreciated that those guys in Security were surely not as clever as the Mathematicians, like Gus. 


He explained this like a master chef describing how to prepare a gourmet meal. 


"One must present them with a weakness so glaring even minor scoundrels can succeed at it."  He used the word "scoundrel" often, too. He reached for some other metal things from his desk drawer.  


"What is it?" I asked as I touched one of his metal things welded to a 4 inch rod thing.


"Like a shim." he mumbled, as he focused everything he had on a combination lock as big as an orange and 3 times as heavy.  It didn't open right away. All the safes once had that lock on them because of Gus, from a previous episode, before I hired on.


He was fiddling and fuddling around, poking and twisting metal parts and things into that lock. He was shoving and pushing hard. And it looked like the demonstration was not going to work.  Physics experiments do that. They don't work in public.


This was like the joke about one student telling the other how you could tell what lab you were in: "If it stinks, its chem lab.  If it's slimy and green, it's biology lab. If it doesn't work, it's Physics." 


It was about to look like Physics, so I told Gus "It's ok, I believe you can do it.  I used to open combination locks in college.  I would show a person who locked their bike with that cable combination lock thing how I could open their lock and steal their bike in less than a minute. So they would go buy a good lock. I know how sometimes it doesn't work." 


Gus stopped. But he wasn't listening to me. Or if he was, all I did was challenge him. He pulled and yanked and untwisted and unshimmmed all his tools from the lock, and started over. He was pushing so hard on the metal things I thought he was going to break them.  "Don't break them just for me" I blurted out.  He was banging on something and forcing a shim thing into the lock. He said he made the shim at home.


"It took a couple of weeks to get it right." he admitted. 


And the lock opened up.


I left with a new feeling about security, and that I should be extra proud if I succeed at being a deceiving little crafty bastard.



-----------------  Too Many Bombs -----------------


Back at my desk, the Secret Restricted Data about atomic bombs, was open on my desk. These were some pieces we would need to make a Starship. I knew I would have to practice telling the Orion weapon story because we would all want to know the answer. Just the answer. Almost no one would care about the details.  Only the Bad Guys would care.  The trick was to give the answer in such a way that a Bad Guy could not shim his way into the lock, so to speak, and get the Secret Restricted Data.


Instead of figuring the Orion weapon like I was supposed to, I started figuring the Starship. Deep in a trance of figuring and staring through the metal wall of my office, I concluded that the way to explain the Orion rocket in public would be to use public numbers, and to forget the secret, real numbers.


Anyone could figure this one for themselves. One could read in unclassified publications that a megaton bomb weighs less than about 1000 pounds.


The bomb needed to blow up the whole of Western Russia all at once had to be at least 5000 megatons. Nobody figured that number. It was just "more than we had in the missile fields."  It didn't matter. It was the mass of a starship.


So the bomb would weigh less than about 5000 x 1000 lbs, or 2500 tons of payload. That's as much as 25 fully loaded, modern railroad cars, end to end. That's one Big Mother Atomic Bomb. If the thing has the density of cement, about 3 tons per cubic yard, then the Monster Bomb is 10 meters across, or 30 feet across and 30 feet high, which is as big as a rich guy's house.


Now I had to figure out how to push this huge payload of 2500 tons hard enough to deliver it to Western Russia from somewhere in the USA, in 2 minutes. That was not too hard to figure.


But my answer demanded a rocket that was way too big. The rocket would be bigger than a few aircraft carriers. This was not small.


A faceless voice in my thoughts emoted the draining feeling:

         too damn big.


Two fundamental physics issues were getting in the way of our making a starship. First, the bomb designers showed how an efficient bomb can not be made small. I could not start out with a small propulsion system.


Second, to go fast still required too many bombs. Putting  "not small" and "too many bombs" together meant that I could not make a small Dyson's starship. "Small" meant "as small as an aircraft carrier."   The starship had to be made big, maybe as big as a small asteroid. 


This was not good.  This meant we could not start out with something we could afford, like some space ship to take a dozen of us to Jupiter. We would have to start out with something that would cost as much as the entire USA Gross National Product.


I didn't know how much money that would be.  I was not figuring cost right now.


The speed I would achieve, about 50 km per second, would be fast enough to go from Earth to Jupiter in about 150 days, or to Mars in about 17 days. 


It took only 5 minutes to figure that this small ship carrying people might really work.  All I had to do was just relax the ridiculous mandate that we have to accelerate the space ship in 2 minutes, like Kadiddlehopper and Goodlaffer wanted. 


If I made a people ship, everything would get easier.


I could see that if we just accelerated more gently, take 2000 minutes to accelerate instead of 2 minutes, then it could work out.


Remember, a Physicist will dream up impractical things that don't work.


I had to stop this space ship fantasy and figure something about the bomb. They were paying me to do bombs, not starships.


My atomic bomb propulsion system would putt along in space like a lawn mower engine. Every "putt" meant an atomic bomb went off near an atomic bomb catcher.  The atomic bomb catcher would be attached to some mighty strong shock absorber springs, which pushed on the payload.  Every "putt" would make a flash in the dark black of space. We would see the trail of flashes as it went through the dark night sky, as we looked up.


Some details were starting to crop up. I knew that every radio and every TV set and every stereo in the world would hear the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) static, loud clicks coming out of the loudspeaker, as the brilliant, flashing pulsing, too-many-atomic-bombs-at-a-time propulsion hammered the atomic bomb catcher, accelerating the Big Bomb through the sky.


I imagined and saw it clearly in the sky above me: faster than a speeding shooting star and brighter than flashbulbs directly on your eye. 


I wondered if the atomic bomb really blew the living daylights out of everything.  I was learning secret things here.  Those who create the images of atomic bombs made them omnipotent, irresistible forces, totally vaporizing. But I learned something different about those atomic bombs. Not everything gets vaporized. Almost like a betrayal. The bomb was not an infinite force. This was curious.


When I figured out how hard I was bashing the payload, I discovered I was banging the daylights out of it. The average acceleration was around 42 times more than gravity, enough to turn a person into manburger in one whack.


The peak acceleration on the hardware would be thousands of times higher. This was not good. Everything would almost certainly get smashed to pieces.  Not vaporized, but smashed to pieces.


None of this was in any document. I was figuring it with just Dyson's paper.


I escaped back into fantasy. If we were going to Mars in 17 days, we could avoid the crushing accelerations. We could take our time setting off the bombs, and take 2000 minutes instead of 2 minutes to shoot them off. We would not mind at all that we would be accelerating 1000 times less. That would only be 0.042 G, 4 times less than the gravity of the moon.  Even the peak g's would be piece of cake for the hardware. 


"Hey," I thought, as I figured furiously in my all metal office, a cage with a tiny, mud-dirty window with no view, trying to make it work out, "this is just numbers to me."


It was not working out, and I had invested deep emotion in it, and blabbed how well it would work before I ever figured a thing. 


I designed up a rocket that should take the whole payload to another part of the world, fast, two minutes, just like Kadiddlehopper wanted and powered by such and such many atomic bombs going off such and such often. But my design would not work.


I never bothered to ask how much of the sky would light up when more than one atomic bomb every second went off 200 miles above earth.


I had all the figuring in my classified notebook, and I wrote up a one page summary for the file. I did not need to put "unclas" in front of each paragraph. Let them discover it. I found something else to do.


After a week or two went by, Kadiddlehopper was standing in our office area as he usually does, casually talking to us about different things, and he asked me about that fast weapon delivery system. "How many bombs does it take to make it go?"  He always seemed to ask the damn pointy, embarrassing question.  It was like he read my mind.


"Uh, xxxxx bombs per second." I mumbled. I had to tell him the truth. (Today, not revealing, affirming or denying any classified number, too large or not)


"Oh. How fast does it get there?" Kadiddlehopper was still probing, poker face, with no reaction at all on the ridiculously large number of bombs.


"Two minutes." I said, my hands dangling, as I looked down at the floor. I could not look him in the face.


I didn't want to tell anybody about any of this conversation, or about what I figured.  I could see on Kadiddlehopper's face that he saw how stupid and impractical it was. He didn't say it was stupid. He just knew. We both communicated the conclusion "too many bombs"  by the way we shuffled our feet and turned our bodies as we stood, not saying much.


For Kadiddlehopper and Goodlaffer, myself and Burford, my figuring was just a quick calculation. I was just trying to figure how well it might work, to see if we wanted to spend real time and money figuring this.


"Maybe I figured something wrong," I thought, as I shelved the whole thing.


Damn Crafty Bastard. That Kadiddlehopper was clever. He didn't give a damn if we could do it


All he wanted to know was how hard it would be for the other guys, the Commie Pinko Rapist Atheists,  to do it. 


He wanted to know what to look for. When he found out, then he and Burford would go over to the spy fellows in that other bland looking, nondescript building and tell them what to look for.  Then there would not be any surprises, and everybody would go home safe. He didn't care what the answer was, he just wanted to know it.


I just wanted to learn about Dyson's Orion starship.   


My calculations showed that the Russians could NOT make a bomb travel faster than our response time. And if they tried, everyone in the world could easily find out they were merely trying to, because the test rocket would be so monstrously visible, exceptionally expensive, and really REALLY BIG.


The rest of my design would definitely not work. But it didn't matter. As soon as we found out it took too many bombs, we didn't' need to go any farther. I never did figure how much shielding one would need, to keep the atomic bomb from getting blown up by the other atomic bombs pushing the rocket. 


I know I did not figure the shock absorber part correctly.  Now I see why Freeman Dyson didn't cause much of a stir.


Some guy like Kadiddlehopper might have asked him "How stiff a box would you need to hold the your payload, and what kind of shock absorbers are you using, to keep the payload from being smashed to pieces?" 


I presume Freeman's answer was "Duhhh."    


I learned something embarrassing and something disappointing:


It turned out, "too many bombs" is what everyone everywhere who ever worked on Dyson's crazy rocket figured.

I talk before I figure, so think first, dummy.


Takes too many bombs.

And I learned something really scary:

We ** can**  make a Gigaton bomb.





·         atomic bombs weaker

S1 CH 08 A Bombs Weaker 2001.07.02p518.doc




Atomic Bombs Not Almighty Powerful



To Harness the Bomb


This was a Top Secret, Systems Analysis Division. We analyzed atomic bombs. And I came here to analyze how to make an atomic bomb-powered Starship work, somehow or another.

New to the real world of real work, I saw the 2 foot diameter clock directly above the entrance on the inside wall above the door of the Systems Analysis Division prove I was not that late. It shot the time message right over Marylee's desk, directly into Bill Goodlaffer's office and directly into his face. Goodlaffer's eyes stared directly at me when I came through the door. He stared hard and looked at his watch. And then at the clock. Back and forth, he was using sign language.

I was only 3 minutes late, for the 3rd or 4th time in a row. He reminded the 3 of us, the new Ph.D.'s, that "we start at 8 and we quit at 5."

His 2 ft wide, 3ft high, metal window and its metal frame let in a small patch of a bright blue sky. He had such a low a status, his window only saw a bit of sky, no view of the mountain, and the eating area in the center of the building. The bright light behind his face magnified his position as The Boss.  It gave him a kind of a halo.

Marylee, our secretary, always arrived punctually enough before 8 am to open her several, metal cabinet safes, and always at least one minute before we got there. She was proud that the 6 ft high, 3 ft wide metal cabinet safes were chock full of nuclear weapon, Secret Restricted Data "SRD" documents. The “SRD” is the same as Top Secret in the Department of Defense.

This was the Atomic Energy Commission, the Famous AEC.

She would leave punctually just after 5 pm, after a prescribed, religious ritual of locking the metal cabinet safes. She inserted two, solid aluminum metal bars, taller than her, into the top and bottom slots of every metal cabinet, and then clicked a heavy combination lock into each bar.  Then she had someone else, a "monitor," check to make sure she didn't leave a Secret Restricted Data document anywhere, on top of anything, and that she actually locked the locks. Then the monitor signed the monitor sheet.

I would try to inconspicuously watch her put those bars in. As she reached high above her head, on her toes, her short skirt would move up a bit towards her thin waste, revealing curvy legs. I was 26. She was 40. What did you expect?

Al Beckman, the white haired older engineer had the nice office next to Goodlaffer. Al Beckman had the biggest desk and also had a window to nowhere. He had the room all to himself.  He kept lots of books in multiple bookshelves.

He kept his room and his desk perfectly clean and carefully neat. His pictures of is wife and family, tastefully arranged all over his wall and on top of his desk, showed off what he thought was the most modern, ultimate dream of suburban life. What looked like his wife's wedding picture showed a pretty lady in a pose like an actress, out of a 1940's movie.


The rest of his pictures were picture-perfect, and stuck in the early 1950's. So out of date, I thought. 20 years out of date. Ancient.  But he seemed to be content.  I thought he acted like he earned it and was proud of it all. He smiled, and didn't get excited about the little things the rest of us got emotional about.


His diplomacy and extreme courtesy in how he answered and interacted with me raised a shield between his inner person and me. He seemed to block my entry into his emotion world.  That mannerism prevented me from empathizing or relating to him.  His diplomatic barrier made me see him as old and distant.


He did not have a Ph.D., so he obviously didn't know anything.


Dr. Bill Teague and I, new Ph.D.'s, were talking in the 4 foot wide walk-space between his office and mine about the effects of a direct hit by an atomic bomb. Teague liked the mountains, and I asserted that a bomb on the other side of the mountain would vaporize all the snow, boil it to steam, and fry his playground mountain, immediately. I was trying to tease him.


Al Beckman heard us and courteously waited until the correct moment to interject himself into our conversation.  With a slight smile he asked "you think the weapon will melt all the snow on the other side of the mountain?"


An atomic bomb vaporizes anything, no matter what. I know this. I have a Ph.D. So I blurted out with a knowing laugh

     "Sure, a one megaton bomb will melt all the snow on the mountain, all at once." 


The Little Boy in my head saw the fireball explode 15 miles away from us, on the other side of the mountain ridge The peak was 7 miles to the east of us. The bomb would be on the other side, with the heavy snow and tall trees.


As a Little Boy I had once pretended that if somebody from outer space came by in a flying saucer and tried to hurt us, we would shoot an atomic bomb at them and they could not shield against it.

     "Nobody can shield against an atomic bomb," the Little Boy's voice in my mind asserted. 


So I said with all the certainty of a brand new Ph.D.

     "It'll vaporize everything."

And I authoritatively finished my reply to Al Beckman.


"No, I don't think that's what happens." he said, asserting himself carefully, without bending on his point. Insistent, unyielding, but exceptionally courteous.


"No. Why not?" I blurted back. I had just told him what the answer was, and he didn't have a Ph.D., so he should bow down and accept it.


"Just check the numbers."  he said, slowly.


Al Beckman startled me when he contradicted my claim that a vaporizing, purple-hot megaton bomb, hotter than blue hot and much hotter than white hot, would certainly vaporize the snow.


"You need to read this book," he said, with a clear and knowing authority. He reached into his office shelf and handed me a copy of "Glasstone," the bible of the effects of nuclear weapons. 


"You can figure it for yourself. You will see. I don't think it would melt all the snow."


I took the book, opened it, skimmed it for 10 seconds and there it was. Real data, detailed, everywhere. A solid book of atomic bomb data.


"Wow, this is real data. It tells you what happens," I said, oblivious that I said it aloud.

I took the book like a dog who grabbed a bone and ran off.

The whole book was so simple a high school kid could have understood it. And it was jammed full of charts and tables and figures and rather simple, power law equations, all telling the effects of an atomic bomb.

I didn't realize this was the unclassified version, and that a much better version even existed. But this unclassified Glasstone had all I needed to know.


This was Starship data.


After just a little figuring, I got Al Beckman's answer. Sure enough, the bomb would not melt all the ice on the other side of the mountain.


Glasstone detailed how the bomb would make a noise loud enough to break my ear drum instantly, like a 44 Magnum pistol going off next to my head. The little round plastic calculator in the sleeve of the book made it really easy to calculate. I could read off just how far away I would need to be from the bomb so that it would only break my eardrums, and no more. Wow.


I read off how far away the intense heat would instantly start the trees on fire and fry skin to charcoal.


"It would cause your face to boil and turn black, and blast the living daylights out of windows and houses, blow everything to bits" I thought after reading on.


However, it would only **blow** the snow all over the place.


Melt the snow? No. Just the top few inches.  The bomb had plenty enough energy.  But it didn't penetrate the snow deep enough.


I saw a movie of it all in my mind. Bomb going off. Intense white hot fireball. Top layer of snow instantly heated into boiling steam. Under-layers of snow blasted and blown around, a second or 3 later. Twirling around, and then a shock wave would hit.


And Al Beckman was right. And he did not even have a Ph.D.! Amazing!


This was not an Aspie deficiency or failure to read Neurotypical clues. It was the arrogance of a new Ph.D.


And I had no clue. All I felt was the excitement:

 "Wow. that's magic. You can live through being hit directly by an atomic bomb!" 


This must have been one reason Dyson's atomic bomb starship was not so crazy.


And these atomic bombs were also firecrackers, BIG Firecrackers.


I'm a boy. It's a boy thing.


I really wanted to see an atomic bomb detonate in the atmosphere. It would really be 4th of July, a real spectacle.


I would make up excuses, like, "I want to watch one in the Pacific somewhere.”  My excuse: they had done about a decade earlier. 


Or maybe "at the Nevada Test Site", where the Nevada-uns didn’t care when the radioactive fallout covered on their sheep, because the government bought all their sheep at the high market price, immediately, for cash.


“Somewhere where it doesn't hurt anything.”


The Power of the Universe, unleashed. I just had to find a way to see where they were exploding atomic bombs, underground. If we were ever going to be interested in using the Power of the Universe to travel the Galaxy, at least I could see just one of them, myself. 


I didn't quite know how to get to see one. I decided to ask everyone who had contact with anyone who shot atomic bombs. Those people were the bomb testers, and I started by pestering my boss Goodlaffer.





--------------   Underground Atomic Bomb Tests ------------


It was a sad time for atmospheric atomic bomb shooters. Both the Russians and the U.S.A. agreed to quit exploding atomic bombs in the air. It was a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  The Evil Russians and the Free World, which meant us and the Europeans except France, all agreed we would only test the bombs underneath the ground and never in space anymore. 


The last few atomic bombs they, and we, shot off in space, scared everyone. The whole nighttime sky lit up and glowed, for hours, and especially over Hawaii. Power lines unexpectedly intercepted an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP), created a power spike over the electric utility grid, blew the fuses and shut off the electricity in some places. I hear the satellites in space got disrupted. The Van Allen belts got energized. It was a scary thing. It was a bit like we were blowing up the sky.


We both agreed to cork up the entire explosion.


Cork an Atomic Bomb?


We would not let it leak, not even a little. And if it leaked, we broke the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Bad dog.


I never saw the treaty. However, someone else said how evil the Russians were because their version read different from our version. The USA version of the treaty said we could not dump radioactivity into the atmosphere.  The Russian version of the same Treaty said they could squirt their own people with radioactivity all they wanted. They only violated the Treaty if the radioactivity got past their borders.


I expected that from those commie bastards.


The Chinese Communists kept right on shooting big bombs in the atmosphere, Multi-Megaton bombs. They just did not give a damn about the Earth or anyone else.  They were really evil. They didn’t shoot very many, so their big evil was balanced by their almost never doing it. I suspected they were doing it for show.


The French were almost as mean, and kept right on shooting smaller atomic bombs in the atmosphere, too. They didn't give a damn about their allies. Typical arrogant French.


The French were so mean they would delay their atmospheric atomic bomb test until they knew our spy airplanes trying to peek at what they were doing would run out of fuel and crash in the ocean. Then they would shoot their bomb. They were mean, to us, their Saviors.


"So, how do they do an underground test?" I asked Goodlaffer.


"Well, you dig a tunnel straight into the base of a mountain, a mile or two into it, then you dig a side tunnel a thousand feet or 2, and shoot the bomb at the end of the tunnel,"  he explained, ever so characteristically clearly, 




"What? The long tunnel would still be there after the atomic bomb went off?  Almost as if nothing happened? Wow." I said.


"And then go back and do it again." he continued with a smile and a laugh.


He told Marylee to pull out a document. She knew which one, automatically, because she was a smart one. It had a double-long fold-out picture of the test site, complete with pastel coloring. 


I talked to Goodlaffer and myself out loud, like he was part of the voices in my head.


"Amazing" I said, a moment later, as he was paging through it, trying to find something in particular.


My curiosity and delight at dusty dirty tunnels sprinkled with atomic bomb debris seemed to delight him. I knew it would be just like him to direct me to talk with someone who does that for a living. I knew he would want me to learn more. I wanted to trick him into it.


It was just a nice coincidence that his boss, Kadiddlehopper, and another division leader, Dr. Curtis Hines, were in the office area talking about something atomic bomb-ish and got sucked into the bomb test site topic with Goodlaffer and me.


They also got excited that someone else, myself, actually liked this down and dirty, scary, messy part of atomic bombs. Apparently, almost no one else at Sandia would get excited like these guys about bomb tunnels.


Kadiddlehopper and Curtis Hines got a real kick out of my amazement that you could put hardware that close to an atomic bomb and not vaporize it, or at least blow everything to pieces.


Curtis taunted me with a smile, the kind of smile where he knows the answer and wants to tell you about it. That behavior was his inviting peculiarity.


"How would you block off the fireball and all that debris, after the bomb goes off?"  he asked.


"I know the answer to that" said Me the Little Boy, waving his hand so the teacher would call on him.


Me the Ph.D. Physics Graduate Student took over as I answered Curtis: "I would use some huge doors and slam them shut with high explosives," I said, responding like a confident, recent Ph.D. with the right answer, and almost using an authority voice.


Then I meekly asked for approval with the question "Would that work?"


"Yep."  Three of them all smiled. I was quite surprised that my bold guess would work.


They all knew the answer, and now someone finally came along and really appreciated how really clever and smart they were, in making those slamming-shut doors. 


"They slam the door shut with high explosive pistons," Kadiddlehopper said.


"You light off the high explosives just before the bomb goes off, to get the doors moving." he explained.


When the doors smashed shut, they would pinch off and stop any vaporized dirt and bomb parts gushing towards the experiments. And our experiments would not be destroyed.  Wonderful. Amazing.


The bomb would make a cavity, a bubble, deep in the ground about a 100 feet across. After the bomb cavity deep underground had cooled off, a few weeks later, somebody would put on a space suit-like set of sealed coveralls and hood, and crawl back in there and retrieve the experiments.  It wasn't really safe at all. But nobody really cared.


I had to ask them to tell me again, to make sure I heard them right.


"A Door?" I asked. "A door stopping an atomic bomb?" I repeated, with honest emotion.


"Sure." said Curtis Hines, smirking like crazy. The three of them were so anxious to tell me about it they could just pee. Hines was rocking back and forth just unable to wait to tell the story.


"Well, yeah." said Bill Goodlaffer.  "They have this big, 50 ton steel and concrete sliding door," he said, eyeballs white, teeth smiling from earlobe to earlobe, using his hands to show "big."


"And they get it moving with an explosive just before the bomb goes off. They time it just right." he repeated.


Using his hands again, talking like an Italian he repeated one more time, "Just when the bomb goes off, it slams shut."


And his hands slammed shut.


"Holy Cow." I said, using that phrase once again, too often.


"And a split second after it goes off and the door closes, everything caves in around the pipe," Curtis Hines said. "All that exploding dirt squeezes off the pipe and shuts off the hole," he continued.


I didn't know what "pipe" he was talking about, but the whole thing sounded little-boy neat.


I could just feel the excitement:

slam a door on an atomic bomb!


"You need to go see the guys that do this," Goodlaffer commanded, smiling. He completely surprised me. I really did want to see one of those tunnels. He was offering to send me on a field trip to a whole atomic bomb test site, and without even having some project as the reason.


He looked into his phone notebook, found three guys I should go see, and even told me where their offices were.  Goodlaffer knew every person who ever did anything in the whole lab and had their name in that little metal, snap-shut phone book.


The Atomic Bomb Tunnel "Camphor"


The Test Director for an Atomic Bomb test and I had an appointment. The cold winter day in Albuquerque didn’t seem to hurt as much as a same kind of day in Cleveland. Maybe the dry cold and constant sunshine made the cold feel warmer. Maybe it wasn’t as cold here as it was in Cleveland, but it was cold enough to freeze water. I saw some thin, very high wispy clouds in the mostly deep blue sky. Those clouds were often there.


I walked up a few wood steps into a group of what seemed like connected-together mobile homes designed with offices instead of kitchens and bedrooms.


This was the first time I had ever seen offices like this.  Somewhat shabby. They were definitely warm enough, and the rooms had everything one would need for an office. A set of toilets in some of them, and windows, bookcases, doors one could actually close shut. They were sure not very luxurious. They were drab, in fact. 


They looked like graduate student quarters. The white-ish paint was dull.  The windows were plain, a little dirty with what seemed like white-ish mud, like some of the dirt in Albuquerque. The desks and tables were metal and covered with that darker, hard plastic.  


Two of the three secretaries had those modern typewriters, the ones with the little ball instead of typewriter keys.  I saw electrical engineering equations on the blackboards.  It seemed like there were lots of buildings here that were left over from the old days, World War II, when they first worked on the atomic bomb.


Dr. James R. A. J.  Castro, Deputy Test Director, was one of those in charge of testing our hardware. The object was to make hardware so tough it would survive a direct hit by an atomic bomb.  The hardware was supposed to survive. We would use that kind of hardware in our bombs.


How close to an atomic bombs were these supposed to survive?


 Devices and experiments that Sandia scientists and engineers would place directly at the edge of and actually inside the fireball of an atomic bomb actually did survive.  Amazing, I thought.


“You shoot atomic bombs at hardware?” I asked Jim. 


“Some of these guys are stupid. They just want to blow something up.”  He replied, two moves ahead of me, answering my question like a chess game.


He knew what I was thinking. He answered the question I would certainly ask later, saving me the trouble of having to go through each question one at a time.


This is classic Aspie. Step 1, Step 10, skip the middle. Aspie brains are fast.


The mistake we Aspies make with others is that we assume they are just as fast as we are. The NT's are slow-brained.


J.R.A.J. Castro was fast-brained, probably an Aspie.


"What do they do?” I asked in a clumsy way, wondering why else would you put something in front of an atomic bomb unless you wanted to blow it up.


“They don't calculate whether they are going to learn anything.” he said. “it’s pretty tricky when the thing can turn into vapor in a millisecond.” he said with a laugh.


He showed me what he called a dumb experiment. Some engineer was trying to convince Castro and his group to let the fellow blow something up.


The engineer's whole experiment was only as big as my finger. After a few sentences of atomic bomb physics, requiring a Q Clearance, Secret Restricted Data access to hear about, Castro said "see?" 


I saw. That guy just wanted to blow something up and get credit for "nuclear weapons effects testing."


"These guys don't understand. There's only so much space available." he explained. 


"Space?" I said.


"You only get a small peek at the bomb." he said.


"What do you mean?" I asked. 


"You put a bomb at the far end of the tunnel. You connect a 1000 foot long pipe, shaped like a cone, like a really long megaphone, all the way out of the tunnel.  People put their experiments all along the pipe."  he explained, using hand motions to speak, like animated Sicilian Italians often do.


"You get to see this yourself?" I asked, hoping he would say yes and let me go along.


"Yeah, it's exceptionally interesting."  he replied, putting on the professional stare, to minimize any hint that he dug the hell out of it.


"There's some really interesting physics that goes on here." 


He likes to use precise English, such as "exceptionally interesting."


"Can I go see?" I asked.


Castro, a Sicilian physicist about a year or two older than me and who went to the same graduate school I did, he also loved the bomb. Only he was smarter than me because he jumped over to electrical engineering.   He liked the complex plasma physics that only happens when huge energy densities apply, like at the interior of the Sun or an atomic bomb. He was the Deputy Test Director for some of the tests.


"I'll take you out there and show you," he said. He was just as excited about these things as I was, except that he acted far more mature, and probably was,.


So off we went. We flew out to Las Vegas, checked into our rooms downtown, and had a nice evening meal.


All the restaurants and casinos had girls dancing with no bra, no matter where we went. He drove. That's what I liked about Las Vegas. All restaurants had interesting dancers.


I saw him put a single quarter in a slot machine once, because I kept stopping and pulling the handle as we walked around. He would not put money in.  I would not put any money in either. Slot machines were everywhere, absolutely everywhere.


"Here." he said. "Have some fun." as he put in a quarter for me. 


I pulled the handle and watched with glee as the wheels turned. "Wow." I said, barely audible. He shook his head at me and laughed.


Part of the fascination with a slot machine is that it only costs a quarter to be allowed to pull the handle and watch the wheels turn. Sometimes the machine gives you some free pulls, when it gives you a little money you can use to pull the handle again.


And that was it, no more gambling. According to Castro, that was stupid.


"It does not compute," he said, with a smirk and shaking his head. He figured things a lot. He loved complex plasma physics calculations.


After walking around a bit amidst the pretty colored neon lights, and bells and a light flashing indicating somebody winning, in what seemed to be endless, connected gambling casinos, we went to watch a show for 15 minutes where the girls danced with no underwear. We only had to buy two beers to be allowed to sit there. Then we went back to our rooms and got a good rest for the next day's work.


Contrary to what everyone thought, when we go through Las Vegas on the way to the Atomic Bomb test site, it's no party.


Next morning we drove out 70 miles to "Mercury," the name of the compound for the test site. After passing through a moderately simple security system, we drove up to an old tunnel, "G Tunnel" it was called. It seemed to be recently abandoned.


A few big heavy chains and locks and gates gave only a very mild message to stay out. A portable trailer with a few people 300 feet away were the guardians. We had to check with them to enter the tunnel. And since Castro was the Deputy Test Director, everyone said "Hi Jim," and we went in, no paperwork.


But first, we put on some free coveralls, over our suits and ties. Just in case we rub some radioactive dust, it would stay on the coveralls.  We also put on hard hats, because sometimes a piece of the roof falls on you. Now that would be dangerous. You could get hurt without a hard hat.


We were walking in a tunnel with no lights. Just flashlights. And I was talking and talking and talking. About philosophy of life, about physics, about atomic bombs, re-entry vehicles, phasor banks. 


As we were walking, Castro pointed to my left "We shot something-or-other bomb here" as he pointed to a sealed-off side tunnel. I forgot the name of the something-or-other bomb as soon as he said it. Every atomic bomb test had some kind of cute name.


A side tunnel was just that. A tunnel would appear off to the side. Just like Goodlaffer said.


This was really amazing. Tunnels in a mountain, to corked-up bombs, atomic bombs.


"Atomic bombs really went off in this tunnel, didn't they. This is amazing. You would think the ceiling would fall in." I said to Jim, aloud. I acted like a little 4th grader on this tour.


Castro pointed up to the ceiling with the flashlight. "See the rock bolts." 


This was even more amazing. They bolted the ceiling so it would not fall in when the atomic bomb went off just a couple thousand feet away, down a side tunnel. They screwed a 3 foot rod into the ceiling and then bolted on a steel plate the size of a big book to hold the ceiling rocks in place. They also attached a wire mesh to the ceiling. Just in case a piece fell off when you were walking by, it wouldn't hurt you too much.


And we were walking and walking. And I was talking and talking.


We were standing by the 3rd or 4th side tunnel entrance, about a mile deep into the mine shaft. I looked at the 15 foot metal hatch, like the hatch on a submarine, and I kept on talking, trying to explain something, and going on and on, and Castro was laughing.


And I kept talking, and talking. He was trying to say something, but I wouldn't let him. I was not done with my point yet. He laughed and kept trying to interrupt, to say something.


Finally I asked him "Why are  you laughing at me?  What are you laughing at?" I thought I was saying something profound, and maybe he thought it was silly. Or maybe my fly was open.


"What?" I asked.


He pointed the flashlight to the right of my pocket and with a smirk said "Look at that sign. I been trying to tell you."


The sign, at about zipper height, said in so many official words, "Don't stand here. This spot is radioactive."


"This was Camphor. The hatch leaked," he explained, using his typical shortest possible sentence.


"What?" I asked. I was acting stupid.


"The radiation blew all over the wall.  You got some," he asserted.


He could often think like me and knew what I was going to ask next. He would answer what I would ask, two questions in the future. Maybe he was related to my ancestors back there in Sicily.  Who could tell?


But, with radioactivity, you can't feel it or see it or hear it or smell it. So it must be ok. That's what I thought about that radioactivity. Must not be that bad.


The atom bomb shot named "Camphor" didn't quite work right. The high pressure, vaporized rock gas had pressurized the big hatch-door. That big hatch-door we were standing next to didn't quite seal. It leaked a little. Nothing much leaked. Only some radioactivity leaked into the bomb tunnel. The clean up crew removed enough of it so people could walk by somewhat safely. 


The wall I was standing next to was where it squirted, apparently enough to warrant a warning sign.


I didn't know how much radiation actually leaked. I suppose I could have looked it up, or asked someone. At least two people I know would definitely tell me the truth if I would have asked.


Dr. Wendell Weart told me how the shot named "Baynberry" leaked, really leaked, into the atmosphere. He said the fire coming out the leak into the desert really looked like a bomb went off. "We actually might have violated the Treaty with that one," he said, surprising me with his frankness. He was one of the geologists on the team in charge of corking the explosions.


"It leaked off sideways, along a fault. We didn't expect it to do that," he explained.


At the end of the day, my radiation badge blared and shouted to everyone that I got some radiation. Nobody noticed or seemed to care. It was not enough to raise the alarm.


It was my initiation.


I suppose it was no worse than one of those foot x-rays I remember getting in the shoe shop back during the late 1940's. Now we know those foot x-rays were dangerous.


I just had to see more. But this time this was all we had time to see.


The Sedan Crater


We got back to Albuquerque and I pestered Goodlaffer for more access.


"Did you ever see anything interesting out there?" I asked, hoping he would volunteer something new. Then I would ask him to describe it in detail. That would get him all excited. And then I would pull the punch line: "How would I get to see it?"


"The thing that really demonstrates the awesome power of a nuclear device is the Sedan Crater," he replied, very officially, nodding his head for emphasis and affirmation.


"Really? What does it look like? Did you see it?" I asked, prodding him.


With an excited smile, holding his coffee cup in his hand, he told me "God, I couldn't believe it when I saw it. This is a huge crater."  


"Huge." he said again, with hand motions, and almost spilling coffee out of the cup. "It digs a h-u-uge hole." He really got excited. "You gotta see it. It is like the Grand Canyon."


Wow. I didn't have to prod him. He volunteered that I should go back to the test site again.


He asserted how awesome it was, over an over, and assured me that I would see something that sounded like it would be half a mile across.


Then Al Beckman, overhearing stories about the bomb, came out of his office, which was next to Goodlaffer's, and told his version.


"I was really impressed when I saw that hole," he said. "It's really impressive. Big." he asserted.


"It makes you really think about how powerful these things are that we work with,"  he said, switching the flavor of the conversation. "It makes you kinda wonder if we are mature enough to have all that power over nature," he said, trying to be philosophical.


I expected to see something like a Grand Canyon. And Goodlaffer volunteered to pay for another trip.


This was exciting.



Ben Saw the First One


Ben Benjamin saw the first atomic bomb go off, at the Trinity site in New Mexico. Taller than me and heavier, and so mild mannered and gentle, a real gentleman. Light hair, fuller face, fair-skinned like a Swede I believe he was. I could prod him so easily to tell stories about people. He would volunteer them at the slightest excuse. The gentle smile of his soothing voice became tattooed in my mind.


His office was in a big bull pen building, as long as two football fields. The dozen north south hallways made a simple grid against the 4 east west highway hallways. The building was jammed with offices and rooms full of electronic devices and fabrication shops. He was in the north east end. He and Dr. George Hansche, his boss, were in charge of taking the pictures of the bombs.


We were in Ben's office and I prodded him to tell me what it was like. He said he was there at Los Alamos when the possibility of the Bomb was a super secret. He said famous physicists had done some measurements that indicated it might work. Ben was there before they tested the first atomic bomb, and they didn't know for sure if it really would work.


"I was just a teenager then."  Ben paused and then started to boast, in a nice way.


"I was a very smart technician, so they abducted me into the New Mexico desert instead of letting me carry a gun and fight World War II."


"I was glad I didn't have to get shot at."


"I was just a kid. When I signed up, volunteered, I was ready to go fight the Nazi's."


"They abducted me and would not tell me where I was going. They just said 'you will find out when you get there.' "


"I wasn't allowed to write my family where I was. They changed the postmark on my letters."  he said. "I was living in Los Alamos, but the letters were postmarked Santa Fe." 


" They didn't' tell me what the secret was for 6 months." he said.


"Do you remember anything about the first bomb going off?" I asked.


 "Oh yeah. We were all huddled there, curled over, in the dark, waiting."  he said.


"Then I heard somebody ask Hans Bethe "Are you scared?" just before it was supposed to detonate."   


Hans was a famous physicist, one of the inventors of the bomb, one of the two or three Maximum Bosses of the entire atomic bomb project.


"And then I heard Hans say "yes, I'm scared." with that deep accent of his. "


"We didn't know whether it was going to blow up or be a dud. And then it went off."


Ben knew about atomic bombs. He was there for almost every shot the United States did, including the atmospheric shots. 


"We built houses and planted trees in the desert, Frenchman's Flat, and then we blew em away," he said, chuckling slightly.


"I got to run the camera's."  That was Ben's specialty then. The optics. Cameras. Fast cameras.


I had begged him to take me along on one of his NTS trips and show me what he was talking about. 


So, Ben Benjamin took me on a field trip to the Nevada Test Site and Bill Goodlaffer paid for it.  


Ben and I flew into Las Vegas, had a typical steak supper where we could have a drink while we watched some ladies dance with no underwear. The usual thing.  


He saw how curious I was, as I stared at the naked lady, and how she looked at me, smiling at me, almost dancing just for me, I thought. Apparently the lady knew him.


But Ben got us out of there rather abruptly.


"Why did we have to leave so fast?" I asked, not wanting him to know how much I wanted to gawk some more.


"Next thing you know, she'll come out here and get very friendly," he said, without much emotion.


Now that part I understood.  I could not spare the cash. Terri and I were scrimping to pay back the loan we took to get a down payment for our new home.


And, Terri would know. She would just know, by the guilty look on my face. She would be very pissed.


I never did anything like that. But I was saving up. "Maybe someday when I am older" I thought.


We expected the next day would be a long day, so we really couldn't stay. We needed sleep to get up early. 


The next morning, driving on the way out of town to the Nevada Test Site, we stopped at about 8 am for a hearty double hamburger breakfast at a well lit, rather big hamburger joint. The girls were already dancing topless. The hamburger was big, seemed about a pound, and tasted very good.


I was anxious to see the main attraction: the site where we detonate atomic bombs, test nuclear weapons, blow up nuclear explosives.  My main reason for going here this trip is to examine the monstrous big hole an atomic bomb made, the Sedan Crater.


On the way to the crater, we drove by one after another, circular, collapsed dimples on the Nevada Test Site desert. Each dimple was about at big across as a football field. This was the tell-tale sign of the other way to do underground testing.


For this "other" way, they dig a 12 or 20 foot across hole, and then dig it a mile or two deep. Different holes, different sizes. 


The hole they dig gets smaller as you go down. They line the hole with steel and concrete. They put the bomb at the bottom.


Along some of the pipe on the way up they put the electronics and things to illuminate with the bomb.  Finally, they fill the rest of the hole all the way to the top with concrete and rocks.


Then they detonate the weapon. I don't know what happens if it doesn't detonate. Rumor has it that one or two didn't.


At the bottom of the hole, the bomb creates a 100 foot-across bubble, called a cavity, where it detonates. A 100 foot across hole doesn't just stay there. It's roof collapses. As the roof falls to the floor, it is like the bubble floats up. This keeps happening until the "bubble" gets to the surface.


The subsidence craters are the collapsed dimple left over when a deep underground cavity created by an underground nuclear weapon test collapses.  The craters were shaped like a shallow cereal bowl, or the saucer under a coffee cup.  But they are about 1 or 2 football fields across. The caked dirt cracked inside the bowl. We drove by one after another.


The scrub plants seemed to grow better in the bowl than on the desert. Ben said the plants probably grow better because the ground water moves through the soil better, after the bomb cracks the soil. The Sci-Fi movie people claimed the radiation did it, and would also make monster ants. I did not see any giant bugs. They were hiding and only came out at night, when everyone was in a bar watching naked ladies.


All of Nevada seemed to be parched, burnt, barren,  but it wasn't. When we got out of the car I saw grasses, twig plants, stiff micro-bushes growing, slowly, but obviously growing.  It was hot outside, and it was cold in the morning. The sky here was always blue. But the sky in the distance was always pale blue because one could see so far. Fifty miles was nothing.






We were standing in the hot sun.


I started to dart, but Ben Benjamin would not let me just run over to the crater edge and walk. 


"Too dangerous." he said. 


"Radioactive?" I asked.


He raised the level of his voice with alarm: "No. It can still collapse." 


"Really?" I ask, like a dumbbell.


"You can drop 40 feet straight down and get hurt." he snapped back, trying to keep me from being impulsive like he has seen me do before.


"These things will collapse for no reason, years after the shot," he added as he stared somewhat off into the distance, as if remembering his old days here. His mind was clearly off somewhere.


"Like falling off the roof of a 4 story building and landing on the sidewalk. You go splat," he said, bluntly.


We got back in the car and he took a detour from the plan and drove me to the site of the "ground zero" for some of the first airburst shots he helped photograph.


He drove the car right up to the flat, target area in the desert.  He knew just where to drive to get around the metal cable barriers hanging across the dirt roads to the ground zero areas, to keep other people out.


Around the ground zero they had set up buildings and houses and vehicles at various distances away.  And then they detonated an atomic bomb in the atmosphere and watched what happened.


"It blew it all away," he said, as we wandered around, somewhat aimlessly.


He didn't complain or stop me when I touched the bent rebar of a broken concrete building. There wasn't much to see or touch. I had seen a whole lot more debris in some New Mexico ghost towns I had visited. I guess that is what the bomb did. Cleared things out. 


"Is this radioactive here?" I asked.


"Probably a little. Not much," he said slowly, as an afterthought. From the way he walked and wandered, I could feel how this had once been a site of excitement, exhilaration, commotion, activity, voices, people doing things, Grand Things, earth-shaking things of cosmic proportion.


And now, it was just dust on a desert.


He drove us off towards another canyon with more tunnels where they had shot off more bombs.  On the way I saw a green splotch in the hills to the North. It looked like a mile away, but it was about 8 miles. We took another detour.


"That's a natural spring. Artesian. It always runs." he said. 


"You mean in this desert?" I asked.


"There's water here. Every once in a while. The natives knew exactly where it was." he said.


Sure enough, as we got up closer we saw the green up close, a spot with a dozen green bushes as tall as Ben, and a trickle of water oozing along a 50 foot stretch of an otherwise dry gully. Green water-plants hugged the ground along the water. 


About a 100 feet from the water was a 1920's vehicle engine attached to the front part of a vehicle.


"I was gonna come back and get that engine some day," Ben mumbled.  He liked antiques. 


We left the water hole and headed back to the canyon that had some used-up bomb tunnels.


In the car, Ben explained to me how one can even be 3 meters, 10 feet, from an atomic bomb and not even get much radiation.


"It only takes 10 feet of dirt between you and the bomb to shield the radiation." he asserted.


Then he casually commented  "of course the shock wave is pretty strong."


He always got a kick out of using the same phrases the physicists used: He said "It turns into plasma."


Me The Graduate Student explained it to me, silently, as we drove to the next destination. Silently I said to myself, "Of course it does. The 10 feet of dirt between you and an atomic bomb does not mean you live through it. As soon as the bomb goes off, concrete and dirt moves outward at about Mach 10 and compresses, squeezes, almost instantly. The super friction heats it up so much it turns into white - purple hot more-than-boiling white hot vapor. Vapor more dense than rock. Sure, for the first few microseconds there is no radiation."


His words were still a surprise: a few yards of dirt stops atomic bomb radiation.


The bomb tunnel in the canyon was locked up tight. We were not suited to go in anyway. We never even got out of the car to see it.


Our driving out of that canyon reminded Ben of an atomic bomb that deliberately blew out of a tunnel.


"They used an atomic bomb to make an atomic bomb cannon." he said, one hand on the steering wheel, pointing to the side of the canyon we were in with the other.


 "What did they do?" I asked, expecting a short story.


"Well, they shot off a small atomic bomb inside the tunnel on one side of this canyon." he started to explain, slowing his words as he looked around, to find just where it had been.


"I don't see exactly where they did it here." he continued, looking around at what was clearly not familiar anymore.


"It's been a while," explained, excusing the fact of his not being able to point right to the tunnel.


"It shot the projectile out the tunnel and hit the other side of the canyon." he said.


"Of course. what you expect?" I asserted. I believed him and could not imagine what else an atomic bomb would do.


"What scared the hell out of them was that the didn't curve like an arc, it went straight, straight across the canyon." he explained. 


 "Did they ever make a cannon out of it?" I asked. 


"Well, if you like dragging a Mountain along." he replied. 


"The problem is that you have to use a mountain to contain it." he explained. His clear and simple explanatory sentence lacked that sarcasm his Ph.D. colleagues liked to use. 


He left me to figure for myself that a one-shot gun that weighs as much as a mountain would not be worth much.


Ben was finally taking me to the SEDAN crater, like I wanted.


SEDAN was an atomic bomb test to learn how to dig the biggest possible hole with an atomic bomb. Both the Russians and the USA bragged how our newly discovered atomic explosives could dig huge canals cheaply. Bigger than the Panama Canal. Fast. Easy.


The old ones actually thought they had discovered something better than dynamite with which to dig earth. They did not consider the radioactivity. Small detail.


For this SEDAN test, they buried an atomic bomb as deep as the calculations said they should. It was buried just deep enough to dig the biggest hole possible using a typical nuclear explosive. This was the big event.


I almost couldn't wait.


There wasn't anybody else here on this desert that we could see. It seemed we could see 20 miles of road easy. This was the Nevada desert, and this day's visibility was something like 100 miles. We were the only ones driving around this part. 


Ben casually drove up to what looked like a hitching post for horses at an unpaved, sandy parking lot. Apparently this site was so unimportant that they just left it unpaved, just sand.  I could not see any real signs, professional signs, anywhere to guide anyone.  I saw only one professionally painted sign that told how deep the bomb was, how powerful it was, how big across the hole was and how much dirt was blown out. Raw engineering data.


"Well, here we are,"  he said, blandly.


Ben's bland comment matched my first impression of this site. 


Some sand dunes surrounded the crater, so I could not see into it even after we drove up.  All I saw were sand dunes.  We walked past a metal cable rope designed to keep a car from driving too close.


We peered over the dunes and into the crater. It was a puny hole no bigger than a couple hundred yards across. It was only a few football fields across and only 1 or 2 football fields deep. It seemed like someone had driven a caterpillar tractor down into it and left it there. Ben said that was an accident.


Terri and I and some fellow graduate students had walked into a bigger hole in Toledo, Ohio, looking for fossils, where they were excavating Silurian and Devonian mud to make cement.






This was no big hole at all.


I guessed the reason Freeman Dyson proposed to use atomic bombs to propel space ships was that he saw everything I just saw, all these tests. I wondered if he was impressed or not at SEDAN.  I wasn't. This was no big deal at all.


I found out from my radiation badge reading after we got back to Albuquerque that I got a radiation dose from the dirt, but apparently not much.


As we left and for weeks after I got back, I felt it and didn't say it:


"The bomb is not that Almighty Powerful."



Epochal Events


Make No Long Term Plans


\ s1_ch_09_epochal_events 20090220_1017.doc

M:\azinc\PROZX\To Inhabit The Solar System\- CHAPTERS


It was early 1970's in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The nuclear weaponization facility hired some highly perceptive, truly smart people who thought completely outrageous things and said them.  I was taking a break and had walked down the hall to visit one of them, Gus Simmons. My office was now in the building where Physicists worked, and where the important Vice President had his office. My status had gone up.


One fourth Native American, three fourths Outrageous,  Iben Browning, another one of them, was there with Gus. Iben startled me by opening a conversation with a characteristic punch line:


"If we bomb the center of Russian cities, we destroy their whole economy. If they bomb the center of our cities, they do us a favor and clean it out."


"What?" I retorted, taken by surprise.


"In the US, all the productive people flee the city and move to the suburbs. The center of the city is left to the ghetto poor who can't afford to move. Then the city passes absolutely fair and equitable laws to share the wealth with all the non-producers, the poor and stupid. Any productive person who stays, pays for it"


"I didn't know that's what happened. I thought it was the ghetto that made the city a bad place." I said.


When I was a pre-teen, union workers and businesses moved out of Cleveland and went to the suburbs, like Parma and Berea and Chardon. The Ford and Chevy plants moved out there, too. Everything productive fled the center city.


"Well, isn't the center of the city where you find all the hospitals for the destitute and penniless. Isn't that where the bums go for free food?" he remarked.


"In Russia, the Communists have to control everything, so they put everyone in the center of the city." Iben went on.


I meekly commented I thought it was because of the Siberian cold. I thought the Russians lived as close as possible to each other because they wanted the shortest distance between warm spots.


This was the first time I ever heard such heresy about the fair and humane social programs, and nuclear war, or about how or why Russians were concentrated in shabby apartments in the center of cities. 


"They will never have a nuclear war with us," Iben assured me.


"The ultimate decay of a culture is civilization," he had said in his office in the suburbs when I had visited him there on some kind of official business.


"All the great invasions of history were caused by hungry people from the North going south, for food," he had said. "Climate drove history."


I never checked it out, but I guess it was true.


On another different day he had said "You have to let the diseased part die." He was asserting the ultimate in anti-bureaucracy.


He was referring to social programs for animals and people who are in a bind for some reason of their own doing. Skills becoming obsolete, like taking care of horses, making typewriters, taking dictation for the boss. Or like persisting to live in places where hurricanes flood you, rivers overflow into your house, or ghost towns from the coal mining era where there is no work and won't be.


"A bureaucracy is designed to keep all the diseased parts alive," he explained, in more detail, "no matter what the cost, even if it kills the organism."


"The Ultimate Act Against Nature is keeping a species from going extinct."


"Interesting," I thought, as I mumbled the words loud enough he could hear, and as I stared aside for a moment, realizing what he had just said. 


"I like the Condors," I said. "I'm glad we didn't kill off all the buffalo."  I didn't agree with him every time. But he sure made me think.


Iben Browning was there, working with Gus on something. They both took a break to talk with me.


He must have saved up sound bytes to startle me. Every time I met him he had a new one.



----------  Epochal Events ----------


The most intriguing concept Iben and Gus ever came up with was the story about Epochal Events.


Gus had just been promoted to a Department Manager of the Math Department. Bob Kadiddlehopper, my boss and also Department Manager, had an office next to Gus.  


Having wandered into Gus's office because Iben was there, I had remarked to Iben and Gus how the exponential explosion of discoveries and technology during our lifetimes had changed everything, forever.


"No. Discoveries aren't going exponential at all. They're constant, but very frequent," Iben said.


Gus smirked, tracking my facial expressions as Iben baited me.


"Don't make any long term plans," Iben warned, as if he knew something, and poking me in a direction of ominous fear.


They were up to something. I could tell by their faces. I had come in and interrupted just when they had become excited about something.


"Epochal discoveries are happening so fast that everyone alive is destined to be as mixed up and confused as teenagers for their whole lives, and I can prove it." Iben asserted.


"And it will be that way unless almost everyone dies," he continued.


"What does everyone dying have to do with discoveries?" I asked.


"Discoveries change all the rules," he replied, with a smirk.


"I know that. What's it got to do with everybody dying?" I pressed him.


Now both he and Gus Simmons were both smiling, watching me get hooked. They had discovered something and they just had to tell me so bad they were about to pee their pants.


"It's not exponential. It's a constant number of man-years between discoveries," said Gus Simmons, the newly-promoted-to-manager, right wing crew-cut, left wing beard-to-the-belt-buckle mathematician magician lock-picker.


Now that was different.  They were talking about the rate of discoveries.  Whenever it would come up, everyone, without exception, would say "Its accelerating, exponential."


But, the pace of discoveries is actually a constant, they say. I had thought that we were in a truly unique period of human history, an absolutely new era of sudden, exponentially growing, explosive world changing discoveries.  But not quite, they said. They captured my attention.


"If you plot the number of man-years between discoveries, it's a constant, something of order 50 to 100 Billion man years," said Gus, very mathematically, precisely.


"Man-years?" I asked.


A man working for a year is a unit of management-speak. That is like "hours" to a mechanic, like  "4.5 hours to fix the brakes." 


For people in the technical business it typically takes a team of people to do things, and it typically takes lots of people and many months or a year or two to do a multi-million dollar project.


Gus just learned about the unit to measure the human effort needed to do something. Being newly exalted and anointed as "Manager" of the Math Department at Sandia Laboratory of the Atomic Energy Commission, he learned "man-years."


Iben Browning was a Zoologist by training, so he had a propensity to classify things. "I was walking up the stairs of the Smithsonian in Washington DC, and along the railing on the wall up the stairs they had a chart showing the 'Ascent of Man' from the beginning of human history till now."  he explained.


"At the bottom of the stairs they had the invention of fire.  Then they had the wheel, the discovery of agriculture, writing, and on up the stairs.  Under each invention they had the number of humans alive at the time. So I just wrote down the events and the number of people on a piece of paper.  When I got to the top of the stairs there were a lot of events, like the printing press, steam engine, telephone, telegraph, computers."


Gus then said "I wondered how many man-years it took to discover something that changed everything. I expected it would take fewer man years the more we knew.  So I plotted the number of man-years it took to discover an epochal event."


Then he paused, looking right at me, waiting for me to calculate the answer.


We are technical types. We will all calculate, as a reflex action. We all expect that the more we know, the less work it will take to discover things, and get rich.


"It's exponential," I blurted out without thinking. Then I realized they had just told me it wasn't. I looked somewhat stupid.


Gus kept looking right at me, didn't flinch, and stated the observation:

 "The number is something like

50 to 100 Billion man-years."


"Amazing," I exclaimed.  A constant, I thought, not exponential. The discoveries aren't exponential, like we thought. They are a constant.


"So when is the next one?" I asked. And they both laughed out loud.


"Everybody ask that question." said Iben.


"Well, it's pretty hard to predict the future. You never know." said Gus, with a tone of voice that revealed he was not a sure as he was before.


"Can't you tell from what we see burbling up now?" I asked, a bit clumsily.  "Like computers?"


Slightly frustrated, I asked a different question:

“How do you precisely know what an epochal event is and when it happens?”


One of them said "You can't tell until you look back and see that it really changed the culture. When all the rules are changed, then you can look back."


"Ok, what was the last one?" I asked.


Either I found a weak point, or they were being scoundrels. Neither of them could come up with anything definitive. Atomic bombs? Nuclear power? DNA molecules? Computers? Jet airplanes? They were arguing between each other about what was and what wasn't.


The Transistor stood out. A Man on the Moon stood out. Those were recent. I don't know how the Man on the Moon changed things, but I agreed it sure was magical.


TV only came up as a progression from the telegraph, the telephone, radio and movies.


I said "Drugs, I bet that's the next one."


The druggies all seemed to be having a really culture-changing good time. Timothy Leary started a revolution where people were having 4 dimensional experiences, synesthesia experiences, experiences that we only read about when Catholics described what the Saints experience, and 12 hour orgasms.


They didn't even respond. Neither Iben or Gus gave a damn about drugs.


Then I said "The Pill," because it totally changed the rules of family, dating, behavior.  Pregnancy was the thing that forced people to be monogamous for at least as long as it took to raise the children.


"The Pill and Penicillin," I quickly followed up. Penicillin kept the venereal diseases from causing a problem with sex.


None of us could pinpoint the very most recent epochal event.


Then Gus explained his mathematical point again:

"There are about 4 Billion people on the Earth. At 50 Billion man-years between epochal events, that means every 12 years something happens to totally change the rules.  At 100 Billion man-years, it's every 25 years."


I could see this in a flash. All 4 billion people on Earth working a living for 25 years is 100 billion man-years.


I could see why  cultural and religious "truths" would seemed to be true for so long.


When there were only 10 million people on the entire earth, like there were during Roman times, during Jesus or Buddha or Confucius times, and 25 billion man-years per Epochal Event, one could wait 2500 years before something would make Jesus and the Bible wrong, or Confucius wrong.


One could wait 10 lifetimes with no challenges to our way of life, and no changes to Truth.


That seems to be exactly what happened.


"So just when you get things figured out, everything changes." Gus said, referring to right now, today, his life now, and dismissing any historical significance.


If you care about right now and not history, then the Epochal Event theory explains why we are destined to become mixed up every time between 12 and 25 years go by.


If you care about history, then you see why Epochal Events like DNA, radioactive dating, 500,000 years of ice layers, microscopes and telescopes flatly contradict the Bible. You would see how nothing contradicted the Bible or the Pope or religions at all for the first 1,500 years after Jesus.  But epochal events eventually changed the rules.


Iben and Gus, focused only on "right now" and not on the principles and philosophy of Life like I was, had just explained mathematically why we would be destined to be just like a teenager who "can't seem to figure out the rules."


"Wow." I said, bright eyed. "Every 12 to 25 years you have to start over figuring things out."


"So if you don't keep looking out for the change, you will be hopelessly out of touch. It's never-ending," Iben explained. 


He sat there looking right at me and explained like he was explaining the workings of a car.


Gus said "Those who don't change become complete anachronisms.".


That seemed to explain preachers and Italian grandparents pretty well. They all seemed to hold fast to the principles they learned when they were young, to their Rosaries  and Bibles, Saints, devils and angels, or whatever their stern and overbearing parents taught them long ago.


I could see for myself how even only moderately old smart people were even getting things dead wrong a lot lately.


My grandparents sure didn't know very much. They sure thought they did. And those old and arrogant, authoritarian Catholic priests and the Bishop of Cleveland didn't know much either. When we moved to New Mexico, we listened on the radio to those Bible Thumpers out of Texas. What they said sounded just simply uneducated. And they talked like they had a speech impediment.


My father thought he knew a lot, and he was only 2 generations out of step. He never changed from his youth. When I was a rebellious young teenager he and I got into an argument and he told me "When you get older you will see that I was right." 


I was waiting, waiting for him to be right, and it never happened.


"So that means, you will be mixed up every 20 years, or 5 times per lifetime."  I said.


It was startling. Everyone around me did seem to be mixed up. This explained it all. I saw it in a flash.


when it became

less than one lifetime ...


Great turmoil happened all over the world when the time between rule-changes got down to one human lifetime. Sometime during the last century or two, something fundamental happened. The time between epochal events decreased to less than about one or two lifetimes.


It was not that way at all, just 300 years ago. All those old cultures, like China's, Japan's, India's, Russia's culture. All focused on long term plans. Plans that could take 100 years. It was not that way 1000 years ago.  


And they were Dead Right, as long as the time between epochal events was 100 years or longer, the longest human lifetime. But the time between epochal changes isn't greater than 100 years. It's 12 or 25 years. Their time constant is now wrong. Dead wrong.


During the mid 1800's any half-awake person could experience for himself that the basis for some fundamental rule of his culture was no longer true at all, completely wrong, period. 


Revolutions appeared, everywhere.  American Revolution. The French Revolution. Bolshevik. Communist.  It even started earlier, with the Protestant revolution. 


This Epochal Event thing wasn't just a science thing. It related directly to Right and Wrong.



How did this relate to their job of weaponization of nuclear explosives?


They were deciders in one of the most prestigious laboratory systems in the world. They were in the Think Tank. Their job was to figure what to do next. That's what Tom Burford's whole Systems Analysis Directorate was all about. They got paid when we figured correctly on what to do next.


Strategy above everything. That was one of Gus Simmons's principles. We were getting paid for Strategy.


All of us, Gus Simmons, Iben Browning, my boss Bob Kadiddlehopper, his boss Burford, we were all part of planning long term research projects. Like Fusion. Or Space. Or engineering projects, like spy satellites, or hyperfast missiles, or android robot-delivered atomic bombs.


The Lesson was:

     "Make no long term plans."


Never plan a project that takes longer than an Epochal Event.


If you do a project that takes 40 years to finish,

     no one will give a damn

     when you actually succeed

     beyond your wildest dreams.


There goes lifelong visions.


The Epochal Discovery is that the Short Term gains win over Long Term strategies, nowadays.


Short term only. New. Terrible. Troubling. Upsetting. Heresy.


"Make no long term plans."


If  I would succeed at some long term plan, nobody might even care, because some epochal event would happen between now and when I got there.


"Holy Cow," I thought. "That's Epochal."



Many times after that little Epochal Event get together I would try to reproduce their data. I would get a fact here, a data there, but I never got enough to check their math.  I wondered: how right were they?


It did not matter how right they were about the exponential part. All that mattered was that multiple epochal changes are occurring during my lifetime. 


The epochal changes

      make every lesson of History

      and every Truth of Religion



That is epochal.


·          NERVA at Jackass Flats


Encounter With A Nuclear Rocket

a personal epochal event


As a side benefit for being so interested in space travel, my boss's boss's boss, Dr. Tom Burford, encouraged the atomic bomb testers tell me anything and everything related to making and using atomic explosives for propulsion, including the Top Secret things. Burford know I might use them in a starship. The word somewhat got around.


An atomic bomb test director named Dr. Mell Merrit introduced me and another bright eyed, bushytailed Ph.D. named Dr. Bill Bishop to a rocket that would take people to Mars. He gave the two of us a personal tour of Jackass Flats, Nevada, where the key, nuclear rocket work was done. It was just down the street a bit, so to speak, from where they had detonated gigantic atomic bombs in the atmosphere and deep in underground tunnels and holes at the Nevada Test Site.


The nuclear rocket project had just been abandoned and stopped. The nuclear rocket building had just been closed down. Mell Merrit got us into the abandoned building and let us see the rocket.


Mel's exact words to Bill and me were

       "that's the rocket that could take us to Mars."


When I saw the rocket on the test stand, I ignored the "radioactivity" warning sign and ran up to the rocket itself. I tried to wrap my arms around this nuclear rocket. It appeared to be so small I actually imagined I might be able to get my arms at least half way around it.


I should not have run past the radioactivity sign like that. I got a small dose of radiation. But it was worth it. I was a bit eccentric anyway, before that. After all, that rocket could have taken us to Mars.


The rocket was called "NERVA". People talk about this rocket program to this day. This rocket used hydrogen propellant. A nuclear reactor heats the propellant to a temperature where things would glow brighter than the filament of an old fashioned, incandescent light bulb. The propellant boils furiously and almost explodes into a hot vapor. The propellant vapor is guided directly into a rocket nozzle directly attached to the nuclear boiler.




This was simple.



A small nuclear reactor powered this NERVA rocket. NERVA used liquid hydrogen propellant.


Instead of atomic bombs, this rocket used a more tame form of atomic energy, a nuclear reactor. The engineers made this rocket and made it work. This was practical. This would not take us to the nearest star, but it would take us through the solar system. The NERVA really could be practical because they actually tested it at full power.


Never mind that there was zero liquid hydrogen in space, rendering it not practical enough for us to inhabit the solar system. with it. No gas stations for it. Ignore that.


Seeing and touching this NERVA rocket was an Epochal Event for me. Typical for Epochal Events, it would not be obvious for a long time.



e-beam phasor


Getting Fired Into A Real Day Job


Another Phasor Beam

They kept wanting me to work on phasor beams. The second phasor beam was a particle beam. The engineers who made the particle beam accelerators thought they had a better idea than the scientists who made the lasers. I got to analyze that one as well. But it did not work out either. For all kinds of reasons, the beam was too weak, the beam would not go straight, and the beam would not do as much damage as they wanted. I had to laugh when I heard that a beam generator would take so much power to operate that the lights would dim in the part of the state they would test it.


When we wanted to put the thing into space, the power supply would be heavier than at least 10 space shuttles. It would be 100 space shuttles heavy if you believed the engineers instead of the scientists. And the beam would not go straight, either.


However, I did learn a valuable lesson. The lesson would be so valuable that it would be the key to making a simple rocket to let us inhabit the solar system. I would use the extremely valuable lesson for knocking killer asteroids and comets from colliding with Earth.


I did not know that it was a valuable lesson then. No one likes to learn a lesson. We want things to work out, not to give us a lesson.


The lesson was that if you are delivering a blast of energy to something, to make it blow up and knock the target to bits, then there is an optimum way you should do it. This part was obvious.


More precisely, you don't want to do heat up the target too slowly, or it will just slowly boil and not blow the target up. Like the face doctor using a laser to burn off a mole or pimple: the mole comes off but your face does not blow up. This was obvious as well.


Not so obvious and most important, you don't want to heat up the target to fast. The answer is not like the rocket equation at all. It was supposed to be, but wasn't. That lesson was contrary to intuition and unexpected.


If you heat up the target too fast, the surface blows off at very high speed. However, too little of the surface blows off. The blast is too small, and the bad guy gets away. And the bad guy shoots back with a real rocket that blows you to bits.


Eye doctors do this when they do Lasik eye surgery. Their eye surgery laser deliberately heats up the target with too much energy too fast. The laser blows off just a layer of molecules off your eye lens surface. The molecules become very energetic and move very fast when they leave your eye, but they don't blow out your eye. They don't even bump your eye.  You don't even feel it. For you, that's good. For a rocket, that's bad.


The lesson is that if you use your precious energy packet to blow up just the right amount of target, then you cause the biggest motion and commotion in the unfortunate target. Contrary to rocket scientist intuition, you get the biggest bonk with only a medium atom ejection speed, and not the maximum speed.


Another thing I learned was a good trick if you need to shove an asteroid out of a collision path with Earth. The clever trick was to use the target itself as the blasting mass. All you need to deliver is a blast of energy. The fast version of Dyson's starship did that. All the phasor beam weapons deliver just a precious blast of energy, but not mass. The energy can travel at very high speed, such as the speed of light. But if you could afford a slower speed to deliver the energy, you could use energetic mass to deliver the energy.


If you were a space cadet, you could use this to save the world. You would  use the mass from near earth asteroids and near earth comets, already in highly energetic orbits in the sky, as your energy source. You will move them a little, and then save the Earth from total disaster. It will be much easier said than done, of course, because I am a physicist who is telling you what you should do.


The phasor beam projects were going so badly that I wanted to quit. I was so vocal about it and such a complainer, and did my job so poorly, that my boss's boss fired me off the job. His boss, Dr. Tom Burford, had gone back to Bell Labs and could not rescue me.


Even though I had been nominated to and voted in as the President of the New Mexico Academy of Science, I was still fired. I did a bad job at that as well. I was simply too much of an Aspie.


I went away completely depressed and believed I had no skills and was worthless.

·         spy satellites

·         \ S1 CH 12-spysatellites-Nf-.doc

Spy Satellites,

Another Space Agency of the United States



I finally got a regular day job, as a spy from space.


His nose was big and wrinkled. His coarse laugh and blunt smile fit well with his thoroughly bland, plain, ordinary clothes, no tie, with absolutely no fashion anywhere in his appearance. No pretensions at all.  Thinner, taller, just like an old fashioned engineer doing a job. 


Dave Henry's Spartan metal desk in a small office with no windows, with documents and papers piled neatly everywhere, all suggested no signs of any highly intellectual activities.  No interesting trinkets of space hardware on his shelves. No fancy wood conference tables. I sat in the uncomfortable, metal visitor-chair next to his desk. His office was so small office only a single chair fit next to his desk.


This geek engineer was completely unlike those highly intellectual physicists I was in the process of abandoning.


He was interviewing me for a job.


We were deep inside a single story metal building the size of a football field. The light-beige-painted, metal wall hallways went north and south, east and west.  A perfect grid.  I had been working at the southwest end somewhere. This was at the north east middle end, somewhere.


He posted a job for something related to spy satellites, little robot space ships that monitor treaties and watch atomic bomb tests.


The job description he posted wanted someone who could figure algorithms, computer procedures, for a space system. I knew about these guys. I had met their boss, and I knew rumors about their satellites that spied from space on communist atomic bomb tests in the atmosphere.


"Are you the same guy that did those algorithms?"  he asked, with his loud, deep voice.  He reached into the bottom right metal drawer of his desk and pulled out a document I had written about 8 years earlier.


"Yes, that's my document." I replied. I knew we had distributed it to everyone we could think of who could possibly use the algorithms.


In the document he pulled out I showed how to compute sine's, cosines, tangents, logarithms and exponentials without having to use long chains of multiplications and divisions. That is quite a trick. All you had to do was use a handful of simple additions and subtractions, and you would get a 10 decimal accurate trigonometry function.  This was something one could do very easily with simple integrated circuits. 


In my document I had explained how to use simple electronics to implement the these methods into portable devices.  It was very similar to what I thought the Hewlett Packard "hp-35" calculator did. I didn't know what the calculator did. My algorithms where sure easy to implement.


But it seemed that nobody ever used the algorithms, or cared. People thought it was elegant. That's all. I always thought it was a shame nobody used them.


"We used some of those algorithms on a piece of hardware." he said.




He stunned me.


"Wow weeeee." screeched several voices in my head.  Elated was the only thing I could feel.  Nobody ever gave me credit for using anything I had ever done or written in my entire life, except here.


And they didn't even tell me or ask me about them. They just used them. 


I knew immediately it meant I did such a good job and wrote it so clearly that they could just go and do it, like they did.


I wanted him to give me the job.


I didn't understand that all he wanted to do was get a real job done, with a pressing deadline.


I never encountered his type before, one who did not want to talk about it or ponder its significance. I never met a physicist who had a deadline to do something real. 


But I started in on him anyway, the only way I knew how, to make him feel proud about his work.


"You know, Curtis Hines said that the satellites are the reason we don't have an atomic war."  I remarked.


"Yeah? Why ' zat?"  he responded, in his dullest known mode.


Dave Henry was just not very interested in philosophy or feeling good. He was a man with 2 first names.


It just didn't register that he didn't care.


"No Surprises." I started with the conclusion.  "You don't have to worry about any surprises."  I began to explain.


He was supposed to be thinking strategically.  I assumed he was trying to think of ways to keep the super powers from starting a battle.  I wanted to have a conversation about how this is really a wonderful, good, positive endeavor he is engaged in. But he just didn't give a damn.


"We got a launch date to meet.  Do you mind overtime?" he responded.


His team had a satellite that had a real launch date, and Dave Henry needed some people to finish programming for its data stream.


I still didn't get it.


"The other guys don't have to defend against the maximum threat if they can see your real threat and how it isn't that bad." I explained, speaking directly into an intellectual vacuum.


"We have to launch this thing on a pretty tight schedule." he replied, as if I didn't say anything. 

"You can get comp time. We can't pay you over time, you're salaried." he explained.


I finally got it. "Comp" time is "compensatory time," where you take off on vacation for the same number of hours you worked extra.  We all know, that never happens. My kind and his kind think work is play, a hobby. We forget which is when.


"I work all the time anyway." I mumbled.


"It'll be fun to do something real." I commented without thinking first, and unintentionally revealing that all the other things I had done were not real. 


He didn't get that part, or, he didn't care. I could see that he felt like he was scoring a high-powered physicist.


He quickly led our conversation back to discus something that required  Secret Restricted Data, Q Clearance,  where we talked about the details of what an atomic bombs exploding in the atmosphere looked like to a satellite. 


I commented about "catching commie pinko rapist atheists trying to pollute our atmosphere," with atomic bombs, hoping he would laugh. 


His only reaction was to ask

"How soon could you start work?" 


Then he said "You want this job?"


"Of course, yes, immediately, right now, can I start tomorrow?" screamed the ecstatic voices in my head.   But all I could do was mumble: "Yes. It looks interesting." 


Of course I wanted the job. It was the only thing the whole of Sandia labs did that really stopped atomic wars. 


I could not believe it.  I got the job, just like that. And, they actually already used something I had done.


All the way back to my office I was fantasizing.  "This is real, a real job." 


An emotion rattled repeatedly in my mind that was the feeling of finally doing something instead of nothing, thinking, figuring, showing how things don't work.


I could hear my voice saying to me "This is real, with a real deadline and real hardware that really has to work."


It was also a huge compliment to me.  They implemented some algorithms I wrote about.


I was elated that something I did was actually worth something.  All that time with the Star Wars guys and with the phasor banks and laser photochemistry guys was all bull. All the space travel stuff was fantasy.


This was real.


I finally found what I had been looking for.


I learned something, too.

Question: How do you pick a topic that people beg to hire you for?

Answer: Pick something they really want done now.



Monitoring Treaties


I felt so good about this job. A couple of years earlier I had helped trying to find ways to monitor atomic testing treaties. I really did know something about what we were trying to do. I wasn't just a physics nerd, I thought.


One time Dr. Sam Stearns connected his PDP-8I computer up to an "analog to digital converter." His computer was really compact.  It was only as big as a refrigerator.


"It converts the computer signals back into sound." he told me.  I had never seen a device like this before. That is what I like about working at a National Laboratory.  They get modern devices like this to play with.


I had helped him get some digital tape recordings of seismic signals of earthquakes and some digital seismic signals of nuclear weapon tests.


"If we can tell the difference between an underground nuclear test and an earthquake, we can put that into the treaty." he said.  "Perhaps we could limit underground tests."


"What do you think they would sound like?" he asked. 


"I don't know." I replied, not realizing I was acting on queue.


"Listen to this." he said, as he played an hour of the Valparaiso Chile earthquake seismic record, digitally speeded up so the whole thing played in 8 seconds. 


"Wow!"  I blurted..


He played it over and over several times. 


It sounded like some plop sound mixed with the sound you get when you bend a long wood saw, sort of a long boing.  And then, near the end of the digital record, we heard it start to repeat.  The signal had gone around the world once and was repeating itself.  During the time while this signal was happening, people were dying in the earthquake. 


Every time I heard it I imagined people being buried and smashed, crushed by a roof beam on their chest, not able to breath, slowly suffocating, dying in extreme pain, maybe with blood dripping out of a pressurized leg sticking out of a crushed building too heavy for emergency crews to lift.


Never before had anyone heard the sound of an earthquake, speeded up. 


Then he played the sound of an underground nuclear weapon test. 


 "Bang!" it went. Exactly like a shotgun blast.


He played a few other nuclear weapon underground test signals.


"Bang!" they sounded, every time.


"Sure is easy to tell the difference." I commented the obvious to Sam.


"How would you make a program to recognize the difference?" he asked me. That was the challenge.


"I don't know." I replied.


 Neither did he.


 The 1960 Valparaiso Chile earthquake was a magnitude 9.5, the biggest ever recorded.


"That was an order of magnitude more energy than any nuclear weapon we've ever tested." Sam said.  It was also the largest earthquake ever recorded.  It was trivial to tell the difference.


"Do you think you can tell the difference between a very small earthquake and a small nuclear test in Nevada?" he asked me.


"I don't know." I replied.  That was a hard problem.


I went and did other things.  He gave me a copy of the sounds on a reel to reel tape. The tape got lost in a move.


This spy satellite job was definitely different because we knew exactly how to make it work.


But I did go away from Sam Stearn's digital earthquake sound with a mild emotion permanently embedded in my feelings:

an earthquake bigger than any  atomic bomb,

really happened to Valparaiso, Chile.



My Office


My office was an isolated desk in the middle of a long, old, trailer that was just one, long room.  Airtight against the weather, obviously very used, but clean. Nancy Ruiz had a desk at the north end, with a filing cabinet and one of those smaller, metal leg, dark plastic top tables behind her. This trailer was connected to another trailer like just like it, with Dean and his secretary as the only occupants.  Dean did something related to the Nevada Test Site.

Both of our trailers were out there in the mud patch just outside the main building. Wood boards over the mud made a path. Mud happened nearly every other day during the late afternoon summer rain. 

Emery Whitlow was at the other end of our trailer. He had another whole table for tool boxes. On another big table he was working on real space hardware.

Each space hardware box was about as big as a microwave oven. Each box of things, mostly electronics, seemed to have wires and slotted cards and tiny electrical parts jammed full.  There seemed to be no extra space in any box for anything more. I guessed that was space stuff for you. Every nook and cranny counts. 

On the big table between he and I was a single element heater plate, designed for the chemistry lab. It was perfectly flat and about 6 inches on edge and half an inch thick. It had a dial on it, for very accurate temperature control. That's where Emery cooked his lunch. 

Nancy and I were waiting for our new offices in the main building, 30 feet to the east. But Emery was exiled here, literally. 


"I'm exiled out here, you know," he said, with a forced smile, but confiding in me. I had befriended him immediately. I liked the way he worked, so meticulously.


"Why are you exiled?" I asked.


"I mouthed off to one of Brick's high level colonels," he said, now somewhat boasting.


He actually told a U.S.  Air Force officer, customer, some honest, highly critical but inappropriately timed truths about how the hardware was put together, the management, the Air Force "weenies" as he called them, and general disgruntling.


"Wow, you didn't get fired," I said, astounded, and revealing a fear typical for Sicilians.


No full blooded Sicilian (myself) would dare confront the bullheaded, stupid, loud mouthed violent despot elders, authorities, who would break your arm or shoot you for that kind of insolence.


"Besides, it was true," he asserted, this time gritting his teeth, wincing, still angry.


It wasn't the first time. He mouthed off for the N-th time,  one too many times.  Brick Dumore, the boss-boss, told him he had to stay out of sight, period. 


"So, why didn't they fire you?" I asked, wondering how he got away with it.


"They need me to put the hardware together and make it work," he replied, calmly.


They couldn't fire Emery because

1. he was too skilled,

2. there weren't others to replace him, and

3. he climbed a pole to defuse a live atomic bomb for them.


A live atomic bomb? Defused it?


¿ ¿ ¿What???


Nancy was supposed to be putting the whole software picture together for this satellite we are working on. I was supposed to figure out how to calculate the location and size of the atomic bombs our new spaceship hardware would see from space.


And Emory Whitlow defused an atomic bomb.


Emery's "152 Atomic Bombs" stories


Emery's nickname was "Shorty." I knew he was short. But I didn't like those derogatory nicknames.  I never did.   That is something out of the cruel past. 


I always called him Emery, and he liked it. Respect. He really liked that.


Emery Whitlow saw 152, atomic bombs go off.  He was there. Doing all kinds of things for the tests. At the Nevada Test Site and in the South Pacific. Underground tests, atmospheric tests, tests in space.  He saw big ones, monster Megaton bombs, and small ones. 


He told me how one time an atomic bomb at the top of the thin, radio antenna-like metal tower wasn't quite working right.  It would not detonate.  


??? Atomic Bomb did not Detonate ???


When they pushed the button, nothing happened.  The Atomic Bomb did not go off.


When you push the button, at least the high explosive in the Atomic Bomb should explode.  But it did not. That means the wires are not connected right or shorted.


Somebody had to go up to the top of the tower to find out why, and fix it.


So, Emery got into the small metal cage and the electric pulley hoisted him up.  At the top, the automatic turn-off switch that stops the electric pulley motor didn't work.  The switch was broken or stuck.


The motor tried to keep pulling the cage.  The tower started to bend.


"I was yelling at the top of my lungs down to the crew, to shut it off." he said.


Eventually they did.  Then he got out of the cage, high up in the air, one foot in, one foot out, stretching to do something. 


The 4 prong connector to connect the "fire" cable was rotated 90 degrees.  The wires were wrong.


Somebody had jammed the connector in even though the holes were the wrong size.  He un-jammed it, put it in correctly and got back down. 


Then they detonated the atomic bomb. 


"Weren't you scared?" I asked, suspecting Emery was pulling my leg and telling me a tall tale. 


"Nah. You wouldn't feel a thing." he casually replied.


From the way he said this, I was sure he practiced this a hundred times on a 1000 wide eyed people just like me. 


I figured it was true, if the atomic bomb goes off, you don't even know it.


I figured that you are vaporized within microseconds. It takes about 1000 times longer for the nerves to send any signals through your brain. Your head would turn into vapor before your nerves could begin to send a nerve signal that something hot just turned on.


So, you would be there, and then suddenly, not.


That was unexpected, but interesting:

"They aren't going to fire someone

who re-connected a dud Atomic Bomb for them,

and, on top of a skinny metal tower."




Emery's Rats and Killer Crabs Story.


One day before lunch he told me about how they were in some tents in the South Pacific, getting ready for a multi-megaton atomic bomb test.


"Was it fun out there?" I asked, hoping he would say "naked women, free sex."


"We sure ate good," he said.


"We were in these tents, big enough for at least 4 cots and 3 hanging lanterns, getting ready for a test." he said. 


"How far away from the bomb?" I asked.


"Far enough," he said, and continued on because he had a story and wasn't going to let me distract him this time. I had distracted him many times before.


"During the middle of the night we heard a loud screeching," he began, starting to smile, and clearly recalling something he liked.


"Repeated, loud screeching all over the place," he said, with a bit of glee. 


"I turned on the flashlight and all me and my tent-mate see are these big, monster rats, crawling up whatever they could as high as they could, inside our tent," he said, the punch line, as he watched my eyes get big and my expression reward him for persisting.


"What did you do?" I asked, wondering if he got bit, or his tent mate got injured.


"Aw, we grabbed a broom handle or something and whacked em." he said, somewhat ignoring the question.


"Outside, the rats were trying to escape huge attack crabs, crawling all over the beach, with legs covering 3 feet across," he exclaimed, showing me with his arms how big the crabs were. His arms indicated 3 or 4 feet across.


"These damn crabs were grabbing live rats in their claws, crushing them, and the rats were screaming." he said, asserting another good punch line.


I could not believe it. The crabs were eating rats. 


"We ate some of those crabs," Emery said, using a satisfied hunter look as he told me.


"The guys on the ship wanted some, and we gave 'em some," he said.


"They tasted pretty good," he said, concluding his South Pacific, terror-in-the-night sci fi story about atomic bombs and killer crabs.



Emery's In The Atomic Fallout Story.


His Nevada Test Site story scared me.


"Did you ever see an atomic bomb up close?" I asked. I asked every one I could about their atomic bomb experience.


"Closer than you would ever want to be," he replied.


I expected he would say he was one of the guys they put in trenches, too close to the bomb, during the early test days.


"We were in a pickup truck at the Nevada Test site just after they set off one of the smaller A-bombs," he started to explain. 


"I was in the passenger seat. I noticed the Geiger Counter was 'pegged.' " he explained.


"Pegged" meant that the needle of the meter was all the way to the right, like a speedometer at maximum.  The Geiger Counter was a device about the size of a quart of milk and clicked when a radioactive decay particle happened to go through the Geiger Tube.  The meter told them how many "rads" per hour, or per minute, or per second, depending on the sensitivity "gain" setting of a dial on the little box.


"Hey, this thing is pegged, I told the driver."  he said.


"What did the driver say?" I asked, on cue. He set me up.


"Turn down the "gain". It's too sensitive." he replied.


That's no way to run things, I thought.  This is radioactivity, not noise or fumes.


"So we kept driving.  Then I looked down and the thing was still pegged.  I said 'it's still pegged.' He said 'turn down the gain.'  ok, I said."


"Then what?" I responded, on cue again. Even I can understand this.  The meter is reading more radiation than the Geiger counter is able to measure. That's way too much. They are in real danger.


"It's still pegged. So I asked him, 'What do we do?' And he said 'step on it.'  " 


Emery said that with a laugh, as he delivered the punch line. He must have rehearsed one a hundred times, too, on gullibles like me. 


"Step on it" means "step on the accelerator and go faster" to get out of there.


Marvelous delivery, marvelous punch line. But I didn't laugh.  He expected me to laugh.


"So, did you get any radioactivity?" I asked. I was as serious as hell. This was not funny.


He saw I was more interested in him than in the adventure.  Apparently, this was not the response most people gave him. I cared about him, not his misfortune.


His face turned serious. He paused. He leaned to the side a little. His gritted his teeth, something like a forced wide smile, and I think he didn't know he was showing his teeth like that.


The joke left his face and something distant took its place. With a sadness and frankness and a low tone he said "Yeah, we got some."  That was unrehearsed.


He then told me what happened.


"Well, the wind shifted.  We were in the fallout."


"They lost the records," he continued, then smiled a half joke, half dead serious, "probably on purpose."


He looked down, he looked up and he said "They figured I got 75 rads." 


There was some silence between us. I recalled that 150 rads is the beginning of lethal doses. 


"Did it do anything to you?"   I asked.


"I don't know. I was always mean." he laughed.


Then his face got that distant look again. He looked down and then back at me. He involuntarily showed his teeth again.


"My daughter ... " he explained, calmly, frankly, because he said something that made me stop, cry inside, and want to yell to everyone what he told me.


We didn't talk about it much more. 


Emery lost his only son, a volunteer, front line medic, in Vietnam. He died as he was trying to carry a wounded soldier away. Tears kept coming to his eyes.  My eyes, too. 


Emery's Nuked Crows Story

On a different day in the Exile Trailer Emery told me another Nevada Test Site story, about the crows.


"They were about to shoot an atomic bomb and we started the camera's rolling.  At the same time some crows were flying toward the camera box. Then the bomb went off. This one crow looks back, and you could see he was wondering 'what the hell is that.'  You could see his tail feathers go up."


"What happened?" I asked, like a dummy that I am. I don't follow jokes that well. I'm and Aspie. I take things literally.


Emery smirked a little, stopped, and then loudly clapped his hands, 

"And then splat!"

he laughed.


After the hand-clap, well rehearsed part, he answered my question, wondering why I asked:

"Well, he smashed into the camera.  They were gonna sit on it."  


Everybody who hears this knows that bird gets smashed into the camera.




The A-bomb Burned Up On The Launch Pad


"You know we launched atomic bombs from Kauai," he said, smiling the way he often did when he was about to tell a 3 sentence short story with a sarcastic punch line.


I had been to Kauai, and even passed by Barking Sands. I had heard Sandia had some people there doing something-or-other.


"Did you see that one go off, too?" I asked, because Emery Whitlow had seen 150-something atomic bombs go off. 


"Naw. It blew up on the launch pad," he said, laughing.


He was so irreverent. But, rockets would blow up on the launch pad all the time. Most of the rockets we watched on TV when I was in college blew up on the launch pad. It was always exciting to watch. Fire and excitement all over the screen. Reporters getting all excited at the excitement. Rockets always tended to blow up on the launch pad.


"One of our chicken-shit, scardy-cat engineers was so frightened when they pushed the button to destroy the rocket on the pad that he started crying."


He paused for a second, carefully looking at me to relish every surprised expression I might emote, and then added, laughing like a seasoned atomic bomb worker,

"The atomic bomb fell on the ground and started burning up."


Emery paused a moment to let me picture how an atomic bomb the size of a color TV set would drop on to the launch pad and catch fire. He expected me to get scared. But I knew better. If an atomic bomb is asymmetric, it will fizzle 100 percent of the time. It has to remain painfully and precisely the way the designer designed it, or it won't work at all.  But Emery didn't know that I knew that.


He expected me to be all afraid. He expected how I would imagine how it could turned the entire launch area into a hole the size of 3 football fields and could have vaporized the control room and all the scardy-cats in it.


"He was crying and sobbing like a baby." Emery continued, mocking the guy.


"He was so afraid he was going to be blown up and killed."


I thought it was a bit funny and laughed.


When Emery saw me laugh instead of getting scared, he remembered I knew about bombs, and immediately added, laughing even more, "He wouldn't have felt a thing." 


Emery must have recalled when he told me about the time he was on that tower all by himself and fixed the connector that was supposed to trigger the atomic bomb that didn't fire.




Six months later, as I walked from my office to my VW in the brisk evening cool of the New Mexico desert, a blank voice in my mind said

"They didn't fire him because he sat with atomic bombs."




The New Offices, Inside


I had grown to like the seclusion of the old trailer. But  was moved to another .


Dave Henry was in the hiring mode. Everyone he hired had to wait in the unclassified area, outside a tall fence, until their clearance came in.  Their desks were packed together in an old trailer on the other side of the building.


He hired a new Ph.D. fellow with a strange name, "Round Tree."  I thought the fellow would be a Native American when Dave asked me to interview the guy. Some American Indians were supposed to have names like that. And I could not imagine a Native American wanting to work on computers, let alone get a Ph.D. in it. But he was a regular Texan with no accent.


Dave also hired some technicians. One of them, Stan Dutler, was assigned to work with me. Other people in the Lab had hired some female computer people. All new hire female's desks were packed in the same, old trailer while they waited for their clearances.  They were young, thin and pretty. And they were smart. I tried to talk with them every chance I could. Too soon they all moved to somewhere in the Lab.


And then we all moved, including Stan, to nice offices on the inside.  Everyone except Emery Whitlow.


Our whole team moved into nice, pleasantly crude office spaces inside the building.  The room was big enough for 10 or 15 of us to share. Some of us, those with higher status, had a sturdy, new, chin-high wall to separate our desk areas.  The room was warm in the winter, cool in the summer.  My desk was a nice metal desk, with a clean plastic surface.


I liked the secluded hiding place around the corner I had chosen, deep in the rear of the room and around the bend.  No one could see me if they wandered into any of the 3 doors to the area. I could focus entirely on the spy task: the flash location transformations. Those transformations were as tricky to solve as it sounded.


Dave Henry's office was out in the main area. Dave had lots of room in his office, compared to his other offices. Now he moved up to an office with no windows, big enough for a small metal table and three chairs.  Neither his table nor desk nor walls were cluttered with anything. 


Lena Valerio, his secretary, had her desk just outside his door. She took care of all of us.


A door connected our space hardware guys and their lab to our room. I always enjoyed walking past oscilloscopes and wires and tiny parts being put together on tiny boards, like a miniature city.


Dr. Don Rountree was furiously making software around the corner from me. Rountree was a very competent software Ph.D.  His part of the satellite would unpack the bundles of data into neat little time-stamped bins, so the rest of us could work with them.


Stan Dutler was working furiously, implementing a fast computer code I designed to keep track of bright spots, such as the huge number of sun glints and reflections shining into our spy satellite view. 


Don Summers, the mathematician, was helping me with the location transformations. He and I had to do the math to assign a location to any bright spots in the field of view.


Don Summers printed in the old fashioned style, on that wide computer paper with the holes on each side.  He wrote those equations starting all the way from the left margin and continued all the way to the right margin, 15 inches away, and then continued on the next line, and kept on writing equations till he filled two or three sheets.  Never made a mistake.  Stunning work.


Sometimes, some said "always," he would not use deodorant or take a bath. I didn't ask. I didn't know. His soiled shirt overflowing his belt, his soiled pants with a nail-sized hole above the knee, his dirty mustache and his awkward, sometimes crude, blunt humor annoyed my wife and most females.  But I didn't mind.  He did stunning work.


Don Summers was worth 3 or 5 times what I was worth, and he only as a Masters Degree. He owned airplanes and hangars and threw people out his airplane half a dozen times on most clear Sundays. 


I was happy. We were working with a real deadline, a real launch of a real robot space ship. The space ship hardware would look for real atmospheric explosions in the very atmosphere we really lived in. Our software would locate the fireball, calculate how big the bomb was, and tell on them. Someone in the Pentagon would eventually get our data.


If it wasn't too classified, our classification people would release the data and someone would tell the Media, Jane Fonda and the rest of the anti-war people that some bad people were shooting dirty nuclear weapons in the air we breathe.


This was important stuff.


Most of all, it was real. When we would issue an event report, Dave Henry told me it could go directly into the Pentagon and wake up a General in the middle of the night. If it were a real nuclear weapon detonating somewhere it shouldn't be detonating, like in anger, we would sound the alarm. Testing big atomic bombs at a nuclear test site is one thing, but using them in anger, blowing up cities, is completely different. 


This was quite different from the research things and wild idea things I had been part of. I had abandoned working on the reaction initiators for external burning hypersonic vehicles. Those vehicles would look and act like flying saucers in the distant sky, if they would only ever work.


I had abandoned phasor banks, which I showed would not work.


I had abandoned doing anything for the New Mexico Academy of Science, of which I had been President.


Nobody seemed to bother us with such nonsense.  We were working furiously on the software. 


Computer terminals appeared.  One terminal was near me. I got to use it any time and any way I wanted, my own personal computer terminal. I felt important. I could program the main computer instantly.  This was real luxury. 


We were really doing it, getting ready for a launch.



Dave Henry at ground zero


"Did  you ever see an atomic bomb go off?" I asked Dave Henry. I was turning over every rock, asking every older guy I met at this lab the same question.  I wanted them to tell me stories about atomic bombs. We will never see these things again, I hoped. So everyone who ever saw one was walking history.


"I was at ground zero." he boasted, and smiled.


"How can you do that?" I asked, knowing that there must be some trick. I never heard of any bunkers directly under the atmospheric tests. The ground motion would smash him against the ceiling or wall. I imagined him sitting at his desk, and then the concrete ceiling would be going 200 miles per hour, straight down at him. And then splat.


"I was on a ship. Directly under ground zero." he asserted, teasing me.


"Ok, how?" I asked, stumped. I knew it was a trick. It had to be.


"It was 70 km overhead. In space." he said.  It was a nuclear bomb test shot in space. 


"Wow. Did you hear anything? What did you see?" I asked. Instinctively I started in, looking for any description one can get from these him.  All the oddball things. Anything.


"Yeah. As soon as it went off. I heard a pop." he said, as he flicked his finger off his thumb, like a "pop."


"I got to watch it. Nobody else did."  he boasted.


"How was that?" I asked.


"The sailors were instructed to go inside, under cover. But I was not in the military. I told them I had an experiment on that test and I was going to go out there and watch. I was a civilian. So I went out."


"Then what?" I asked.


"The sky lit up." 


"It filled the whole sky." he said.  At 70 km altitude, there was no fireball. The whole sky above him did light up, especially because he was directly below.


The atomic bomb was in space. There was no fireball and there was not shock wave. Just light.


That's why his nose was crooked. He was directly underneath an atomic bomb.


He didn't get any radiation, either.  The air between the ground and space was about the same mass as 15 yards of water.


I remembered what Ben Benjamin told me: "Only 3 yards of stuff and you get no radiation."


Dave Henry was completely safe, and he knew it.


"Did you see any others?" I asked.


"Yep." he said, with a smile.


"I watched the atomic cannon go off." he continued.  The other guys were ordered to stay inside the trailers. They were military. I wasn't. So I stood outside."


"What did you see?" I asked.


"I was three miles away from the detonation." he responded. 


"You don't want to watch when it first goes off. So I kept my back to it. Then I turned around and watched."  he said.


"What happened?" I asked.


"Nothing much. I saw the fireball."


Three miles away seemed a bit close.  I bet he was farther than that, but the AEC was definitely known to put people too close to those bombs. Or, that atomic cannon must have shot a very small atomic bomb.


The Greenpeace and anti-nuke friends had something wrong. It was like they could not figure or compute. They got the radiation part wrong.


I needed to know the truth about radiation. I needed to know to get off this planet.


They cheated us with radiation scares.  Where were the monsters? Where were the sick people dying all over the place?


This was after Chernobyl. And it was after Three Mile Island. The anti-war people I felt aligned with failed me.


This guy was at ground zero twice, and he had the crooked nose before either.


 I felt cheated and resentful:

Greenpeace lied to me.

I know many people who prospered after getting scary close to nuclear things.


Dim Light of the Atomic Bomb


He was so proud.  Dave Henry pulled out a beautiful, full-color, pretty-color map of details of somewhere in the swamps along a South American equator. He unfolded it across a conference table near my desk  His crooked finger landed "right there" on a lake, such a pretty blue lake, on that expensive map


"You don't want to wake up the Pentagon with a sun glint." Dave said, beaming. 


"That lake was reflecting right into the sensor," he said, crunching his vowels and consonants as if the sun's reflection were alive and the lake was helping it.


"If we didn't do our job so well, this would look like a 200 megaton bomb."


That was not some random big number he quoted. It was the real number that our sensor would have shouted.


He was really proud. 


"You just make your algorithm exclude anything that comes from where the sun is making glints," he said, holding out his left hand's crooked long fingers like he was holding an imaginary earth and pointing at an imaginary point with the other hand's crooked index finger, jabbing at the glint region.


I tried to imagine the earth like a smooth, blue, shiny small basketball held in my hands at arms length, with our satellite about where my eye was. That was about the right distance. 


I started to panic. This was not an easy geometry problem.


"It's kind of tricky," he declared, smirking a bit, with the satisfaction of knowing that he beat the glints.


Well, I knew damn well it was tricky. I knew he was smart, and that he did figure it out all by himself,  for a different satellite. It was one of those geometry problems that could keep me up way too late.


All sorts of mathematical transformations relating the angle of the sun, the space craft rotating in the black of space, and the somewhat pear shaped Earth somewhere underneath, with the curved oceans, all had to be figured so we could tell where glints would be.


To Dave and I, this was a puzzle. How do you make sure you don't report a sun glint? 


To us, every bright flash could be some evil terrorists trying to hide their test of a nuclear weapon. So, we better not miss one.


On the other hand, we had to make sure we didn't wake up the Pentagon with a false alarm.


Those glints created buckets full of false alarm candidates every day, all the time.


I realized I didn't much care about the false alarms.


I thought to myself, hoping Dave would not see my lack of real interest, "If a 200 megaton bomb hit, we would not need a satellite to tell us."


"After all, the sun is a Trillion-Zillion ton atomic fusion bomb." Dave Henry would say, repeating the description that cast our beloved, Greenpeace Sun, the Mother of Life, as a dirty, war-mongering nuclear fission bomb spewing killer subatomic radiation all over Earth.   


"Of course, the bhang meter will tell you for sure if it was a nuke," he said.


"So, why don't we just let the bang meter do the work?" I asked.


"Go see Gary Masters. He'll tell you what to put into the software," Dave instructed.


I didn't quite understand.


Gary Masters was the expert on a particular sensor that triggered the satellite to wake up when someone shot an atomic bomb, and would determine if it was a nuclear weapon or not.


So, I went out to the engineer trailers to go find Gary Masters.


The satellite hardware guys worked in the trailers. The steps were muddy and dirty. The trailers were attached together to make bigger offices. They had been painted white once, probably 15 years ago. But these were trailers for engineers, so half broken steps and dirt and unpainted boards for a sidewalk over dried mud puddles were ok.


On the other hand, on every shelf, on every desk, in every cabinet, I saw at least one and typically several, clearly expensive, interesting-looking pieces of hardware, carefully resting or waiting for more work. All the hardware was absolutely professional and perfectly engineered.


The engineers handiwork was truly fine art. This was Sandia National Laboratory.


Most of the hardware things were box shaped, and most had metal box shaped parts attached to more box shaped parts. Wires and expensive looking connector cables and sockets were attached. Some had shiny plates and obvious 1 inch square windows attached with shiny brass or stainless steel screws and carefully milled stainless steel or aluminum puzzle pieces.


Sometimes the sensors were round like a quarter or dime.  Sometimes they were flat sheets on what looked like dark glass. 


Some cone-shaped things were painted the blackest black I ever saw and were just there as sun shades. They looked like totally black megaphones covering a hole in the dark bottom of the box.


I ran into John Mitchell first. His office was just as primitive as the other engineer offices.  The floor was worn down to the wood in the often-walked-on places. The plastic and rubber floor mats were worn and dirty. The windows were almost as dirty, splashed with dried mud from the dust carried by wind and wetted by summer rains.


John collected refined trinkets in his office. He had more space hardware relics and paper posters of space programs than most others. He got around more than others. He got to talk with the Air Force brass. 


Some of the poster pictures had our hardware drawn in.


"Why is it called a "bang meter?" I asked John.


Immediately I realized this was a dumb question. It measured the "bang." So they call it the "bang meter."


John Mitchell smirked.


"It's not "bang, it's bhang." he said. 


"Long ago, during the days when the AEC shot atomic bombs in the atmosphere, some weird scientist weenies just like you invented a "Bhangmeter,"  " he joked, poking fun at physicists.


"When they first made this device their bosses said it was so crazy they must have been smoking bhang." he explained.


Bhang was the India-person slang word for marijuana. 


He described something secret about it.


And the UNCLAS part was that a Bhangmeter measured squiggles and blips on the light signal. If one looked at the signal carefully enough, all the real atomic bombs had a certain set of almost unique squiggles and blips.  High explosives, sun glints, and meteors did not have those blips.


There were meteors and sun glints, and both could look like atomic bombs to a satellite camera.


"We stare at the whole earth, waiting for a bomb to go off," he said.


"As soon as a bomb goes off, the light triggers the Bhangmeter."


"So it's straightforward," I blurted out. I wasn't quite sure why they sent me here.


"But you probably won't see the bomb going off. The earth is too bright," he said.


???Earth brighter than an Atomic Bomb???


Confused, I asked, "So how do we know when to start the Bhangmeter?"


"You gotta talk to Gary," he said. 


I guess everyone knew that Gary Masters knew everything about it.


I continued on into Gary's office.  It was primitive, too. Same engineering surroundings as the rest, but neat. Perfectly neat. Clean. Not one thing out of place. And he had some kind of art tastefully placed on the wall.


"Is it really that hard to see a bomb go off from space?" I asked Gary.


To Gary Masters, the question itself was stupid.


"Of course it's hard. The earth is bright."


"But a nuclear weapon makes an extremely bright flash. Can't the satellite see the flash?" I asked, puzzled even more.


Even modern school children know that the flash of an atomic bomb can blind you instantly.  Everyone I ever talked to who saw a bomb goes out of their way to explain how bright the light is.  Everyone knows how the light of a nuclear weapon is so bright it even makes mountains in the distance look white.


"Sun's pretty bright in the daytime," he said.


Gary Masters saw that I was intrigued by the whole idea that an atomic bomb is nothing, compared to the whole Earth. But he still seemed a little annoyed, maybe interrupted from something important.


"The sensor that alerts us to trigger the rest of the hardware has a hard time deciding that someone just detonated an atomic bomb" he asserted, making sure he forced me to swallow this strange new fact.


"When you're staring at the whole earth, a measly megaton bomb is not a lot of extra light."


Gary knew how to make the light sensor that would trigger only when a sudden flash happened, even if it was just a little flash somewhere inconspicuous on a bright earth.


"So, how do I know the flash is not a bomb?" I asked.


 "The Bhangmeter signal tells you it's not a weapon."


"So, why don't we just use your sensor every time. Forget about figuring where the sun glints are," I asked.


I really didn't want to do that geometry problem of figuring where the sun glints were. Dave thought that was fun. Not me.


In the driest tones of voice, with the least amount of glee, and with the "why are you asking such a dumb question" nuance in his facial expressions and word inflections, Gary told me   "The Bhangmeter doesn't work so well when the bomb is too small or too big, and when it explodes high in the atmosphere."


That's all there was to it.  


He had the problem all worked out. I took the data and the Bhangmeter lesson and went away.


Even though I thought the flash of an atomic bomb would be extremely bright, it wasn't.


From a satellite in space looking at a daytime earth, the light of an atomic bomb, or a meteor, or the sun shining off the ocean, they all looked close enough alike that I had to do hard work.


I had to go back and talk to Gary again a few times, to get it right. He always seemed to be more difficult to approach. He seemed defensive.  He didn't seem to emote that glee that Tommy Thompson had.


He lacked that puzzle-solving smile that Dave Henry had.  The tone of his voice seemed to say "why are you asking me?"  and "why are you interrupting me?" or "what do you want?" 


That was curious, because he was one of the most cordial engineers I knew. 


And he would help whenever he could. His mannerisms were a puzzle.


The bomb light was a puzzle.  All the movies and all the TV pictures of an atomic bomb going off portrayed it as the brightest thing anyone ever saw in their entire life.


Everyone I talked with, no exceptions, personally told me they saw things even when their eyelids were closed when they watched an atomic bomb go off.  Everyone said the light was extremely bright.


It was a Secret how well Gary could detect atomic bombs, during the early 1980's. 


I thought it should be a secret forever. 


"We're trying to catch a sneakin bomb tester," joked John Mitchell.


Obviously. We didn't need a satellite to tell us if someone used a bomb like that during a war.


TV news camera's were everywhere in the world, and so were telephones.  The satellite would be the last one to dial 911.


The lesson of the puny bomb flash stuck.


I was learning.  What is big to us, is puny to Nature. The bright flash was not so bright, by comparison.


Walking down the hall, for a drink of water and a break to the bathroom I talked quietly to myself:


All that rattle and babble about the flashing light of a bomb, the sun glints, meteors.


"Dumb question" he says, with his face and his voice. Maybe.


200 megatons goes off in the jungle and nobody phones it in? Bull. 


I guess only one thing's for sure:

if something as big as a nuclear weapon goes off, you might not see it from space.




UFO's of Several Kinds


Charlie Zaffery told me "We see things we can't explain all the time."  


Charlie's real name was Efstratios.


"Why do they call you Charlie?" I asked. 


"Because nobody can speak Greek. That's my Greek name." 


In a trailer full of paper, volumes of computer printout paper, bound in thick, really thick, 6 inch thick reams, with several desks and several tables and many bookshelves full of paper, and with charts everywhere.  This was Charlie's place. He shared it. 


Such a nice fellow, so friendly.  And smart. 


This was a most shabby trailer.  It seemed that the clothes these engineers wore and the places they worked in matched exactly what people said about them. 


Dirty floor. Torn floor coverings. Wires everywhere. Lamps held on the desk with C-clamps and tape.  Power cords. computer terminals. Broken window latches.  Torn mats on the stairs. Wood walkway boards dipping slightly into the mud path between trailers. Amazingly crude.


Most of what Charlie did was Secret. 


"When they don't know what to do with the data, they give it to me." he said.


"I put them into the Zoo."


"What kinds of things?" I asked. 


"Some of it is just space radiation." he replied.


Radiation? From space?  He surprised me. I thought space was friendly, except that it had no air to breathe.


I began to focus on a new concept, and repeated it to myself as I walked down the hall:

Space is Radioactive


"Sometimes it's the Van Allen Belts."  he explained, referring to what disrupted some satellites and data. 


"Sometimes the sun showers the satellites with high energy electrons." 


"Can't you shield it?" I asked.


"Apparently not. That's not my job."


"How bad is it?" I asked.


"I don't know. Ask Brick." he said.


So I did, as soon as the opportunity came by.


One week Merry Peterson and I watched as a computer group working for some other project in another building connected the first 1024 hypercube parallel computer ever.


That nubmer,1024, is exactly 2, doubled 10 times. 


They had connected together 1024 little computers. Each one was soldered on to printed circuit cards. Each circuit was about the size of a playing card and as thick as 3 stacked quarters. 


Astounding though it seemed, each card was the equivalent to an entire PDP 8 I computer.  Just a few years earlier, that computer would not fit into a microwave oven.


The computer cards were jammed into a box the size of an old fashioned, living room, tube TV, and wires were sticking out of the box connecting them to each other, so many wires that it looked like hair.


Rather amazing to us.  So much computer power in so small a space.


Merry Petersen and I both got the idea that we should use a few of these in our space craft. 


The occasion to see Brick Dumore arose. Brick Dumore was the boss of all the space satellite groups.


They called him "Brick" because his face would get red as a brick when he would get even a little excited.  Herbert was his real name. His nickname was obviously a vestige of the cruel times when people called each other by nicknames, like "Shorty."  He was shorter than me and walked straight as a rock statue.


He walked like the boss. Even though he acted firm about all kinds of things, he would still smile a lot and made common sense every time he opened his mouth.


I found him very easy to approach.  His arrogance factor was missing. "Firm as hell, but not arrogant," I thought.


He was the Department Manager, the Boss's Boss and the guy who gets Big Bucks.  Emery whispered to me one time "He is getting $83,000 a year." That's when the rest of us were only making $32,000, so that was a heck of a lot of money.


Brick Dumore took us aside and made absolutely sure we understood The Word. He was being very stern and unyielding, almost unwilling to think of new ideas. This was not like him.


I knew it would be ok because his face did not turn red as a brick at all. Brick said that shielding these things was too hard. 


"Can't I just wrap some tantalum foil around them?"  I asked. 


During physics lab I had stopped some x-rays with just a thick tantalum foil.


"Now let me just tell you ... ."  he started in, with the stern and clear intention.


I could just feel the intensity of the message he was about to lay on us. 


"To shield that radiation," he started, pausing between carefully composed phrases,


"You need massive tantalum," he said, heavily emphasizing "massive" by saying it slowly and dramatically.


 "the hardware will need to be completely surrounded," he continued, and paused,


"by heavy lead bricks." 


Surprised, we got the message clearly. The shielding would weigh a whole lot more than the satellite.


Back in physics lab I played with lead bricks and made lead brick houses to shield radioactive bottles. Lead bricks are very heavy.


 "Space radiation is just powerful stuff, very penetrating."  he explained, like a physics teacher.


He was explaining, not scolding. And he was adamant.


"Space radiation is very penetrating." he repeated, using different words.


We went away deflated, but not depressed.


I liked the way he handled us. I thought we were some of his best thinkers. He just told us the facts.


Once we found out how intensely radioactive space was, we began to understand why our engineers used what we thought were primitive parts, old parts, electronics that seemed to be at least 10 or 15 years out of date.


I recalled how I had been puzzled about why I could go to Radio Shack and get higher performance electronic parts than what they used in the satellite.


We went to visit the engineers again. They always had interesting things to touch and marvel at.


"Of course they have to be rad-hard," said the red haired engineer who caught rattlesnakes for a hobby and tanned their hides for his belt. 


"Rad" meant "radiation."  "Hard" meant hardened against the effects of radiation.


The red-haired one was designing an elegant thermoelectric cooler for a space sensor.


The other engineer in the room, a relatively young, maybe 30 year old, computer hardware designer told us "the charged particle causes a short circuit in the computer chip." 


He was talking about the cosmic ray charged particle that went right through the satellite, and through his hardware. The one that goes through the whole spacecraft.


"You get a micro explosion. The burnt parts cause an electrical short. The chip's power supply makes a spark through that short that burns out a piece of the chip."  


And that was that.


"So, what do you do about it?" I asked. I could guess. Redundant parts, probably.


"You have to have multiple, redundant parts on the computer chip, and a way to check to see which parts died." he said. 


Strange. And both of them would not let me go. They wanted to tell me about why they could not use regular old parts like everyone else in the computer industry.


"We have to use chips that are rad hard." asserted the younger one.


"We can't use those low power devices.  We have to use the bigger ones, the old fashioned ones."


I had learned many months earlier that we used the old fashioned ones.  I always wondered why we still used those feeble chips that took a lot of electric power.  Electric power was very hard to generate, in space.


I had thought that the reason was bureaucratic. I had thought the worst of our managers, that they demanded we use old parts because they were the boss, and they said it, and we better damn well do what they said, or else "you're fired."


The younger engineer then proceeded to show me the special catalog of rad-hard parts. If a part was not in that special catalog, it would probably fry in space.  No engineer in his right mind would dare put a part in a space ship that would wreck the space ship. 


Our department manager, Brick Dumore, said it in a pithy sentence:

     "Space is very radioactive."


Brick made sure I understood that fact in no uncertain terms.  He knew I could figure out all the rest of the implications myself. He knew I would go ask the others about all kinds of details. I was a Physicist.


The whole exercise taught me a stunning fact:

Space is radioactive.



"Damn." I thought.


This meant we were stuck. We could not use high powered computers in space.


If we wanted to use high powered computers, or to let us stay in a space ship for more than a week or three, we would need to surround the ship with tons and tons of shielding.


The exercise taught me a design lesson

We need tons of shielding in space.

At least a ton for each square yard facing space.




Meteors and UFO Bombs


Brick Dumore had told me

"Those meteors, they come




He paused at "very." He paused at "close," as he looked at me with a smile that radiated "I'm confiding in you, because you have talked about this before."


"How close," I asked, "closer than the moon?"


His eyes lit up and volunteered, "Oh, yes."


I forgot that we were in a Brick Dumore's conference room. I forgot that we were just finishing with a small meeting. I forgot what the meeting was about. All I saw was Brick's expression. All I heard was that 70% of communication that is non-verbal. His face. How he stopped what he was doing and put himself into slow motion. How he focused just on me. The ominous moment captured my entire attention.


"How big?" I asked.


"Big Enough." he said. "Enough to do serious damage."


He emphasized "serious."


"How did you find out?" I asked.


"Oh, at a meeting. The astronomers got very concerned."


Then he seemed to shut off the spigot of data.


He acted like he had heard something secret and his eyes and his voice were telling me that some faceless people somewhere in an unnamed place knew something about how Nature did some things that were very dangerous,  and nobody was saying anything.


And then he acted like he remembered that he was not supposed to say anything to anybody, and he just leaked it to me.


At first I thought "They are hiding things, like the flying saucer and UFO people said they would."  Brick was definitely the kind to hide something if they told him to.  If they would say to him "don't say anything to scare people," he wouldn't.


"How often do they come by?" I asked, pressing for more.


"Often enough. Go ask Charlie about that kind of stuff." he suggested, knowing that I would.


I could see he got control of himself again.


He knew me and my reputation for having a nearly insatiable curiosity.  His suggestion was a blank check to ask Charlie anything, because Brick was the Boss's Boss. 


"You mean they are keeping it a secret?" I asked. I kept probing.


"No, just our part." he replied. He resisted.


Puzzled, I went straight out to see Charlie.


Charlie Zaffery and Norm Blocker were in the trailer. The trailer with paper everywhere, C clamps holding half-broken light fixtures to a desk, with a ragged floor mat. The trailer with the dirty windows and wires and computer body parts piled up. This was Charlie's place.


Blocker was standing next to a desk, looking at the 15 inch wide, 11 inch high computer printout. He always seemed to be smiling, and his deeply coffee-stained teeth almost always showed through.  This time his smile had an extra "I'm puzzled" feature to it.


Charlie was standing at his desk doing something with more piles of computer paper.


 It was a nice, sunny day, as it almost always was in Albuquerque.


"Do you see meteors?" I asked Charlie Zaffery.


"Meteors are easy."  he replied. 


We then had a Secret conversation about how big and how often.  The Secret was about how small a meteor we could see, and whether we had a satellite looking at any particular one.  I blew all that off because I didn't care about that.


All I cared about was "Do I have to worry about being obliterated." 


Then he explained the un-secret surprise part that I was looking for. 


"Some of the meteors have as much energy as the atomic bombs we used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during the War," Charlie explained.


He told me how the meteors looked somewhat like a bomb going off in the sky. A nearby satellite sensor would see it.  But he assured me we never reported them to the Pentagon in the middle of the night because Gary Masters's clever optical sensor device, coupled with a Bhangmeter, determined they were not atomic bombs. 


"They have the same energy as an atomic bomb. But they're not bombs. They come from space." Charlie said, half impressed, half laughing.


I knew what that meant.  It meant that the meteor fireball would be so hot it would vaporize anything near it, just like an atomic bomb.


"You saw them?" I asked.


"Yeah. They explode in the sky. But they're just not nuclear bombs," he said.


"I didn't see them, the satellite did." he said, correcting his imprecise statement.


Charlie often said things very clearly and simply. I always liked talking with Charlie.


The meteors Charlie was talking about were not that big.  So it wasn't that awful scary. I was hoping for a whole lot more.


Since I was asking about it and seemed to be so interested, I got to be an occasional advisor.


The sensors saw some peculiar things and nobody knew what they were. These things went into the Zoo.


Charlie, Dick Spalding, Norm Blocker, Cliff Jacobs, they all got to look at the Zoo.  The objective was to try and figure out what it was, whatever it was.


Not a single person ever postulated a "UFO."  Not even one. Nothing looked like a UFO.  The things in the Zoo were isolated, occasional blips no one could understand.


"So, how big are these bombs from space?" I asked.


"I d'uno. Like I said, like the bombs we used on Hiroshima." he said.


If that's all they were, I could just not get that interested. 


I had been to the test site.  I knew better. This was puny stuff.


If the meteors were big enough to wipe out everybody on Earth, now that would be interesting. I would definitely care about that.


But meteors only as big as atomic bombs?


That's nothing.


I blew this one off.


Brick was exaggerating.







Where was NASA?


I wanted to see a  launch. Going to watch a space rocket launch and going to the Nevada Test Site to watch an atomic bomb had to be similar. They were exciting adventures someone else would pay for. I was looking for just such an adventure, and for a way to go on an exciting trip to NASA.  If I would ever get to go to space, I had to get involved with NASA.


It seemed that Brick Dumore never mentioned NASA at all.


Nobody did. But many people talked about going to "the Cape," Cape Canaveral or Cape Kennedy, depending on who said it.


"How long have we been making these satellites?" I asked John Mitchell. 


I was prodding him to tell me a story.


"As long as I can remember. Forever," he joked.  "I don't know, 15 or 20 years." 


Somehow his comment triggered an epochal memory. In 3 second a flashback, I remembered when I saw the very first satellite. It was 1957, when the Russians launched the first satellite ever to circle the world.  It was such a big deal. They beat us. The Atheist murdering communists beat us.


About 5:45 AM on a cold, still dark morning in Alabama I looked for it. My buddy Pat Evans and I knew where it was going to be. He looked that part up. We were both looking up and walking on the sidewalk in single file towards the chapel.  Then we saw it. I looked up at the dark sky as I almost always did, because at 5:45 AM it was so pitch black, clear and full of stars. I saw it move slowly, directly overhead, as bright as a faint star. I was walking on my way to the chapel with about 35 other 13 year olds at a Catholic Seminary in the unpopulated part of Alabama near the Chattahoochee river.  The entire memory was vivid.  That was about 20 years earlier than my conversation with John Mitchell.


I expected John Mitchell would tell me some story about NASA and Sandia.


"We even launch them ourselves." John said. 


"We do?" I asked, a bit puzzled.


"We have a launch site out at Barking Sands, in Hawaii."  he said, smiling.


He exaggerated a little.  "We" meant a team at Sandia somewhat related to our group. Sandia launched its own rockets there, as well as others launching rockets.


What I didn't understand when Emery told the story of the atomic bomb that burned up on the launch pad was that Sandia had a launch site exactly at that site, along with whoever else launched rockets.


"We launch our own satellites, too?" I asked John Mitchell.


"No. I was just pulling your leg. Somebody else launches our satellite," John Mitchell said, laughing. "We just launch tiny rockets there."


"NASA launches our satellite?" I asked.


"Nope." He smirked.




Surprised, I asked what I knew could be a forbidden question.


"Who launches our satellites?"


"Somebody else," he said. He took great joy in letting me know only enough to let me conclude that "Some other unnamed entities of the United States Government" did the launching.


This was NOT NASA.  This was Some Other Agency of the United States Government. 


"Hey. Exciting," I thought.


Tommy Thompson

I walked around the corner and asked Tommy Thompson,

"You mean you don't ask NASA when you are going to launch?"


White haired, happy all the time no matter what time of day. Never wore a suit, always smiling, calm, excited about the science, excited about the engineering.  Respected, taller, smarter, he was the key analytic sensor inventor person for the whole space group. 


I didn't even realize that I could have been his descendant as an analytic sensor inventor person if I wished.  I never did realize it.  If I did, I would have matured faster, and my future would have been way different.


"Naw. We check with them to see where all the junk in space is, so we don't hit any." he replied.


"You mean they keep track?" I asked.


"That's what the IRN number is.  They know about how big it is and where it is. But they don't know what it is." he explained. 


The IRN number was up to 7000-something.  That meant NASA was tracking over 7000 things in orbit, most of it junk.


A piece of junk out there would not fall down because it was moving too fast. By the time it would fall as far as the earth's surface, it would have already moved thousands of miles past earth's surface. The junk was all in orbit. Our own little asteroid belt. Instead of rocks, our asteroids were bolts, space junk and rocket parts.


"Why don't they know what it is?" I asked, wondering how NASA could know it was in orbit around Earth but not know what it was.


"They don't have the right clearances." he joked.


"Don't we have to use NASA rockets?" I asked. 


"Naw. Sometimes we use their launch pads. Sometimes we launch from the other site."


Other site?  I didn't know there was another launch site.


Back at my desk, working the coordinate transformations for a satellite sensor system, I looked up, stared right through the walls of the room as I thought about what these guys told me.

I have been working with OTHER space agencies of the United States Government.

more than one.



I now realized these guys might not care if I found a way to take 100 people to anywhere in the solar system, or to the nearest star.


I was not able to figure out what to change in my life to get to do space travel, so I had to let it go. I did need to find out more about what these "different space agencies of the U.S. government" wanted us to do.



Brick the Boss


Brick Dumore explained to me just how serious we took things.


"What happens if you aren't ready?" I asked Brick one day.


I was half kidding, half just curious. After all, we were working late every day, and the software was a whole lot harder than we thought, and we were hiring people to help us catch up.


A stern look came over his face.  All seriousness replaced any smiling traces.  His face got as red as a brick.


"If we miss a launch date," he said, authoritatively, and in a steady, low, firm voice, "they will put lead bricks in our place, to make sure the space craft is still balanced, without our hardware on it.  Then they will launch without us. And they will never let us launch another thing." 


"You don't


wan tuh

do that."

he said, emphasizing every word as he looked right at me, not accusing me, just making sure I understand very clearly and in no uncertain terms.


"Boom" went the big, 50 ton sledge hammer, as it hit my attitude and changed its shape from whatever something it was into a flat thing, immediately. I guess I got the message.

"Don't Miss The Schedule."


The other message was clear, too:
"Don't Joke With This Boss."


These satellite people were dead serious about the schedule and dead serious about making things that absolutely worked. 


This was no Phasor Bank. I found that completely comforting. These guys were absolutely serious about making real things, not just studies.


Little did I know I was hitting a nerve, a sore spot.


But Brick liked me anyway. I was curious about everything we did, always trying to figure a way to make something work better or do something we could never do before.


Standing in Brick's conference room, I started at some artistically interesting, black and white, 2 ft photos of some kind of electron microscope image of something curly. Electron microscope pictures were always so interesting.


"What is this picture of?  It looks like the filament of a light bulb." I asked Brick, as I pointed to  one of several photos hung on the wall of one of the conference rooms. He had them where anybody visiting with no clearance could easily see them. They could not be all that much of a secret.


Perhaps the details are classified.  But, this part is not.  His face got red again. Then he told me, and some of what he said about a particular sensor design was classified. 


The UNCLAS part was something like "two launches in a row the filaments on some lights burnt out, on our hardware. VERY embarrassing."


The lights were part of some of the hardware that illuminated the readout on a sensor control. When the lights burned out, the position of the sensor became unknown, in space, on some very expensive, very important satellite. It was like loosing 3 cylinders of a 4 cylinder engine.


We then had to use other means to find out which way the sensor was pointed, and the "other means" did not do a very good job at all. We looked bad.  Since Brick was the boss, everything landed on him. 


He was clearly speaking frankly to me, relating to me what we must deal with. 


"We thought we had it fixed, and it happened a second time. There was some pretty high anxiety, that sinking feeling."  


He was so honest about a very embarrassing, very visible, very expensive and unfixable failure.


"Oh yes. They understood. These things are very hard to control. But they were not happy."  He smiled a bit when he told me, as he looked directly into my eyes.


He met the launch date, even if it meant partial failure.


I guess he was right. Everyone I knew, me too, did the opposite: We keep saying "wait" while we get it perfect."   But all they wanted was "now."


I didn't expect this lesson:

Finishing now beats finishing  perfect.


Why were we so interested in having our satellite tell us exactly where the bomb went off?  Why were we so interested in being able to detect more than a few atomic bombs at once? Why did these guys not give a damn about NASA and space travel? Who were we working for?



Overtime at the Antiwar Activity Center


We worked overtime and over lunch hours. All I saw for a solid year was my desk at work and the path to my car.  After work I would come home, have supper and crash on the couch.


I would come to work at my desk in the far, back corner of the room, hidden from noise and the line of sight of people, and work continuously for hours. I didn't have much time to talk with anyone. I would usually eat lunch at my desk. Our whole software group was too busy for distractions.  We even worked over the Christmas break. I had never done that in my life, unless one counts homework during college as work.


We were partly in this bind because the satellite sensor didn't work as simply as Tommy Thompson the designer intended.  He had redesigned the sensors so the job of pinpointing atmospheric nuclear explosions would be easier. But a minor detail of the design ruined his plans. I had to make up for the minor detail with tediously figured software. This damn thing was complicated. It was not so easy as we wanted.


We were on a mission, to keep atomic wars from happening. The better we could make this satellite, the harder it would be for the Bad Guys to have an atomic war and win. This was the Ultimate Antiwar Activity Center.


Terri, my wife, had called me several times at noon to come home for a quickie.  I laughed.  I suspected she was serious. She caused intense daytime daydream fantasy distractions while I worked. I liked that. But I didn't go home for the quickie. That was very stupid. A dumb thing to not do.  Terri never let me forget how I didn't come home for a quickie. Other guys bragged how they went home. Maybe they didn't have a pressing launch deadline. Why was I so dedicated to a satellite sensor?


 "I should have gotten a lover." she said.


No satellite was worth that much dedication.  But I didn't know it. I was dumb. 


Marylee also called me a few times, wanting me to have lunch with her. She provided an additional, occasional daytime daydream fantasy distraction. I fantasized that she wanted more than just lunch.  If she had called during my previous job, I might have snuck out, but I was too much Aspie to do more than just lunch. Aspies are notoriously faithful.


I fantasized  on occasion that I might have done the naughty thing with someone other than Terri. However, Terri would definitely have known if I would have, because of the un-hidable, guilty expression I would have had on my face.


So I told Marylee the truth: "I can't spare the time to go visit you."


"Even just for lunch?" she asked.


"We are extremely busy," I replied. 


And that was the truth.



Stan Dutler and I were trying to make the sensor do what Dave Henry wanted. I created the algorithms, he wrote software. What Dave Henry wanted us to do seemed to be a little strange. He wanted us to be able to track more than many simultaneous atomic bombs going off.


The hardware looking out a telescope at the whole earth would produce a lot of digital signals when something flashed like an atomic bomb. The satellite would relay the signals down to a computer we were programming.  My program was supposed to decode the signals and figure out exactly and precisely where on earth the flash originated.


Dave Henry explained everything so clearly. Twisting his face with glee and using a  engineering tone of voice indicating he was completely entranced as he explained:

"Your main job is to find out exactly where the bombs exploded."


I could understand how it was a fun challenge to find out exactly where, but why "exactly" where?  I knew the secret number describing exactly what "exactly" meant. But I was a bit puzzled: if someone detonated an atomic bomb over your city, would you care exactly what part of town it hit?


And I did hear him say "bombs," not "bomb." 


I asked Dave Henry "Why would anyone care exactly where they tested their bomb?" 


"The hard part is doing that when there are 100 bombs going off." he replied.


I stood there, trying to act like I was following, when I wasn't.


¿¿ 100 atomic bombs all at once ??


"Ya wanna know if it hit far enough away from our missile silo that we can still use the missile inside" he said.


 "Ohhhh." I said, as I finally realized what we were doing. 


Now I really understood my job.


He did explain once that it was all nice and wonderful that we could catch anyone testing an atomic bomb in the atmosphere. That's what everyone outside the secret fence thought was the reason why Congress paid the bill.


When we would catch someone testing a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, someone in the classification group would declassify some of the data. They would try to have someone tell Jane Fonda and some peacenik protesters from University of California at Berzerk-keley, and the protesters would go protest that the communists are being bad, making global mass murder weapons and polluting the atmosphere with their bombs.


The real reason was more war-like, like war monger-like.


"We want to know precisely how bad we got hit," he explained, wincing his face and pointing his crooked fingers at an imaginary map.  Then with both hands poking all his long, crooked fingers down at some imaginary globe, he continued with a wince "even if it's raining atomic bombs."


This was not just the peace keeper device Curtis Hines was so proud of. This was a war machine. 


"Where do you think they will shoot their bombs during a real atomic war?" he asked.


I knew the answer to that one. I had worked in a super secret think tank, in the Systems Analysis Division with Bill Goodlaffer. I knew that scenarios had the Commie Pinko Rapists shooting all their atomic bomb missiles at us all at once.  Thousands and thousands of them hitting all the United States missile silos, all within minutes.  They would hit us so fast we could not retaliate. 


Wow. " ... shooting all their atomic bomb missiles at us all at once ... "


We really were in a cold war.


I knew that IF the Commies would NOT shoot all their bombs at us at once, then at least one of ours would survive and shoot Moscow. 


At the time, I thought that those Commies didn't know how fierce we were. Garth Gobeli told me he would fly a megaton bomb in a private airplane to Moscow, himself.


Dave Henry wanted our satellite atomic bomb sensor to tell the Pentagon what missile silos were still ok and which ones were hit.  Then the Pentagon would reprogram the surviving missiles and, as Bill Goodlaffer would joke, "...shoot those *!^%!#@ Commies back."


Good thing we had nuclear submarines.  Nobody could know exactly where they were. They were just somewhere deep, out there in the oceans. Not even the Pentagon knew.  The submarines would surely retaliate.


His deep voice smiled as he talked to me. He was completely intrigued by what our satellite could do. I could feel his deep voice emoting, emoting how he loved this puzzle.  He knew that I felt this puzzle was fun, too.


"The job may sound simple, but the satellite is rotating in space, somewhere out there in the dark, 22,500 miles away, and has to look at stars to find out which way is up."  he explained, wincing and moving his long arms like a satellite in space.


He was trying to move his hands to show me what I had to figure out. "You have to figure which way is up and precisely where the Earth is." 


"Ok." I answered.  "Doesn't seem to hard to do."


This thing was indeed  hard to do.  I had to think upside down, rotating, pointed somewhere else. And on top of all that, he wanted me to have the computer keep track of dozens of things that looked like just tiny sparkles and blips of the surface of the earth.


Dozens of atomic bombs all at once.

All I could think of was that

These guys want to keep on fighting wars after the world blows up.





"You should help us do a LAZAP," Tommy Thompson told me. From the way he said it, it sounded exciting.


He introduced me to the topic by asking me,

"How do you know if the satellite is telling the truth?"


"What do you mean?" I replied, wondering if there were spies intercepting the telemetry downlink.


In a brief flashing moment I thought of all sorts of paranoid hallucinations for ways that someone could change the satellite data before it would get to my software.


"How do you know how well the satellite would locate the atomic bomb?" he asked, gently setting me up so to help him on an almost over-night, overtime activity where we wouldn't get any overtime pay.


"You compare what the satellite said with where the bomb actually went off." I replied, thinking of the simplest possible explanation for a calibration procedure. 


My calculations would use the satellite data to tell me where the bomb went off.


"What bomb?" Don Lazap interjected, after waiting for Tommy's line and looking right at me. Then after a well timed pause, letting me realize what he said, he laughed.


"Oh" I mumbled as I thought for a few seconds.


We had not seen any atomic bombs in the atmosphere for as long as I had been here on this job. We didn't expect the United States to shoot any. We didn't expect the Commies to test more than one or two in the atmosphere during the next many years. And we didn't want to see any.


He made me realize we didn't have any atomic bombs we might use to see if the satellite sensors were working correctly, or accurately, or even if they were working at all.


"Ok, so how do we do it?" I asked.


I knew he was leading me somewhere. But I didn't quite know where.


"We shoot a laser at it," Don Lazap instantly interjected.


" It fools the hardware into thinking a bomb went off." Tommy explained.


Excitement started to take over my emotions. We shoot a laser at it. Wow.  I want to see this. I didn't know they did this. That's got to be fun.


We were going to shoot a powerful laser at the satellite.  I could have suspected what "LAZAP" meant. But I just had to ask.


"What does LAZAP mean?" I asked Tommy and Don Lazap..


"Its a Laser Zapper. What else would it mean?" Don said, smiling, chuckling.


"Where is this laser?" I asked. 


In a rush of thoughts, I wished he would say we get to go to some exotic location like the Nevada Test Site.  I will get a big, expensive steak meal. Then we will go watch some pretty ladies dance around with no underwear again.  And then go to work the next day. 


Fantasizing, I realized "Maybe not." Maybe they do this here in New Mexico.  I will get some kind of a nice  trip to the White Sands Missile Range.  South of here a few hundred miles.  White sand dunes. Mountains to the east, with ponderosa trees. Whole forests of them. And Mysterious laser hardware. 


"By the East Gate." he said, snapping me out of the fantasy. 


"Really?" I remarked, disappointed. 


"Can I watch?"  I asked, hoping they would let me in on the fun.


"Sure, if you do some work while you're there."  Don Lazap snapped back. Don sounded serious.


"I don't want you just hanging around getting in the way." he added.


He said it in a way that implied people must often come around, watch Lazap, do nothing, eat his popcorn and just get in the way. 


I considered it an adventure. I presumed they thought it was work.  But I could tell they really liked the idea of shooting a laser at satellites.


"We don't come back there until it is really dark," Tommy told me.


"Go home, have a good meal, get some rest. Then come back 10:30 pm or so, with a flashlight." he instructed.


"And bring a jacket. It gets cold," he added.



It was dark and the sky was clear above the semi-desert of Kirtland Air Force Base.  In the crisp air I could see stars all across the sky. The city lights lit the sky a little, but not enough to matter. Without my headlights, I could not see enough to walk. It was pitch black.


They deliberately chose the blackest, clearest coldest night they could. It made for good satellite watching.


The LAZAP site was a square, inconspicuous, white metal-sided building about the size of 4 garages. During the day, anyone could see it on the way out the East Gate of Kirtland Air Force Base. Except this was night.


The building was located about a mile north of the glide path that commercial airliners take when landing from the east to the landing strip about 2 miles to the west. That meant it was also on the ascent path when a commercial airplane would take off from the west.


The building had some sturdy braces on its sides, and what looked like some kind of railroad track thing attached to it. It was obviously some kind of mechanical contraption.


Once inside, I saw the telescope. It was an aluminum-bar-ribbed, reinforced aluminum tube almost 2 feet across and 12 feet long. Don Lazap had mounted it with a few strong supports that folded down somewhat so it would not poke through the roof. 


Don Lazap used the telescope backwards. He shot the laser beam backwards, so to speak, into the eyepiece of the telescope out the front of the telescope and into the sky. This whole contraption was inside a metal building.


The room was full of all kinds of optical hardware, such as mirrors and clamps painted pitch black, and oscilloscopes, meters, wrenches, pipes, welders, telephones, chairs, paper, junk and electrical things everywhere. This place was real a mess.


A metal room, as big as an two person office, with no windows at all, was crammed into the building at the north corner. Inside the room was the laser and its power supply. The telescope was at the south corner of the building.


Outside, an old fashioned radar sat waiting to rotate. This radar was the kind that looked like a ten foot wide push broom held up in the air, wrapped in a smooth tarp and painted green, and connected by a fat cable spinal cord to a green metal military house trailer next to it.


"So, how does the telescope point to the satellite?" I asked, looking around at the building.


I didn't see any astronomy dome here anywhere.


"We move the roof back." Don Laser said. 


"What?" I responded, surprised.  They laughed. Nobody ever expected the roof to move back, so they always got a laugh out of that question. Everyone asked how they got the telescope inside that building to see stars outside the building.


The roof was on wheels.  When it was time to LAZAP, they moved the roof back.  The whole top of the building was open to the sky. 



Now it was time to shoot the laser and they pulled back the roof.


The night was so cold. Tommy told me we had no choice but to pick a cold, dark, clear night, otherwise we could not see the satellite. While waiting around I thought of all kinds of reasons why we were doing nothing and waiting in the dark. I thought maybe we would also have to wait till late at night for the satellite to get into the right position in the sky. Maybe we waited for the airplanes to quit coming by so often.  I didn't know. It was too cold to ask why. The wind blew and chilled everything, and, I thought to myself, "it was freezing my eye balls."


The only place I could get warm was in my car.


I thought about that laser. The laser was so powerful it could blind 10,000 people all at once, if the beam were carefully split into 10,000 little beams and shined directly into their eyes.


I thought about the satellite. The satellite was out there in the sky somewhere. Tommy said "somewhat south and somewhat up." It was about 22,500 nautical miles away. I never did care much for knowing what star was what. North star. That was it. I wasn't sure where the geosynchronous belt was. It was just out there in the sky somewhere. 


I could work the equations to point in the sky, but that was completely different. That was equations.


Then an airplane came by, landing from the east and approximately crossing our path.  My thoughts raced.


What!  Hey!  This is NOT something the leaders of the laboratory want me to be talking about in public. 


If that laser beam beams itself into the windshield of the airplane, the whole cockpit will light up 1000 times brighter than a flashbulb.  The pilots could go blind instantly, just when they are landing.


The old fashioned Army Radar machine was turning its radar dome, scanning the sky.  Some young guys were inside the green metal building, huddled around a glowing green picture tube radar screen. The tube showed that line scanning around just like I saw in the1945 war movies. This radar was exactly like the movies.  It was real. The two guys inside were carefully watching that radar screen. 


Each one was holding a button connected by a long wire to the laser switch. If either let go of his button, the circuit is broken and the laser won't fire.  That's the safety mechanism.  Anybody could stop the laser by just letting go.


Outside the radar shack, 3 different people were all bundled up in winter Eskimo suits. Two had  binoculars. One had some kind of spotter telescope on an expensive tripod. All three were holding a button connected to that long wire. 


We were still waiting.


Before he hooked up the laser, Don let me crawl up the metal ladder and peek into the eyepiece.  Sure enough, there was a spot of light thing he said was a satellite.  It looked like a star.  The only difference between it and the other dim stars is that it was standing still. All the other stars were slowly moving past it. 


I saw with my own eyes what they meant by a geosynchronous satellite.


This meant it was time.


Don Laser started the countdown.  At zero, I heard a faint t-BOOMPt, with a slight pop to it. I didn't see a thing.  No big red flash. 


"Hey, I didn't see a thing." I complained.


"You are supposed to open your eyes at "fire", not close them." Don said, laughing.  The others chuckled at me, too. I was the neophyte with a Ph.D. It made them feel good that they knew more than a Ph.D.


Tommy told me that "The normal thing people do is to hold their eyes wide open during the countdown, and then, just at the last second, right on 'fire', they blink, ". 


I see. All during the countdown I was straining to hold my eyes wide open, with the cold air freezing my eyeballs. Just when he said "fire," I blinked. It was a natural reaction.  Apparently, one has to be taught how to deliberately watch a laser shot.


"Train yourself to close your eyes during the countdown,  3, 2. 1,  and open them on "fire." " Tommy instructed me.


An excited technician heard my trying to see it and told me "it looks just like an arrow going right for the satellite.  Just watch."  He was really digging it.


I tried. The next countdown began.

"3, 2," I heard.


I deliberately blinked.


"1" the countdown continued, as I deliberately opened my eyes and stared.


"Fire." I heard over the loudspeaker.


 I didn't see anything.


"Why don't I see anything?"  I asked.


"You aren't looking at the right place."  someone else said, friendly, and trying to help me see it. He pointed to some stars in the sky and said "it goes right there." 


I didn't know stars, so I didn't understand "right there."


"How come I can't see it?" I blurted out to the three technicians who were laying in portable picnic chairs, facing the sky.


"Well, the laser beam flash is so short that if you aren't looking at it, you don't see it," one of them said.


"You have to know where to look, or you don't see anything," another one said.


The first one took out his flashlight and pointed it into the sky for me.


"It's right there," he said, holding the pointed white beam so I could see. 


"3, 2, 1 fire"


And nothing happened.


"Airplane." someone said.


The red and green lights of the airplane stood out. No landing lights, just the red and green lights at the tips of the wings. One of the spotters let go of his button when he saw the airplane


That's what they said, and I saw it work. If anybody let go of the button, the laser would not fire.  And it didn't.


The airplane was way out of the way, down by the Manzano mountains, 30 miles away. Way out of the way.  There wasn't any way they could have hit it. And the spotter was doing his job.


"3, 2, 1, Fire" the voice on the loudspeaker calmly spoke, sounding bored.


"I saw it!" I yelled. 


I saw a flash, out of the corner of my eye. The next three shots, I saw a flash somewhere. Until I got the hang of it all I saw was a flash, way to the left, or up, or somewhere, but not straight out. 


It took a dozen more shots, I finally started to see the arrow.  It sure did look like the beam left the laser and shot, travelled, like a beautiful arrow, straight into the dark sky, right at the satellite.


No one could see the satellite without the telescope. But the laser shot right at it, and we could all see it shooting, like an arrow.


"This can't be" I told Tommy.


We could not be seeing the laser beam going out like an arrow. It's all over way faster than our eye could possibly see, and I complained, puzzled.


"It can't take that long to get to the top of the atmosphere." I tried to explain.


"You can't see a beam moving at the speed of light." I asserted, emphatically, trying to explain more.


 I knew that the air wasn't any more than 20 miles up, and 40 miles across. The laser beam would travel the entire 20 or 40 miles in less than a 1/5 of a millisecond. Eyes don't respond that fast at all. That's 75 times faster than the frame rate of a TV or movie.


"Doesn't matter. It looks like it" the technician with the flashlight asserted right back.


He was right. It looked like it every time.


This was fun.


And when it was all over, I realized that I didn't do a thing. I got away with just watching.




This was so exciting that I brought my young daughters the next time we did it.  Jennifer was about 10 years old and Alyson was about 8. 


After I looked into the telescope we let Jennifer and Alyson see. Don and I let them crawl up the 8 foot flimsy aluminum ladder, in the dark and freezing cold, next to bare high voltage wires, C-clamps and sharp metal angle irons, in the freezing cold, so they could look into a telescope.


Neither could see much of anything except black.  The eyepiece is like the eyepiece of binoculars. Unless the eye is up against the eyepiece and looking straight into it, one sees nothing, darkness, black.  But they acted like they saw stars.  They were brave and cold.



I realized this was a safety hazard. I am sure this would be forbidden. One can not place children in such dangerous situations.


It was dangerous. Someone could get hurt. But we were being very careful.  I thought that those greenie extremist safety cops would just have to come out here at night and catch us. I wasn't going to tell them.


Besides, it was NOT that dangerous because the hospital was just 2 miles down the street, and we had flashlights.




The satellite designers and operators needed this LAZAP so much and it worked so well that they gave Don Lazap money. Don built a professional telescope system, complete with all the safety attachments included.  He placed a 3/4 million dollar, completely electronically controlled telescope from France in a pristine astronomy dome building built with new construction blocks. No more old broken down used trailers. I smelled fresh paint and read the brand new shining serial number plates. A big, 12 inch pipe brought the laser beam into the telescope from a perfectly comfortable laser building next door, as big as 3 offices.  The entire laser and a whole 3 ton table of optics sat comfortably inside that new building. 


A comfortable, well heated trailer control room sat next to the old, removable roof building, now used for storing parts.  We sat by consoles with TV screens showing what the telescope saw. We saw the stars on our TV screen. 


A moment before LAZAP "fire," a mirror automatically turned and switched our TV camera out and guided the laser beam into the telescope. 


The prettiest and biggest computer monitor in the whole trailer, complete with crisp, hi definition text,  maps and bright colors, was a direct telemetry link to the Albuquerque Air Traffic Controller. The old, World War II radar dome still turned, the spotters still looked out for airplanes, but the Air Traffic Controller had a direct link to our laser.


Even though we had a TV camera to look through the telescope when the laser was not shooting through it, the telescope was fascinating. Don let me look directly into the telescope at Saturn one night, before we did the LAZAP. Saturn looked yellow. Smog yellow.


On another night we pointed at Jupiter's moons. Not much to see on the TV monitor, but spacey to do. We got to use a joystick to point the telescope around. This was so interesting that Danny Holloway brought some hot looking girlfriend out here to watch. She was interesting. I showed her whatever I could to keep her around. But it didn't work. She went off with Danny in the dark anyway.


My computer in the main building was connected directly to the control room. We computed calibration constants from the LAZAP signals the satellite picked up.  Don Summers rand the computer codes. My job was to tell Don Summers what a good job we were doing collecting location data, recalibrating the software, and locating the laser flash using the satellite. I had figured all the algorithms. He got to make them work.


We did our job well. Our software calculated where the "bomb" the satellite saw apparently hit.  The software would nearly always tell us that ""a big atomic bomb apparently went off about 2000 feet east of Don Summers and my office." 


"Nearly" was a significant description of what went on.  We noticed that the software would give us a wrong answer depending on what season it was.


"The sun is wrinkling the satellite" Tommy Thompson told me. Every day the sun angle changed on the satellite.  It wrinkled, just like a cookie sheet in an oven.  The satellite would wrinkle and unwrinkled every day, as the sun moved in the sky. Different parts of the spy satellite would get hot and then cool off. That would very slightly twist the satellite optical telescopes. When that happened, the software would tell us "a big atomic bomb just went off somewhere else."  Bad dog.


"The wrinkles change with the seasons" Tommy said.  Sure enough, every season was different.


When Don Summers and I included the calibrations for each season, we got gold stars. Good dog.


"You get to work overtime till you get it right." said Dr. Larry Ellis, our new boss. He joked, and he didn't joke.  We didn't get paid by the hour. We got paid, and the job must get done. 


It was obvious. I knew it without proof.

Everybody must be shooting lasers into the sky. The Bad Guys must be doing int. We can't be the only ones shooting lasers at satellites.


And I also knew: the target satellites were not blowing up, either.


I realized that I could do this kind of work till I retired.




Female Nerds and Geeks. 


The software groups were becoming larger than the hardware groups, and they were beginning to acquire females.  Lena, the secretary, was nice, smart, technically sharp, sharp looking, but a secretary. 


And the new females coming in had degrees in Computer Science.  Some had Ph.D. degrees.  And each and every one of them were sharp, technically smart.  They knew what they are doing and did it very well. They were easy to work with. They seemed to make the kind of software that worked, that one could read and understand. 


The dominance of smart females made me question my core beliefs in the superiority of males.  I wondered if I were hallucinating that their work might be any different from ours, superior different.  I wondered: Are these females different from other females or from males? I found myself focusing on "us" and "them."


One of them, Amy Maxsmart, some days would wear the same kind of unkempt clothes as Don Summers, and with no bra, and her belly button sometimes showed from under the T-shirt.


I always liked her. She was so nice, and smart. And she always looked and acted nice to me. To me she was just like the girls at the University.  Not unkempt at all, nice.  To those older guys, well, too bad for them. They didn't know beauty when the saw it.  They were chauvinist.


One time the silhouette of her nipples showed through her T shirt. She just had a baby and was breast feeding. One of the older guys made a comment to her, something about a "puppy's nose." But she didn't get mad. Mostly, she reacted just like everyone else. Except for one thing: she was a bit more skilled than the males. She understood the big picture of our software very well.


One time Ray Prior, who was working on a team I led, brought in some pictures of a naked lady I tore out from a Playboy magazine when he visited my home, as a joke. Ray was a most competent engineer type, and not even much of a Geek, I thought. He was worth gold on a team. He took the pictures to work and placed them discretely almost completely hidden in the recesses of the metal bookshelf of his desk, somewhat as a joke.  He commented how he imagined that Amy would have him reamed for that if she saw them. He perceived her as tough. As a technical person, she was. 


Amy was surprised when somehow the topic came up when I was talking to her.  "I don't care at all. I wouldn't do anything like that to him."  She was a little hurt. She was hurt that he would think of her as that mean. She thought of herself as one of us, not one of "them."


He perceived her to be hard. He interpreted the clothes she wore to mean Amy was a liberal feminist bitch.  She wasn't. I knew her to be soft, because she was. She worked as long, smart and hard as anyone. 


Gary Masters and Brick Dumore could care less. Gary and Brick were somewhat dismayed that the software was getting more money than the hardware, and the hardware was at the heart of it all. They were hardware guys.


Unhappy in the nice new offices


And behold, completely new offices appeared.  Modern trailers with clean hallways, big enough for offices on each side of a hallway, with individual rooms. some offices had doors that locked. Each room even had a window.  The entryways each had a clean, new aluminum metal step.  Clean, new bathrooms.  Computer terminals everywhere. Outside and away form the big huge bullpen building. Separate. Comfortable. My office even had two felt boards. That was status, and a window.


I kept my desk clean and I had a nice computer.  This was great.


My new boss, Dr. Larry Ellis, smiled a big, wide smile and spoke with soothing tones of voice. I thought he could empathize with everyone he met. He got excited in a nice way about all kinds of things, technical or not.  And Larry did NOT make people mad, like Dave Henry did.  Dave never made me mad.  But he sure aggravated some of the others.  Everybody got along with Larry. 


"I'm aggressive, but not ambitious." he once told me. 


Sharp women with technical degrees were coming into the group fast and furious. For some reason, these females really seemed to be taking over. I thought it curious that they deserved what they were getting. This was NOT affirmative action. This was pure meritocracy. They were dominating by merit.


I should have been happy. But it was not turning out that way.


I got to work on a new and different satellite system, as well as the original one.  I got to stand around and delegate for the late night LAZAP's.  I got to be head of a small team, with Dr. Ron Schmitt, a really good mathematician, as one of the team members.  I got to have Merry Peterson on my team, a physicist and mathematician who went to the same university I did, and almost at the same time.


One time, Merry was so full of mischief that she jumped on my lap to make our relationship look risqué to the Air Force, official visitors about to enter my office. 


And I got to work with Jerry Van Slambrook, the guy who made networks really work. 


Everyone seemed to get along with each other.  Maybe I was dreaming, but I thought we all got along. 


I should have been happy.


My office was in the Eastern set of trailers, with a wonderful window view of the mountains to the east.  Debee Risvold is across from me, Marjorie at the end.


My social life went up a notch. Debee and Paul Beck convinced me to take up clogging, after hours. That was really fun.  Every Thursday evening I got to go dancing with Debee. Paul would not show up that often. Debee clogged very very well. 


Of course, Terri my wife didn't mind at all, that I would go dancing alone with Debee every Thursday evening. Terri was very open minded.


Terri knew. It was much less exciting than all that.  If you ever watched cloggers, you would see that nobody gets to touch anybody else. Not like real dancing.


I should have been happy.


And I was unhappy.  Something was missing. I was still going nowhere.  Clogging with Debee was more fun than work.  It should not be that way. Work should be more fun.


I could work here till I retired. The spy satellite topic was not about to go away.  We were making hardware and ground stations for a war that we all knew was just not going to happen. We would all loose our retirement if it did.  The Russians would loose theirs, too. Everybody knew it. 


And I could feel that I would never do anything great working with spy satellites.


I liked the coordinate transformation part of my job. I liked the people, and the smart, genetically superior females. My home was wonderful. I could be as secure as I wished.


But there was not one thing here that was great.


·         Spark Exploder


·        A Spark Exploder, Space Dust Rocket



Unhappy with the meaningless job, I kept looking for ways to escape. I kept looking for a way to make a powerful rocket to let us leave Earth, to travel the solar system. Any clue would do.


My day job on spy satellites paid the mortgage. Space travel had to be just a hobby, a fantasy, a daydream vision.


Then, two friends gave me puzzle pieces, clues, that ignited my space fantasy. 


The first clue: Merri Petersen, computer geek space spy working for me on my project, told me she knew of people who said the water in space was on the near earth asteroids. I didn't know what "near earth asteroids" were, but I believed Merri.


One could get hydrogen from water. Then we could fuel the NERVA propellant tanks. All we needed would be some water in space. Merri told me it was there.


The second clue; Dr. Gere Harlan, a physicist, excitedly told me how fast the particles exploded off his spark exploder. He said they went "5 to 10 kilometers per second."  That really caught my attention.


Gere was so excited about it that he got me excited about it. I thought the "5 to 10 kilometers per second" number was way better than what NERVA could do.  This could be a clue, I thought.


Excited and ignorant, I saw how his electric spark exploder could be simple. He used an electric spark to blow up dust. There was plenty of dust in space, on anything you landed on, so all the dust could be "rocket fuel", propellant for a rocket. We could have nearly unlimited amounts of rocket fuel.


We could inhabit the solar system. We could go to any planet we wanted.


Gere was making and perfecting spark exploders to detonate high explosives. They called it a "slapper." His exploder would be more safe than a blasting cap.

{{ image: simple slapper exploder, with dust flying off like rocket exhaust }}


All I would need was an electric generator and some dust. All the puzzle pieces were there! I knew people wanted to make electric generators in space because President Regan was paying for a Star Wars program. The Star Wars guys were figuring how to put high power electric generators in space. There was plenty of dust in space. I could probably land on any asteroid or on the moon and get all the dust I wanted.


{{ image of bag of dust from some space object }}


To make a propulsion system using Gere's spark exploder, all I needed to do was to put a pinch of space dust on top of an exploder like Gere said. Then I would have a simple rocket and a simple propulsion system way better than NERVA and we could take 1000's of people to Mars. It would be better because I could just "refuel" my dust bag anywhere along the way. Like unlimited gas stations in space.


We could start an Exodus, to leave Earth. We could inhabit space. Thousands of us at a time could travel happily to Mars, and beyond.


{{ image of bag of dust, electric generator, spark slapper exploder }}


All I needed was an electric generator that would supply 1,000,000 kilowatts of electricity to the spark exploder.


Woe is me. Nature was not on my side. Nobody knew how to make that kind of electric generator in space. The best they could figure, not do, was about 10,000 kilowatts, and it would weigh more than an entire NASA Space Shuttle. The best anyone actually did was about 40 kilowatts. That 40 was a lot less than the 1,000,000 I needed.


It would have been worse if I had stuck to it. I did not know that "... 5 to 10 ..." was no better at all than NERVA. I did not know my rocket science, but did not know it.


My wonderful idea was not going to work.


This was more childish than a high school senior project.


Space travel was screwed.


If I had done my homework, I would never have taken this path. The "5 to 10 kilometers per second" was not better at all.  When you don't do your homework, you take wrong paths and don't know it.


That's exactly what I did.

·         Comet Water from Dr. Marsha Neugebauer,

·         and Don Summers'  " ... clear profit"


Comet Water In Space


Every once in a while Nature is on your side. While we were working on our spy satellites, a lady named Dr. Marsha Neugebauer visited the National Laboratory from the Jet Propulsion Lab at Cal Tech. Funded by NASA, she would tell us about the comet Haley and about some kind of plasma related to comets. I went to hear her speak.


She would probably have clues. I knew of a great trick to use on such important people who present their work in public. I could trick them into volunteering clues and doing my homework for me.


When a speaker gives a talk, the speaker wants people to ask questions and give them attention. No matter how important they are, they will talk with you when they are done if you ask them a question during question/answer time. They will recognize you because you asked them a question.


You just need to elbow your way to the podium as fast as you can, and immediately after they are done talking. Use your whole body to get in the way of the other people trying to do the same thing. This is a trick I learned from the Aerospace military industrial complex. It really works.


So, I did just that. I asked her some question, I can't remember what it was. And then when she was done speaking, I rushed up to the podium.


Would she know of anyone who knew were there might be water in space? A hunch told me she might know. I told her I wanted water, real water, not just the kind of water that is locked up in a sidewalk. 


A sidewalk is a rock like a rock in space, like an asteroid. If you heat a chunk of your sidewalk in your oven, to as hot as the oven will go, it will crackle and spit, and some water boils off. Sometimes a rock in the middle of a campground fire pit will explode and hurt people, kill them even. That's how much water there can be.


"Not that kind of water" I demanded of Marsha Neugebauer.


I expected her to tell me there wasn't any.



"Right here," she said

with an excited smile.


Immediately she pulled out a fresh, new picture only she and her friends had seen, of the Comet Halley. She pointed right to the white spot on the comet where the water was spewing off, making a clear vapor trail of fog in space.

\ comet_halley_bw.jpg


"Wow!" I emoted, totally surprised.


I became instantly serious about nuclear rockets again. I got all excited.


Since I could see with my own eyes there was at least some water in space, I calculated using water instead of hydrogen in the NERVA type rocket. That would make a steam rocket. I suspected it would not work very well.


You would think that putting water directly into a rocket would be simpler than having to first separate out the hydrogen and then freezing the hydrogen to minus 400 Fahrenheit.


I would use a rocket something like NERVA and use water steam instead of hydrogen gas as propellant. A rather simple calculation showed that the nuclear heated steam rocket would work about 400% times worse than NERVA.


At that time I had not yet learned to figure orbital transfers, so I did not know if the steam rocket was bad or extremely bad. I knew it was not good. I set it aside for a while.


However, the steam rocket was so simple I could not let go of it. I kept drawing it and looking for more accurate ways to evaluate it anyway.


Steam Rocket:

heat water using a small nuclear reactor. Guide the steam into a rocket nozzle.


What could be simpler? We would pump water into the nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor would boil the water into steam at a temperature that would make the steam pipes glow bright-orange hot. The hyper-hot steam would expand in a rocket nozzle directly attached to the reactor.


I kept at it because Dr. Marsha Neugebauer and my coworker named Merri Petersen both insisted that there was water in space, and Merri told me who was working on it.


All excited, I told Don Summers how wonderful it was, instead of focusing entirely on spy satellites. I was the Project Leader and Don was my mathematician.


Don Summers, who was always focusing on work, on spy satellites, told me to my face, poking me in the chest as he said it:


       "The conquest of space is going nowhere

        until there is a clear profit."


Those were his exact words.


Unfortunately, he was so right that he tattooed this day in my memory.


·         Forbidden Question at Vail


A Forbidden Question


Sometimes, you need to back off, relax and ask Forbidden Questions to make it all come together.


Relaxing for an Aspie can mean calculating rocket equations. I would rather do that than go fishing. Fish are slimy. The fish hook is dangerous and can hook your finger and make blood come out. Someone else's hook can snag your eye. They don't look when they wave that long pole with a hook on the end of the long string.


You can buy peeled fish in the store.  You can't buy a rocket to take half the United States to Mars in the store.


On a ski trip to Vail one April 1987 I discovered a stunning way to use the energy and propellant of a nuclear rocket. It was completely puzzling, and it changed the direction of my career.


I was on vacation. This meant I could ask really crazy questions and figure their answers, regardless if the questions were stupid or crazy. I could ask Forbidden Questions and get away with it.


The Forbidden Question was: How hot should I run the nuclear rocket?


If you ask that question the rocket scientists will think you are stupid and treat you like a journalist or English teacher. If you are an Aerospace Engineer or Rocket Scientist and you ask that question in public, they will avoid you every chance they get because you would be a crank, quack, know-not. The answer is always "as hot as you can get away with." Don't Even Ask.


But, I was on vacation. It was my own vacation time. I was in the back seat of the car and Jennifer was driving. I could relax. And I could ask any damn question I wanted.


A very subtle difference between familiar rockets and this nuclear rocket was that the propellant was separate from the energy. The propellant is actually a coolant, like the radiator of a car. If your radiator clogs up and blocks the coolant flow because you didn't change the antifreeze like you were supposed to and it gunks up, then the engine heats up and can break. If  you run the coolant too fast, because the little valve thingy in the radiator hose is broken and you don't know it, the engine never warms up and your car sputters and won't run smoothly. 


I knew I could do this with the rocket. If  I ran the propellant through the nuclear heater very fast, the temperature of the nuclear rocket exhaust would drop. I would use much more propellant than if I ran a small amount of propellant. What would happen if I did that?


It's a stupid question. The rocket performs worse. Ask a Rocket Scientist



But we were on vacation, and I was trying to launch everyone in the USA on a trip to Mars, 1000 people at a time. We were stopping at the nearest space gas station, loading up with water, or whatever, dust maybe, and then tour on to elsewhere. Mars was a low grade destination. But Mars was popular.


Since we only had to pay a lot of money to launch the space ship, without its propellant "fuel," just like you buy a car or truck, all we cared about was the cost of the launching the ship.


You never buy a car with a gas tank that holds all the fuel you will ever use in the car. That's stupid. But that's what a NASA rocket does.


That is why I asked the Forbidden Question.


Life is full of Forbidden Questions like this.


The propellant was cheap, dirt cheap, space rock cheap. It was on one of those near Earth Asteroids that Merri Peterson was talking about. Or, it was on a comet Dr. Marsha Neugebauer showed me.


I wanted to figure it out for myself. This was fun. The figuring was fun and simple.


So, in the back seat of the car, on the way to Vail Colorado from Albuquerque New Mexico, I asked:


         What if you are not launching the propellant?


What if you are sauntering up to a space gas station, to a comet or near Earth Asteroid?


In that case, you only care how much if costs to fill up, and you know that is cheap. All you launched was the space truck with an empty tank. You did not have to pay for all the fuel it would ever use, like a NASA rocket does.


On a hunch, I wondered what would happen if I only cared about us, which was us on the rocket ship, and not about the propellant, the "rocket fuel."


This really was different.


When I finally figured out how to write the rocket equation with the energy source on the ship and the propellant at the gas station, separated, it was too simple. It was so simple a junior in high school could figure it, almost. It was so simple that I decided to find what number the answer would actually be.


Hot rocket? Cold Rocket?


I expected  "hot rocket" because this was rocket science.


But it could also turn out to be "cold rocket" "lowest". When you change the rules, you could get a completely different answer. You often get a completely different answer. This could have been like that laser phasor beam I had worked on long ago. Long ago, I got "middle" as the answer.


Nature is always a bitch. She is almost always not on your side. That's what we should expect when we do this kind of thing.


Sitting at the breakfast table at Terri's cousin's home, finally at Vail, Colorado, our host Michael Roessmann handed me a cup of coffee and then started mixing the pancake batter.


My face was pointed into the calculator and a small piece of paper with the equation. My simple pocket calculator iterated the solution to the transcendental equation to 2 decimal places. I was done before Michael served me a hot pancake.




Completely unexpected surprise.


Nature was on my side!


The answer was not only "middle" and not hottest rocket, but was even better.


It was a number that was about like what the steam rocket would deliver, bad as the steam rocket was.


If you only took high school science, you could do this.

The rocket equation was very simple:


          d = V  Ln ( (s + m) / s)


"d" is the "delta V" your rocket can achieve.

Bigger means better, and farther.


"V" is the specific velocity, the velocity of molecules of the propellant.

You will figure the best V. Bigger V is harder to do.


"s" is your ship.

You are in it. You bought it to ride in.


"m" is the propellant mass,

You buy it at some asteroid to fill up your tank.


"Ln" means "natural logarithm",

Use your handy, $5 pocket calculator


The energy E is as much energy as you can get out of the nuclear reactor or atomic bomb. The energy all goes into the rocket exhaust:


        E = 1/2 m V2


That's it. All you need to do is find the V that gives you the biggest d.




You find out that V is about 2/3 times d.


!! Hey !!, Nature was on your side.

If the "  2/3 " had been 15 or some other large number, you would be screwed.


It would mean the best rocket would have to run really melting, vaporizing hot. Engineers would be right and would avoid you.


If the  " 0.6 " had been 0.01 or some small number, you would be screwed.

It would mean you would have to buy the whole asteroid to gas up.


Anything greater than 1 means Nature is a Bitch.


But when it was just under 1, it meant you could run the reactor cooler, use a little more gas, and go a lot farther.


Nature was Mother, not a Bitch.


The absolutely unexpected and amazing thing was that the best specific velocity was about 2/3 of the velocity needed to get to wherever, like to Mars.  To Mars, the particular answer was "steam rocket."


The steam rocket would therefore take a bigger payload to Mars than NERVA!


I was stunned.


I was so stunned during the day that instead of focusing on skiing, I fell and hurt my shoulder. It hurts when I raise may arm, to this day, 20 years later.


This was heresy. I was a heretic. But the equations kept insisting on the heresy.  The equations kept saying that the best possible thing we should do to go from Earth to Mars was to use a crummy steam rocket, and definitely not use the super high performance NERVA rocket.


Subconscious Magic

Why did I ever ask that Forbidden Question?


Probably because my subconscious remembered something crucial.


Your mind works deep and it works when you don't realize it. Some brain surgeons after WWII found out by accident that if they tickled the right brain nerve, one would have a complete replay of a point in time, complete with background sounds and with the intense emotions of the moment.


It seems that the brain may record every single perception in our lifetime. It doesn't recall them so easy, but it does record, apparently.


In this case, my subconscious noticed that this problem was just like that laser phasor beam problem, and then it remembered the answer is probably a "middle".


I did not know that I had subconsciously remembered the lesson of the laser phasor beam. The subconscious remembered that the energy source had been a laser, and in this case it was the nuclear heater. It remembered that the mass had been the target itself, and in this case the rocket propellant.


It remembered the objective: bash it as hard as possible. Bashing a target to bits and bashing a rocket from Earth to Mars would be the same thing.


It remembered the question: do we energize most, middle or least?  The answer was "middle."


Therefore, Magically, the Answer had to be "middle."


To my scheming, devious, subconscious mind, the only suspense was "where is middle?". 


It was a coin toss whether Nature would be a Mother or a Bitch. For once she was Mother Nature on our side.





We are all too busy to do our homework. If I had done my homework very carefully, very tediously, I would have discovered that those who designed electric ion rocket engines had discovered the exact same thing I did, but 30 years earlier.


The main scientist who did the work had died, so he did not talk about it much anymore. Therefore, I was not such a heretic after all, but no one knew it. Nobody did the homework. Not even NASA.



A steam rocket uses water that is stored in a very large bladder. Nuclear reactors heat the water, boiling it into super hot steam. Rocket nozzles use the super hot steam to propel huge payloads. It makes the simplest complete system in space.




·         General Dynamics job

A Job At A Space Ship Company


The last thing I did at Sandia Labs as a Project Leader for Spy Satellites was to ask my boss's boss, Gary Masters, how I could do this marvelous discovery for rocket engines and space transport in his space department.


"You can't do that and work here," he said. It was epochal.


Instead of keeping a nice, secure, profitable job as a space spy, I gave up my job at Sandia National Lab, the nuclear weaponization facility. I left.


A former colleague, Dr. Dave Freiwald, asked me to be the Program Manager for a Satellite to Submarine, Laser Communication system program. The job was an adventure, a job in San Diego with General Dynamics, a company who made rockets and space vehicles for the US Government. I had joined the "Laser Systems Laboratory" of General Dynamics Space Systems Division.


Inhabiting the solar system was still just a hobby. My hobby goal was to find water in space, and then to get General Dynamics to get a contract to go there and exploit it, use it, make it work.


And then huge number of us could leave the planet.


I believed it completely. And my Forbidden Question was proof. It drove me, like Religion.


At General Dynamics, a space ship company, I looked for anyone who would know where water would be in space. Still, almost no one knew the answer. This was not a popular astronomy to do. Almost no one did it. There is no glamour in finding rocks or ice cubes in the solar system.


The problem was to find water minerals or ice in space, and near enough to get to and accessible enough to be useful.


I talked about it to anyone and everyone. I knew that I had a key to the game: a calculation that showed that steam rocket propulsion would be able to send many more people to Mars than anything yet proposed. 


We could inhabit the solar system using a steam rocket, and I could back it up with my equation. That's what I thought. I was sure of it. All Visionaries are. We almost never know how hard it will be.


A Visionary fellow named Dave Nickerson heard me.




·         Starship Submarine

·         S2 CH 04 010-GD-bootlegging--En--.doc

Submarine Starship


The Submarine sailors of the United States Navy startled me. They were highly technical, highly intelligent, and they told me their submarines were like space ships.


It was middle of November of 1989. We were in Groton Connecticut, a the General Dynamics submarine factory. They called this place "Electric Boat." I was one of a few VIP's being personally escorted on a tour of the submarine factory.  We were VIP's from Elsewhere, some other General Dynamics division. There were 120,000 people in General Dynamics.


It was as cold as one would expect on the east coast right next to the ocean with a wind blowing on a cold morning after a light frost.  It was a clear day, but chilly. The sun was just rising over the buildings. I was really glad I wore my best, dark grey, cashmere overcoat. 


This was my first time at a real, ship building, General Dynamics factory.  Workers were lined up at the security gate to start their day making nuclear submarines.  


Dr. Bob Geary was assigned to be one of our "Old Bulls," one of the Guardian Angels in charge of making GD LSL a rousing success.  He had been a Vice President at General Dynamics, Quincy, before they closed it down. 

"General Dynamics takes care of it's executives," he commented when we visited him, in a small, parking place office on the 12th floor of GD headquarters.  He was waiting for something big to happen so he could take it over and run it. Somehow he didn't think we were going to fit his Vision, but he played along, most of the time sarcastically.

According to his sneers, we were wimps, effete, and not bold or brazen enough. He even said bad things in front of us about our boss, Freiwald, behind his back. I thought Geary was evil.

"Will the Program Manager for Satellite to Submarine Laser Communication from the Famous General Dynamics Laser System Laboratory, please step over here, ahead of everyone else trying to get into the submarine factory," Geary beckoned half joking, with a tone of thinly veiled, aggressive sharp sarcasm I clearly sensed.

The VIPs from GDLSL were waiting in the wrong line to get through Security. We thought we were just like everybody else.  Everybody else was coming to work and there was a long line.


However, we were The Suits. That's what the Blue Collar workers called us. They were Blue Collar, Union. Because we were Suits, we got to go around the line and get special treatment.


"Suits." We were "Suits."  The union workers hated the Suits. I did not quite get, it at first. From what I could see, most of the high up, Vice Presidents of General Dynamics I had met thoroughly resembled cheating liars out to clean your clock, eat your lunch, and get yours, whatever yours is.


By the standards of the places I had spent nearly 20 years around, like AT&T, Sandia Labs, Los Alamos National Labs, these guys were evil. The Suits were always aggressively finding ways to screw the workers. I had never met any group like these managers in my life. 


I thought perhaps the entire industrial world might be the same.  Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Caterpillar, International Harvester, Fruehauf, any big company with big competition and whose objective was to make money, they were all candidates for being evil. 


In sharp contrast, the National Labs where Dave Freiwald and I came from were out to fulfill Visions. Here it was different. There seemed to be no vision.


After about an hour of introductions and feather fluffing, we began our day with a tour of a Big Boomer Submarine in the process of being built. The prospect of this excited us for days before we came here. None of us had been in a submarine. All of us came from science and engineering laboratories.


A young guy, younger than me, named Dave Nickerson had just started hanging around GDLSL, as an emissary from a Washington office. Dave Nickerson was the youngest of the Suits, younger than me. Some were ex U.S. Navy. There were many Washington offices. He liked GDLSL because lasers and satellites were flashy, more spectacular than a submarine.  He had worked for the office of the president of the Electric Boat division here.  He knew everyone and they knew him. He could walk through any door.  He was befriending us, and we liked that.


"Please descend into this Starship Submarine, through this rather small, metal hole."  Nickerson said to me, as we entered the Trident "boomer" submarine.


I noted that he used the phrase "Starship." Before we visited Electric Boat, Dave and I had talked about space.


The submarine was almost finished, but still under construction for the finishing touches. To get into the submarine I had to ignore the almost jagged, 3 inch around, 5 inch thick metal things, knob like things, round elbow things, big bolts and nuts and latches that work the hatch. The nuts on the bolts were as big as golf balls.  Everything on this steel boat was massive.


 "Try not to slip and fall 10 feet as you descend." he half joked. 


We had to go through the ritual of entering like U.S. Navy submariners do, through the small hole in the top. I guess this hole was a bit like that round, hatch door the astronauts go through from one module to another. But astronauts float thru.  Nickerson was joking.


I almost slipped. I really could have fallen 10 feet on to hard metal things. If I had a bad back or an arm in a cast, I would probably have had to stay out. This was certainly a physical place.


The workers must have been getting into the submarine some other way, because there were hundreds of them, all over the inside of this monster submarine, working with all kinds of tools and paint and wrenches and heavy cables.  There seemed to be 3 or 4 floors on the part we were allowed to walk through. The lights were bright enough to clearly see everything. 


Everything was made of metal. Walls. floors, hand railings, no matter what.  Along every hallway I saw pipes and tubes bolted to the wall, with valves or switches connected every which way.


In some places I saw levers and rods, real mechanical devices, and coil springs 5 times bigger than what you would see under an 18 wheeler.  No matter where I looked up at the ceiling, no matter where I was in whatever part of the Starship Submarine, I always saw more and different kinds of pipes and cables and valves, switches and more pipes, pipes of all sizes, pipes attached to the walls, going everywhere.  This was definitely NOT like an airplane.


I had my best Pentagon suit on. We were scheduled that afternoon to meet with the President of the General Dynamics Electric Boat Division. We were all prepared to show how smart we were. Freiwald had us prepare piles of viewgraph overhead transparencies, enough to keep the meeting going for 10 hours. We were not dressed for this steel boat tour.


We were traversing a passageway-to-be that connected what looked like all 3 floors. I could see up and down to the other levels. There were plenty of lights everywhere. Workers were everywhere.  They were painting and had scaffolds and boards and sheets on the floor we had to walk on.


When we walked by the white paint job these guys were doing, and when I saw the white spots of dripped paint on the floor, one as big as my hand, fresh like it had been just dropped as we walked by, I realized I was a Stupid Suit.


These guys would "accidentally" drop white paint on my suit, and I would look like a Dumb Suit in the Big Meeting. 


There were also oily things around here, unfinished, dirty things.  I started to watch out for everything, not to bump into anything, and to watch out above my head. 


As we wandered through the ship, I watched the expression on the faces of the workers as we passed.  They did not like us. I could see it.


Dave Nickerson was ahead of us, telling us about something or other. He reminded me of the conversations we had had before we came here.


Dave was always trying to find new things that would change the world. Dave found a way to access some of the research money of a new, General Dynamics division called the "Space Defense Initiatives Office," the SDIO. Dave worked there and was one of their thinkers.


Dave Nickerson and I immediately recognized we had a common Vision: Space. Space travel. General Dynamics and Space. We had talked about it several times before we visited Electric Boat.


Chuck Vollmer was his boss and liked the ideas Dave came up with.  Vollmer was an ex air force fighter pilot, was the bold and brazen guy in charge of the SDIO. He was their General Manager.


Vollmer was describing his days as a fighter pilot. Flying a jet through live bullets was more danger any of us had ever seen. Vollmer fit the "ex fighter pilot" image perfectly. Nothing could knock him down as he zoomed at near the speed of sound, engines roaring, through live fire near the ground.


"I was drawing fire, so we can target them." he told me and a few other, gawking neophytes at an evening party at Dave Freiwald's house. 


We had visited Vollmer's division often. Nearly every time we went to the Pentagon, Crystal City or Washington DC, we stopped at the SDIO.


I met Dave Nickerson at the SDIO.  Dave Nickerson was fascinated by my completely new, never heard of before, novel and simple concept of taking 1000 people to Mars, or somewhere else in the solar system. He told me that what he really liked was the enthusiasm and passion I had, and that I would back everything I said with real data.


I kept telling him about how a steam rocket could take hundreds, or even thousands, of people through the solar system and especially to Mars.  I excitedly told him how General Dynamics could be the one to initiate an Exodus to space. 


I realized it really was different for him to interact with a whole group of people who were driven by Vision, instead of greed and power like the rest of General Dynamics.


As we were walking around the unfinished sub, I thought about the lack of Vision at Electric Boat, about how Vollmer listened to Nickerson, and what Nickerson had told me about a submarine.


"Hey Dave, you really think this submarine we're in is like a space ship?" I blurted out. 


It was a series of thoughts all in my head and must have hit him out of the blue. I realized my question was complete out context.


"A submarine is like a space ship to Mars, you know." he shot right back. He was thinking the same thing I was about the Starship Submarine. 


It took a few seconds, and then the other Electric Boat people volunteered the same story as Nickerson.  At first, it was crazy.


"The submarine is  like a space ship," said someone walking with us who used to be an officer on a submarine. He emphasized "is" and deliberately repeated what Dave said.


I could not believe these crazy, whako statements these submariner people were asserting. 


How could a submarine be like a space ship?


I thought for a moment:

Submarines travel in the water, with smelly fish everywhere and gooey seaweed, and pooping birds sitting on the antenna. All you have to do to launch this ship is to have some lady break a champagne bottle on the front of the boat and let the thing slide off the rollers and splash into the water.


A submarine is **not** like space ship.


Anybody knows that. Space is space. Dark, empty, and you have to take off in a rocket to get there.


I walked a few feet and stared at some kind of submarine part, as if the conversation was just idle talk.


And after only a moment, an ex-Navy submariner who had been there spoke up, as if he was trying to convince me about a Starship Submarine, like Nickerson was saying.


"We traveled underneath the ice cap.  Several months. Completely disconnected from the whole world. With no way to come help or get us if we just vanished forever," he bragged. 


"How long can you stay under?"  I asked.


"Indefinitely," blurted another fellow, immediately. Then the fellow thought for a moment, looked at the ceiling a bit and continued "except that we would run out of food." 


I realized it could almost be true. 


"If we really had to, the food could last 9 months," continued the fellow, clearly trying to be precise when speaking to Suits wearing their full Suit. 


Watching that fellow work so hard at speaking precisely, I realized that our "Suits," which included a conservative tie, a dark suit, a white shirt, and wing tip shoes, were a uniform, just like the uniform that Navy people were used to. Our suits were the uniform, and the more we looked like someone from the Pentagon, the higher rank we apparently had.  I had deliberately dressed like the highest ranking "Suit" I could find in Vollmer's office. My suit mentor was a retired General.


"Why do you think there are 117 people on the submarine?" Dave asked me, setting me up for his main point, I could tell.  I could see the others, submariners, perking up.  They all knew the answer.


"I don't know. Soldiers I guess." I incorrectly answered.


"Skill sets" said Dave, in his typically succinct way of proclaiming a truth.


"Each person has a function. Dentist, doctor, machinist, cook."  he said.


"Just like space." he said, succinctly, again.


The submariners smiled, and they were all looking at me to see my reaction.


The ex-Navy officer with obvious status among his peers expounded on the way the Navy picks submariners.


"The nuclear submarine can travel essentially disconnected from Earth for as long as we have food and medical supplies.  Or until we go crazy. And we deliberately choose people for submarine duty carefully, a special type that doesn't go crazy."


He look around, and his peers laughed.


"We make everything else we need.  We wash clothes, mend the clothes, and communicate by radio or satellite when we get a chance.".


"We have at least one of every skill it takes to be independent. Some skills we have two or three of each." Dave asserted.


"Whatever it takes to have a complete, self contained society," the ex-officer said.


"What about an appendix operation?"  I asked, always trying to probe the limits.


"We've done an appendix operation on a table. We are prepared for that." the ex-officer volunteered.


"Just like space."  said Dave.


I could not believe it. They identified with astronauts.


From that point on, interacting with Electric Boat and the submariners became something directly related to space, not just a field trip tour.


The submarine seemed so spacious.  It seemed like a visit to a small starship, something like a big spacecraft, like a tiny version of a small Starship Enterprise.  As soon as we crawled into the entry hole, it was like entering a very advanced space station. It was clearly much bigger than any space station the astronauts were working in.


Gerry Dobson??whohuh?? at Sandia had told me a decade earlier that the submarines were completely cramped, highly claustrophobic things.


"No space between you and the ceiling. You have to squeeze when you pass someone in the hallway. Beds are one board wide." he asserted, claiming they were awful places.


It wasn't that way. It was a lot more like 100 big motor-homes, all packed and piled carefully together, connected together, with long hallways, and made of metal, heavy metal, and with all the furniture made of metal, and all with very expensive electronics.


The beds weren't as bad as they said. They were like wide shelves along a hallway, the submarine bedroom hallway.  Two or three shelves of beds. Each with a little cloth curtain, like a hammock strap, so you don't roll out. The submarine didn't roll around continuously, like a boat on the surface. It travels deep, moving in practically still water.


It moved more like a spaceship than a rowboat. No one was sleeping there at the moment. 


And I could see how I would hate it completely.  I could not see how I could get myself into my favorite sleeping position, a fetal position. I didn't see any nice fluffy pillows, either.


We were slowly walking through the part of the submarine where the 10 foot wide, vertical long tubes hold the nuclear tipped missiles. Somebody was explaining something boring. I did not much notice the chair-sized space between the tubes until Dave pointed them out. 


The space between missile launch tubes was like the space between neatly stacked water glasses in a cupboard.


Dave pointed to one of those spaces, one that had the chair and said

     "Someone owns that space."


"What do you mean?" I replied, curious about the leading statement.


"Someone will sit there and read a book. And no one will touch his chair or sit in it or disturb what he has there. It is his space. Territory. That's how it works."


"17 laps per mile" volunteered someone who noticed how completely immersed I was in all these little nuances of their spaceship, the submarine.


"The submariners jog around this track for exercise.  17 times around is a mile." smiled one of our tour guide executives.


"You gotta get some exercise, or you get out of shape." he said. 


"You could be out here many months at a time."


"And no jogger steps on the guy's foot sitting in the chair." joked Dave.


"I bet you are really glad to get out of the submarine and breath some fresh air after a few months in here." I asserted, trying to think of how I would feel if I were ordered to do this.


"Ohh, No. Not at all." disagreed a Navy person, submariner, just standing there, disagreeing with me completely.


"When you first open that hatch and poke your head out, you immediately smell the fish and decaying seaweed. It stinks out there." he said.


"Really?" puzzled, I answered.


"The air in the submarine is cleaned meticulously. We have to. We can't have bad air killing us, making us sick. That could sink the submarine."  asserted a taller, quite clearly highly educated ex-submariner also working as a Suit for Electric Boat.


"Wow," I said out loud. 


"Cramped up with 100 or so people for 6 months, and the air inside smells fresher than the air outside."


I was amazed.


They would not let us near the section where the nuclear reactor power supply was.  That required a higher clearance than I had.  If I had still been at Sandia, I could go anywhere I damn pleased on this ship.  But, I left. So I couldn't. We only had Department of Defense Secret clearances. Wimpy clearances. Reserved for plain, military secrets. Couldn't even walk around a reactor.


They did let us tour a torpedo tube area. It smelled a little bit of oil and looked like it was blue collar machinist construction site. The room was all metal. The room was obviously the place where 10 or 20 foot long torpedoes would be loaded into the tubes.


A thin, mid 40's mechanic machinist with dark hair and dark, horn-rimmed glasses for the farsighted was fixing something metallic while sitting on a metal ledge of some kind. A 20 inch long, 1 inch thick, chrome plated, heavy duty, dirty steel wrench precariously sat on another metal ledge between him and me.  As I passed I engaged him in some small talk, about how impressive this submarine was and how everything was so carefully put together. He seemed to refuse my attempt to connect.


I easily saw what would eventually be racks on which torpedoes would rest, waiting to be stuffed into those rather big torpedo holes. It looked like I could fit myself into one of those tubes, and with a tiny bit elbow room. The room was at least as big as a good sized two car garage.  I did not see where the torpedoes were stored. The ceiling was somewhat low, but plenty enough room for the taller ones to walk. Pipes and tubes and levers and hinges, all made of heavy metal, were connected to every wall and ceiling space, and in this room,  to chest high steel racks as long as a truck.


As I walked back towards the door, talking about something with the guy behind me, I moved my foot out of the way of the wrench that could drop on my foot. It was out of Sicilian paranoid instinct. Paranoia that they are out to get you. It's one of my genetic defects.


And the wrench fell, just as my foot went by. Not a lot of noise, just that heavy thunk. I looked up, and the machinist had his head turned away from where the wrench was, and then he looked directly at me, through his dark plastic horn-rimmed glasses. 


"Wow. I could have hurt my foot." I exclaimed, smiling, to him, glad that I instinctly moved it.


He stared at me, somewhat distinctly very unfriendly, clearly disinterested, and said in a plain, monotone "must have fallen." He kept on working, like all of us were not there.


I was wearing a suit. And I realized what had just happened:

You are judged by your company.




As we looked out an executive window of a room on the floor where the President of Electric Boat had his office, we saw the skeletons of submarines-to-be and the place where they dry-dock them. 


A big submarine looked like a whale as it slowly moved inland up the middle of the big river.  Almost completely submerged, black, just a little of its black skin uncovered from the water, it looked a lot like a whale.   It moved so slowly, again like a whale. 


"How big is that? Looks long to me," I asked.


"Longer than a football field. That's a boomer," Dave replied.


They call the big ones the "Boomers." Maybe they call them that because the nuclear warheads make a big boom when they explode.  


"How much does one of these things weigh?" I asked.


"Oh, I don't know, 10,000 tons. You can look it up in Janes.  I remember one of those small attack subs displaced 3000 tons. These are probably 10,000." Dave replied.


"Janes" is a big, 15 inch long, 3 inch thick book of color pictures and details of military airplanes, boats, submarines, battleships, and weapons.  When I paged through a copy I thought that most of the stuff in Janes would be secret. The details were amazing, down to the placement of bolts and rivets.


We were about to start our meeting. I realized that we were a group of Ph.D.'s and scientists, and our audience, all from Electric Boat, were not.  To them, we were highly intellectual Scientists from the Laser System Laboratory. 


One could tell by the mannerisms of the civilian managers that most were keenly aware that we were NOT their kind of suits. 


Only the ex Navy people seemed to be intellectual. I sensed a kinship with them, as if they had the ethics of the National Labs, and had to work in the midst of evil one.


As we wandered away from the window with the view, a peg point branded itself in my mind-page of key data:

A Starship Submarine weighs 10,000 tons.


Our meetings went nowhere except to entertain and dazzle them with our engineering fantasies.



Nickerson, Jokell, money, and the propulsive capture discovery

Bootlegging Steam Rockets: The Start



It was my passion for my Vision that did it. I inspired someone else, and he tried to make the Vision come true.


Dave Nickerson had come from the Submarine factory. The submariners felt a kinship with space explorers, at least because both kinds leave our world in self contained life support units, go where no one else can go, and then explore, alone, for a long time. They both leave our world, alone.


Nickerson was promoted to work at the "SDIO", a "space defense initiatives office." The SDIO had money for space things, exploratory things. Nickerson got us some money for us to show how a steam rocket might win.


And then, we could lead the way to inhabit the solar system.


Unfortunately, the space cadet Program Manager guy who got the money screwed it up.


And, it was rough getting my boss to go along with it.


After the whole episode, the space cadet casually gave me a clue that would make the concept practical.


Getting the first real money ever to explore a steam rocket started in late autumn at in the Sorrento Valley, north San Diego. The trees were green and the air was cool but not chilly. 


The SDIO loaned us a few people for a day, from Washington DC, to help us explore all sorts of outlandish excursions from our only real business here at the Laser Lab. Our real business was to make and sell satellite-to-submarine laser communication systems. We had no business doing the unrelated things my boss had on the entire agenda.


The whole day, we did everything one would expect of good bureaucrat engineers working for General Dynamics. We composed pretty viewgraphs and nice charts, and we referenced the names of Important United States Navy Admirals in Washington DC.


Typical arrogant manager, our General Manager, Dave Freiwald, wanted our Lab to do all kinds of things for which we had no engineers or scientists to do the work or invent the work. He wanted to do things with not one single person who was an expert at what he wanted.


How does that work? With Big Corporation Money. Glad-handers, Pepsi Executives and other non-technical's infest big corporations and are oblivious to the harsh reality of engineering details and science principles.


With a typical, DOA dead-on-arrival move, Dave Freiwald brought his experts to the meeting:  several marketing people, a couple of pentagon consultants, and some managers form other GD divisions that were not doing well, to "help".


"That's why he will succeed," I thought, sarcastically," because he doesn't need the engineers or scientists to imagine new things." 


Many managers think they can always hire the scientist or engineer when he needs them. It's true, but only the kind of true how a lawyer would say it. You can hire a scientist or engineer whenever

you need them. 


However, getting one who is expert at what you need and who can invent what you want is damn near impossible, damn near always. But you can hire one whose skills don't apply, any time.


During the meeting I could not help thinking in disgust, "You only need the managers and the marketing guys. Sell something you don't have, even if you have no idea if anyone can make it. Then go hire any old engineer to make it."


During this meeting we both had to think out of the box for General Manager Dave Freiwald. Neither of us had the technical skills Freiwald needed.  Neither did Freiwald. Freiwald did not know what he was talking about.


Puzzled, I did wonder if maybe Freiwald really did now what he was doing. After all, he was the General Manager, and I was not.


All day long, none of us would tell Freiwald that his half baked ideas had already been considered, or not even considered because of obvious idiocy, or that they would not work.  None of us could tell Freiwald anything. His ego was so big he would and often did explode at the any suggestion that he didn't know what he was talking about.


After the meeting it was clear no one here knew anything technical about what Freiwald wanted. His marketers told him so, told us so, and told us that our competitors did know their technical business.


Arrogant Freiwald ignored them.


That whole day gave me a bad, anxiety-derived stomach ache.


And no, Freiwald did not know what he was doing, and that kind of stupid management did keep us from winning any contracts.




An Epochal Memory

Every chance I got, every break, every free moment, I would talk with Dave Nickerson about how the calculations of the steam rocket showed we could completely change the way humans would go to space. I kept showing him how we could take a Starship Submarine to Mars. 


"But we need a start," I kept repeating. I did not know Nickerson had any money. He just kept acting interested, so I kept talking at him with my Visions.


Then Nickerson made a move. He started telling me how he would go to Space Systems first, talk with their Managers, and then come to GD LSL second.


"You don't have money. Space Systems has money," he told me.


"The SDIO does have money for space," he asserted, "for concepts exactly like this."  


"They do?" I answered, trying to get him to say it again. I hoped that making him repeat it would prod him to make it true, whether it was or not.


"After this meeting, lets talk," he confided. 


The end of the day came slowly. I kept wanting to hurry the "...lets talk" part.


After the meeting and almost past suppertime, we were standing in the parking lot of GD LSL.  The comfortable cool early evening air, clear blue sky, the blue-green eucalyptus trees with their leaves flowing gently in the slow breeze, the clean architecture of our lab combined to soothe our nerves.


This was an epochal event. It was excitement.


I was facing towards the SDIO, which was only a couple thousand miles due east of where we were standing. Nickerson worked at the SDIO. He was facing west and was facing me. I kept glancing towards GD Space Systems, just over the hill a few miles to the southeast. Dave kept referring to Space Systems. 


"I can get you money to work out the concept," he asserted, smiling, and obviously tickled that he found an idea that could really work.


"The concept is to extract water from Deimos, moon of Mars, and then use it to power a steam rocket to take people between here and there," I asserted.


We kept talking about gong to Mars.


"We could take as many people there as used to come over on the steamboats, like the Irish and like may grandparents did," I added.



Dave Nickerson saw the entire concept and what it could mean for space travel. I was glad he could see it without spouting off fantasies, like most of those who dabbled in space concepts did.


"I will do it through Ed Coy," he said


Coy had been General Coy, now retired from the Air Force and working at SDIO.  He would be the lead person.


Dave Nickerson did not figure out the engineering details much himself. I absolved him of guilt. Normally I would not absolve someone for not figuring the details. But Dave would get us money, and Dave depended on us to figure the details. 


"So what if he doesn't compute anything. I don't know if he can compute, and I don't care. He takes the word of the scientists and he bets on people." I thought to myself on the way home, justifying everything Dave did.


Within a few weeks, Dave Nickerson actually did get the money.  He really did convince Chuck Vollmer, the General Manager of the General Dynamics SDIO,  to allocate $50 K to do a breakthrough, joint space project with the new Laser Lab and Space Systems Division.


This was just like the National Labs, where we would ask for the money and it would happen.  


This was the way the story was supposed to go.




No road is really smooth. 


Our General Manager, Dave Freiwald, just could not stand the diversion to space topics. He didn't invent it. The diversion I brought was no more outlandish than his ideas. But he didn't invent it.


Freiwald wanted to be the boss of lasers that talk to submarines, and of things that he invented. He didn't invent what he called a crazy space water scheme. He treated this like I was doing a hobby on company time. He didn't like it at all.  If he didn't' invent it, he just didn't care.


"Freiwald invented everything in the world," Vollmer sarcastically volunteered one day, commenting on how Freiwald projected his self image.


Vollmer, Dave Nickerson's boss, put up with Freiwald and saw my steam rocket project as new visibility, so he funded me. Freiwald got the credit for another $50 K of "breakthrough project" money.


We had to bootleg steam rockets.


To get the money, Dave Nickerson had to assign a Principal Investigator, a "PI". The PI had to be one that the Great General Dynamics preferred. Obviously, Nickerson had to pick someone to be the Principal Investigator who was already doing things for NASA. That left me out. To them, this would obviously be some type of a NASA project. Too bad for the inventor: I was at the wrong place, at the submarine communication place.


They guy he picked was a Ph.D. named Bruce Jokell, at the GD Space Systems Division.


Big Corporations will do that to you. They will take your idea and give it to the most deserving person they have. Obviously, the arrogant leaders know that the

deserving person could make something of your idea far better than you .The company says so. The chosen person is typically the more "experienced" one.


Typically, the "experienced" one is out of a job at the moment, working on company "overhead". This means they keep the person around as an employee, make him do odd jobs until they or he finds something for a day job.


The "experienced person" will get to tell everyone about your idea and they will actually get the credit, even though it was completely your idea. They will also get the money to do it and will get to tell you what to do and when to do it. You will be angry.


Does that sound like a good deal? Sure. Your idea gets implemented. It could be really good for the Big Corporation.




It's like a fish should jump on your hook because it is good for the Life Form. Or like a deer with monster antlers should run up to the hunter, because hunters pay for keeping the predators away from the deer.




That's what would have happened here.


Except that Jokell screwed it up and I would not give him the keys to get out.




Exofuel: exoatmospheric fuel


This should have been really exciting.


Three of us were in the big conference room at GD LSL, the laser lab, at the large, wood table in the center of the room.  Each of us wore some version of a Pentagon suit. The lights were bright enough to read. The chairs were big enough for fat managers, big generals and the typically thin marketing guys, "Suits." The chairs were cheap, but very sturdy.  The room was big enough for 60, and the three of us had the room to ourselves.  That felt good. We felt important.


Dave Freiwald, our General Manager, was somewhere else and not making demands. People in the other rooms and labs of the facility were quietly working, making lasers for Satellite to Submarine Laser Communications. The weather outside was overcast and nice, as usual for the Sorento Valley, 25 minutes north of the San Diego airport.


Bruce Jokell, Ph.D., Rocket Science, the newly appointed Program Manager for my idea, was preparing for the first meeting with the players. The room was quiet. Bruce was sitting to my left at the conference table. Nickerson was to my right.  We are talking about what we are going to do as a team. I was slightly surprised that Jokell had a copy of what I wrote about Deimos, moon of Mars, and space travel.


Jokell put his copy of my 2 page description on the table in front of him. I looked at his copy to see how it came out after Xeroxing.  I saw and I liked my hand drawn, tiny cartoons of the moons of Mars and a nuclear rocket.


He didn't like the words at all. It was clear that to him, I was just a physicist, some guy from a laser lab, and he, Dr. Bruce Jokell Ph.D. was the rocket scientist connected directly to NASA.


Bruce was the Ph.D. Manager in charge of a real NASA Project. Someday it was supposed to have real NASA money and real people working for him. His every body movement was shouting at Dave Nickerson, the man with the money,  "What does this Zuppero guy know?  Why do we have to put up with him? Throw the laser guys out."


I could feel it, like heat.


Jokell just could not buy what I wrote about space travel. He was condescending and snotty about my coming up with anything having to do with space.  It was obvious at our first meeting.


It was my fault. When I read what I wrote, what Jokell pointed out what I wrote, I saw that my writing did me in.  I was minor leagues. My writing style clearly showed I was amateur at space topics. I didn't know anything about the rockets and missions of that time. To him, it was clear I obviously did not know anything. 


"Of course," I thought, as if replying to his unspoken assessment, "he is pretty much correct. I only have one thing absolutely right. All the rest is made up."


The thing I had correct was the only thing that counted.


The arrogant Rocket Scientist was not smart enough to see it.


The only thing I had right was a key concept that could change everything. Physics is typically that way.  One little thing here or there and everything changes completely.  That's what I had.


And that is what I did not communicate clearly.  Therefore, we were starting off on the wrong track.


I was too much of an Aspie.


Neurotypicals would have seen this, maybe.


It was true that I didn't know any details about what these guys were already doing. I didn't know much about manned or unmanned deep space planet probes.  All I knew about were spy satellites and communications, and how to take 1000 people to Mars.


Bruce Jokell was a rocket scientist. I was a physicist. I knew he would have to abide by the laws of physics, but he didn't know it yet. I could tell I would win the technical battle, but might loose the real battle.


Fretting, I did not like that my own writing did me in. I had made up all kinds of marketing stories about what the new rocket would mean for humans occupying space.  I did not know when I wrote it that I did not need to do that.  I was too immature.


Hey, you, 4th grader!

"Only the key"

Write only the key!

Say "I don't know that part yet" or say "that part is not relevant" when they press on you for details that don't count.


You can win fast if you do that. You can loose like I did if you don't.


But, Jokell and I were both in the dark. Two Ph.D.'s, both in the dark. I was ineffective. He was arrogant.


I could see his deficiencies. He acted the way an insecure person acts. He acted like a lower level person in the midst of a swirl of powerful Corporate Bulls. That's what he actually was.


I could not see my own deficiencies, but I did know I was too timid, with my tail between my legs, the way an underdog perceives himself.


And we went on, even though neither Bruce Jokell nor I believed in the other. 


We quickly agreed that we needed a title for this project. A nice title was not that hard to figure. We were getting "fuel" from outside our atmosphere. The fuel was water.  Bruce would split the water and compress it and liquefy it into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.  Those were real fuels. But that seemed harder to do than my way, just using the water directly.  Either way, we were bringing something liquid back from space, and we would put it into our rocket fuel tanks.


So the title would have the word "fuel" in it.


It was coming from outside the Earth, "exo" the Earth. 


During my spy satellite days I learned the phrase "exoatmospheric burst," for an atomic bomb detonated outside the atmosphere.  Our fuel was "exoatmospheric." 


So, it was obvious, the name must be short for "exoatmospheric fuel":



I really liked my acronym.  "Exofuel" I repeated to myself, 15 or 50 times, and thought a big smile while I thought it.  I liked the image of lower case letters better:   



As we sat there, we made the plans for who would do the rocket science and who would say what to do. Nickerson designated that Jokell controlled the money, which meant Jokell was boss. Jokell brought Chris Cassell to do the rocket science. I got to have a co-worker title. Neither Jokell nor I was completely happy. I was not happy that Jokell got to be the boss of something that I clearly invented, and something that was the key to space travel in the solar system.  He was not happy that I was pushing steam rockets.


Any rocket scientist could see that steam rockets were worse than cryo-fuel rockets.  It was obvious, to a Rocket Scientist. 


And I was a Physicist, and Physicists make the Rules that Rocket Science had to live by.  I found a new rule: a steam rocket could be monstrously better than a their cryo-fuel rockets for some missions.  Going to Mars was one of those missions. That was the first reason Bruce was not happy. He didn't know about the new rule I found.


On the other hand, I screwed myself when I fueled his second reason to be unhappy. It was my inability to write or communicate clearly. He could clearly see that I clearly didn't know anything about manned exploration of Mars or about any other deep space missions. He could see I was only familiar with military satellites in orbit around Earth.


This experience, where Nickerson is forced to give the brilliant new idea to someone who doesn't know the first thing about it, was how I learned first hand what the Evil Power Grabbers of General Dynamics do. Nickerson had no choice. 


The General Dynamics system demands that the managers steal Visions from their Little Visionaries. The Little Visionaries are the ones who actually dream dreams and feel the exhilaration for us as we soar above our dull lives. 


Then The Evil Power Grabbers go for the kill. They give the plum of a vision to someone who obviously has more skills than this Little Visionary.  Obviously to The Evil Power Grabbers, one of their comrades has more connections to NASA than I do, since I am only a Little Visionary. Jokell is the comrade. Their comrade published more things on space than I did. His NASA resume was better than mine. So he got it.


I had screwed everything up, except the important thing. The only thing I did NOT have screwed up is the one thing, the most important thing, the world changing thing: my payload was about 1000 times larger and my rocket far simpler than anything known to NASA. 


I was wrong when I thought that the rocket scientists had never calculated my propulsion scheme. They did.


They did not have water in space. I asserted I did.

That was the difference.


Without that, my scheme would not work.



Actually, I did not know exactly where to get the water in space.  The only places I knew of to get water in space for sure were the comets, and I thought they were too far away. Maybe that is why the Rocket Scientists would not listen.


I started to go into depression. It was entirely my fault that they didn't see it. I was telling the story wrong. I knew I didn't know how to tell it right. I knew I didn't know how to fix my deficiency.


Reality also helped depress me. The word "probably" was the problem, as in "probably get the water by roasting the dust of Deimos."  I did not know if the Deimos dust was as dry as a baked dust on a dry road, like the moon, or if it was a hydrated mineral, like regular table sugar, like what many asteroids were supposed to be. I just didn't know.


Depression set in, because if there were no water in space, everything I said would be useless. I began to despair, because Rocket Scientists were the experts, and I was only an outsider with nothing but fantasies.


Water on Deimos of Mars would be absolutely ideal for the occupation of Mars. Water in orbit around the Earth would be phantasmagorical, but that was a fantasy and I knew it. 


I had calculated several different options and found out how Deimos of Mars was a perfect staging area, a stepping stone for Mars.  The orbit was nearly perfect for optimal transfers. 


Unexpectedly, Bruce Jokell also believed there was water on Deimos of Mars. His buddy had figured a way to extract the water.


Our exofuel program would figure a way to use the water it would extract from Deimos.


Bruce Jokell should have seen it.


Plodding Along

Our little Exofuel program went on, a few small steps at a time.  The team would make contact only about once a month or so.  A $50,000 R&D program was typically that way.  It only paid for a few months of work, and the work had to be spread out so it would not interfere with the day job.


Chris Cassell at space systems division kept doing the work.


Every time we met, the Principal Investigator of the EXOFUEL project made it more clear. He was so full of himself that he could not see the key physics.  No matter what I would say, Jokell would screw up the direction of the research focus. He screwed it up from the start.


He missed a factor of 1000 increase in payload.  I could not believe he that he could not figure, but he could not figure.


Somewhat despairing, I began to hear myself echoing the words "Now we know: Rocket Scientists Can't Figure."


If he would figure, he would see that his knee-jerk approach would not work. But he insisted on his way. Bruce Jokell insisted that we make a space architecture that would extract water from the Deimos dust, separate it into hydrogen and oxygen gasses, then compress the gasses and freeze them to cryogenic temperatures into liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuels.  This upset me every time I heard it. 


So damn complicated.


That is not what we got the money for.  We got the money to look at something really new and progressive, steam propulsion. We got the money to look at something that would permit us to simply skip over all the hard steps and all the steps that required heavy and expensive, inefficient machines in space, such as those electric water splitters. We specifically were not supposed to get the money to look at water splitters. It frustrated me every time I heard the details of how our team was looking at water splitters.


I tried to talk with Jokell about it.


"My buddy figured out how to roast the dust of Deimos with an electric heater. Then you get the water," Bruce Jokell explained to me, when I asked him where he got the data he claimed. 


"When was this?" I asked.


Stupid idiot.


You don't need any electricity. You roast the dust of Deimos with a nuclear reactor itself. Electricity is hugely not efficient  What a dumb shiphead.


"A year ago." Bruce replied.


"What does he do?" I asked, wondering how the guy splits the water.


"Then you split the water into hydrogen and oxygen and," Bruce went on.


"blah blah blah blah blah blah." was all I could hear him say. 


I had already calculated that water splitter part. I waited until I he was finished with the water splitter part to start listening again. But he kept on going.


"Blah Blah you can read about rocket science on how water on the Martian moon can be converted into rocket fuel and," he continued, as I heard more blah blah blah. 


"NO!" was all I could think.


"NO!" was all I could emote.


"This is Terrible," I thought.


Talking to myself as I walked to my truck to go home from work, I said "I think he doesn't understand. I can deliver a few thousand tons of water back to Earth orbit, from Mars. That's enough to send a small Starship Submarine back to Mars, full of people."


On another day, later, sitting on a plane to the Pentagon, I took out my calculator and figured once more, just how much a few thousand tons of rocket fuel was good for.


"That's more rocket fuel than what a dozen space shuttles weigh." I commented softly, aloud, and under the whooshing roar of the airplane cabin.


"And he is piddling around with a few thousand pounds," I thought, referring to the 20 tons or so of rocket fuel the Exofuel program was coming up with.


He is doing pounds and I am doing tons.


What an idiot.


I would see Nickerson nearly every time I went to the Pentagon. We used Nickerson's helpers.  We had helpers from General Dynamics who knew how to get us in and out of the Pentagon and to see important Admirals.  The helpers worked in the same group as Nickerson.


"I can't do much about it," Dave Nickerson said, when I explained in many ways what was going wrong.


He really could not do much about it. At General Dynamics, the Program Manager had the last say. Jokell was the Program Manager of the little R&D project.


"Get what we can out of it," Nickerson told me


Nothing ever goes perfectly. We always had to settle for  what we could out of whatever we were doing.  


So we did it Bruce Jokell's way, and I just somewhat gave up on Jokell. 


Resigned to loose this battle, I calmed myself down.


I wondered if maybe it was me that was wrong. If I were wrong, I would change my ways. 


Space Cadet Society


If it's your vision, keep it. Don't let the other guys intimidate you. You are the best promoter. That's what I learned, and I was glad.


A few weeks after coming back from the Pentagon on space laser communication business, our space enthusiast group, the "L5 Society," featured Bruce Jokell as a speaker at the local library.


Terri went with me that evening to hear the guy, "The Famous Dr. Bruce Jokell, Program Manager for NASA trips to Mars," would present an early evening talk in an entire a corner of the Poway, California library, with 40 grade school kids sitting everywhere, even on the floor.


"He is a really dull speaker," Terri whispered to me, as she became restless at having to sit through something so boring after she had spent a hard, long day at work. 


She somewhat surprised me when she whispered that to me.  I expected her to say he was a good speaker. Her disparaging comment prompted me to watch the responses of his audience closely. Her comment meant that his method was NOT better.


I watched the kids unconsciously reveal their boredom. They acted something like they were in school and forced to listen to someone speak authoritatively on a topic they knew little about. That was strange, because Bruce knew his own business well.


He put up a viewgraph with words on it. I saw he borrowed it from his day job work. I had a hard time reading it, and I even knew exactly what that viewgraph was about. The printing was small. The page was full of small print. After trying hard to read fast, I could see that his viewgraph detailed some of the Mars mission objectives and constraints.


That was one reason he was a poor speaker. He showed something nearly unreadable. What was readable was words and more words, but nothing striking.


No pictures.

Tiny words.


Then he put up another viewgraph. It seemed to be like a flow chart with little boxes and little lines going every which way, punctuated by tiny, unreadable words.


"This is a mission architecture diagram," he went on.  That didn't work either.


"I don't know what point he is trying to make," Terri told me.


I tried to figure his point, too. From what he said, he was in charge of figuring some kind of living and working arrangement for people going to Mars.


I put myself into the shoes of the pre-teenagers in his audience. About the only thing he said that got our attention was how cramped it was going to be.


"You have to realize that 10 people are going to spend 2 or 3 years in a room about the size of this part of the library we are in." he said, waving his arm to signify the part we could see.  


Some of us looked around the room. It seemed pretty big to me. I could not see the other side of the floor we were on.  This was a public library in a San Diego suburb where there was a lot of money. It had a big second floor. 


"People will get on each other's nerves," he said, reminding us of how annoying people can be.


"Just imagine you have to be in this same room for a month, with the people sitting next to you," he asked the audience. 


"People sitting next to me?" I wondered.


I get it: you probably don't like people sitting next to you.


We all got silent. We were thinking about that. A few of us looked at, stared at, someone else in the room for a moment. 


"People can really get on each other's nerves," he asserted. 


He took us all into deep thought, I observed.  That part of his presentation worked.


After a while, I wondered if he would mention what he and I were doing, with the Exofuel project.


He didn't mention my idea at all.


"Good." I thought, "He's not trying to claim it.  It's mine."



\ Deimos


Nobody asked him a single question about what he talked about.  That got my attention. It showed that his approach to communicating was no better than mine.  We were at least equals in that respect.


When it was all over, I introduced Bruce Jokell to Terri and told him he gave a nice talk. Then we left.  The point I was trying to make was that I wanted to work as a team.  I felt proud of myself for not telling him that no one could figure out what he was trying to say.


We could see it was dark outside and it must be 8 o'clock already. All kinds of street lights and cars and commotion greeted all of us as we stepped out of the library, and we were glad to get out of the meeting.


Alone, on the way to work the next morning, I fretted some more. 


Talking out loud to myself, and not realizing that I was talking out loud, I fretted.


"Here he is, with my idea, and he gets the glory." 


I retracted into deep thought, to see if I could find a solution to this problem.


I realized that the problem was that I was a new Program Manager in a new little division, a laser lab, doing Satellite to Submarine Laser Communication. The Exofuel topic was space, not submarines or satellites. There was a clear conflict here, and there is nothing Dave Nickerson could do about it. Dave could get the money, but he could not control all the political pieces.


Our monthly lunch meeting came up, and I went. I drove the15 minutes to the cafeteria where we met.


"Hey, we are going to Mars.  The United States is going to Mars."  Jokell blurted out.


He was happy, somewhat smiling. 


"How is that?" I asked.


I had not seen any big announcement on CNN that we were going Mars. I didn't see any big hoopla on TV, or in the newspapers. 


"Didn't you see. Bush declared that we are going to Mars." Jokell affirmed.


"So? What's that mean?" I asked, cynically.


"The President said we are going to Mars, so we are." he affirmed again.


"Ok. You believe it. Not me," I thought.


"Are they funding you?" I asked, because the government was not handing out any money to anyone, it seemed.


"No. Not yet. But soon," Jokell replied.


Jokell had been appointed the Program Manager for a NASA funded study on going to Mars. General Dynamics won the contract, and it would begin when Congress allocated the money. Congress had not allocated any money yet. General Dynamics didn't get the real money yet, just like we at the Laser Lab. We didn't get any real  money either. But General Dynamics won the contract. We at the Laser Lab did not win anything yet. When the money starts flowing, they will get their share.


"Check's in the mail," I thought.



When we are all done calculating our Exofuel Program, Chris Cassell calculated that Jokell's  architecture would haul a puny payload, just like I told Jokell. Of course the answer came out rotten. What did he expect? I kept telling him that it would, and the steam rocket way would make it come out marvelous.


He had insisted we split the water into hydrogen and oxygen.  His way yielded about 20 tons of  rocket fuel. What good would 20 tons of rocket fuel be? We could launch that much from Earth in one trip.


Therefore, the exofuel project didn't get any attention. It was more of the same old dumb science stuff, with no payoff to us taxpayers, and no way to take 1000 people to anywhere but broke.



I noticed that Chris Cassell could sure figure. He saw what I had figured and understood the results.  He was being paid to do the work that Bruce told him to do and gave him a charge number for, and that was that. He was a junior person. I completely understood. He was smart, quick, and this guy was ok.  He was my kind of rocket scientist.


If I were smarter, I could have fixed this situation. But I just didn't have the people and business skills.


After all, I do have Asperger's Autism.


I just didn't know how to interrupt and make the point to the key people. I didn't know how to get their names and call them or meet them on my own. I didn't realize that I could just call them.


If Cassell and I were to sit Bruce Jokell down and carefully lead him through the figuring, maybe Jokell would see..


We all knew why I would not help Bruce Jokell. This was MY vision. It could have been a Freudian omission on my part. If Jokell screws it up, then he does NOT get to steal it from me. So, I would let him screw it up. That way even though I loose this round, I can guarantee I will only give the Vision to Visionaries. 


"Four letter words and a flipping finger signal to you, Bruce," I thought.


I could really begin despair at this point. I was not bright enough to point out the key facts clearly to anyone.  I assumed they could see the key pieces. I assumed wrong. They were not like me, willing to figure fast and change direction quickly. And since the rocket scientists were generally not bright enough, nor as bright as I assumed they could be, no one saw.  It was my fault. My personality was just too emotional, too off the wall, too un-professional.




A Gift from Bruce Rocket Scientist

Something good did come out of it.


The smell of bulk lunch meat and the clank of rewashed silverware complimented the taste of those boiled peas and bland vinegar on the sterile salad. We were in a cafeteria at the General Dynamics Space Systems Division. The sky was grey, the temperature was mild, the cafeteria was half empty and most engineers were wearing their casual, non-hippie, non-beach-boy, not-a-Pentagon-suit K-Mart clothes. I saw many ties, many white shirts and a few sport coats.  Bruce Jokell had a dark blue sport coat and tie, Chris Cassell had a tie, and I had my Pentagon suit on.


The three of us, Bruce Jokell, Christopher Cassell and I, were about to discuss our exofuel project and space travel over lunch. 


We were eating while working so we would not have to charge our time against the exofuel charge number and make it run out of money.  I was eating while working on manned space systems. I was bootlegging this kind of space topic, the manned variety. My boss the General Manager of the great and future glorious General Dynamics Laser Systems Laboratory, Dr. Dave Freiwald, scorned and scowled when I did this topic. It was what I invented, not what he invented. He could only focus on what he believed he initiated. I was supposed to be working unmanned, space laser to deep submarine communication space systems, which he found for General Dynamics. This exofuel was my space thing.


Somewhat like what first graders do,  the three of us had been fantasizing together about the same space trip. We were off in a space ship carrying rocket fuel between Earth and Mars, trying to occupy the solar system. We were occupying Mars first. We wanted to be on the best kind of space ship we could find that would take us on our way back to Earth from Mars.


So, we were inventing it and then making it, make pretend, and then evaluating our work. 


Our rocket had launched us away from Mars and sent us going backwards a little. It slowed us down so that we were going around the Sun a little slower than Mars was going around the Sun.  We were going slower than Mars on purpose so that we would fall towards the Sun. 


We started falling, faster and faster, somewhat towards the Sun and on a collision course with Earth.  This was on purpose. We wanted to land on Earth, so our rocket scientist navigators were doing the right thing.


We were weightless, so all we felt after the rocket launched us away from Mars was nothing, weightlessness. This was going to be a long, 11 month trip.


All three of us knew that when we arrived at Earth we would be moving fast, way too fast top stop.  We would need to do something to slow down.  To stop at Earth, we had to do something powerful to slow us down.


Bruce asked me "Why are you using a heat shield? They're too heavy."


"Because you don't need any fuel." I replied.


We were both thinking the same thing. My version of the space ship has us stopping at earth by slamming into the atmosphere. The heat shield took the heat, and the atmosphere slowed us down.  It was a tricky maneuver.  We had to aim just exactly at the edge of the earth.



If we missed the edge of the earth altogether, we would fly right by Earth and be on our way back to Mars. But Mars would not be there when we got there. So we would be in an Earth-Mars orbit for decades, waiting each time for Mars to be there when we got to the Mars orbit. We better not miss the atmosphere.


If  instead we aimed slightly into the earth instead of the edge, the air would push too hard on us. It would burn up our heat shield. The space ship would decelerate like a belly flop into a swimming pool from a 20 story building. Splat. Except that we would splat into a ball of fire. Spla-BAM.


But Bruce wasn't concerned about that. He trusted Rocket Science and the guidance mechanisms to do their job.  He was worried about something else.


"So, how much would the heat shield weigh?" Bruce asked.


"I don't know. We would use the same kind of heat shield the astronauts used.


"The heat shield is too heavy and too big," he asserted. 


"A heat shield?" I responded, sheepishly.


I could tell he had the heat shield data I was trying to find but couldn't. I didn't know where to look and he did. He was at the rocket science place and I was at the laser place. Nobody at our place knew where to find heat shield data. We didn't need heat shield for our laser satellites.  Many people where he worked had the data on their shelves.  I didn't calculate what it would take at all. I just thought it would work. 


He caught me proposing to do something stupid, and I knew it.


Amateurs and know-nothings did what I had just done, all the time. I heard one Know-Nothing say "why don't you just move an asteroid and park it in orbit around Earth." Stupid. It is possible, but not doable.  It is like someone saying "why don't you just build a concrete bridge across the Atlantic ocean and then we can just drive across."  It is possible, but one can't do it.


My heat shield was almost the same kind of thing, and this time I was the proven Know-Nothing.


"We could maybe get them down to 15% of the ship mass, but they seem to be too big to launch in one piece.  And then assembling them in space seems to be too tricky," he said, calmly, as if he had tried to solve this problem and couldn't and was wondering if anyone else had an answer.


Bruce Jokell was very friendly this time.  His tone of voice was not condescending at all, even though he caught me being stupid. . Something must have gone right. He must have gotten laid.


I could not understand his mannerisms. I could read his voice like an open book. I could read his facial expressions and body movements, and everything was strongly indicating "completely friendly."


Then Bruce asked me "Why don't you try propulsive capture?"


That was rocket-science for "why don't you use a rocket to slow us down?" 


"I could, I suppose. I'll have to go calculate that," I responded as I somewhat stared into the cafeteria, almost knowing that the answer could be ok.


His intuition was good.  My intuition said "it could work." 


During the time that I said "Yeah, I'll go calculate that," and then focused on eating some of the bland salad I recalled why it might work.  I had used a steam rocket to get there and it worked just fine. It ought to work coming back. It took only a millisecond to realize that coming back to Earth was actually easier than leaving Mars.  Earth is heavier than Mars, and that made the orbital maneuver work better.


"Maybe it will work," I blurted out after about 30 seconds of deep mental figuring.


I promptly stopped eating the rest of the cardboard meat and peas and the cold lettuce with that orange looking goo dressing. 


"I have to get back to the Laser Lab," I said as looked at my watch, suggesting I was running out of time.


Bruce's body language was being even more friendly.


I got up and left.



I was anxious, but I had meetings at the Laser Lab, and they took all my emotional attention.   As soon as I got home I started calculating, even before Terri got home.


Concept Space took over. this was like going into a dreaming-while-awake trance. I existed in another space, a space of pure logical calculations, and concepts.


The graduate student in my head watched as I walked into the spare bedroom to my desk. He said "This is easy to figure. The orbital mechanics and the nuclear rocket part are easy. I've done this kind of calculation on my cheapie pocket calculator from Radio Shack. This is really easy. Any kid in high school can do it."


I sat down and wrote the rocket equation for a ship coming back from Mars. I made the ship's rocket do a thrust as it came somewhat close to earth, to make us go into a highly elliptic orbit around Earth. 


All I had to calculate was the total thrusting "delta-V" needed to make the rocket ship go into a captured orbit around Earth.  If the number would turn out not too big, we would be able to do it.  5000 meters per second would be big, but doable. 1000 would be small. 3000 would be ok.


I had our rocket ship was coming in with 4000 meters per second above earth escape velocity.


To my surprise, the first step did not require much thrusting, about 800 meters / second. 


Then I made the ship go into an orbit that touched the Geosynchronous orbit. That cost only 127 m/s.  


This was easy. Any high school freshman could figure these rocket delta-V's from the equation. 


Then the hard step: how much delta-V would it take to make the ship go into a Geosynchronous orbit?  That turned out to be 1159 meters per second.


"Amazing!" I said aloud.  The total was about 2,123 meters per second.  That was not so much. 


The next step was to calculate how much water the steam rocket would take. 


"Amazing!" I said again. It only took a few key presses on a simple scientific calculator.  The amount of water it would take would be about 2.2 times the mass of the space ship.   Since I had assumed that water was plentiful, this was not so bad.


I could not believe it.  This was so simple. Exceedingly simple.


All I had to do to make the whole thing work was to heat dirt or comets to fry or boil out the water. Everything else was just "run the steam rocket."


It really worked. Bruce gave me a key orbital maneuver concept. 


Maybe the Rocket Scientist did know something after all.


When I did what Bruce said, I could use the nuclear reactor steam rocket for all the maneuvers. 


"It worked like crazy. Everything worked," I told Terri when she got home.


She didn't know what I was talking about.




During the next few weeks I could not stop thinking about how well the steam rocket would work. Everything changed after this "discovery," because there was only one unknown: where to get the water. 


Everything else pointed to ships as big as submarines.


I was sitting in a boring meeting at our big conference room about some engineering detail about some problem not related to lasers or space.  I was a non-participant guest. Daydreaming overtook me.


Talking to myself, I had a conversation with someone from NASA who would fund my mission if I convinced him we could change the world and Occupy the Solar System.  He had just objected to my using so much water for propellant.


"Yes, I know, we waste water by using a rocket. But I know we have plenty of water, unlimited amounts of water. You can go figure on a cheap calculator," I said to him, the imaginary NASA person. 


Then I realized I had better figure it again.  I had figured this many many times before, so I knew the answer. But I liked the answer. So I always liked to figure it again, because the answer always came out wonderful.


Sitting at the big conference table, I was one of about 15 people who had to listen, and one of the 14 who were not needed.


"How many Starship Submarine trips is that, between here and Mars?" I wondered, almost aloud, almost alerting the people in the meeting that I was doing something else besides listening to them.


I used my shirt-pocket scientific calculator to figure the amount of water we would get from my favorite moon of Mars, named Deimos.  I assumed we would roast only 10% of the moon, leaving 90% of it intact. We would roast its dust.  I assumed 10% of it was water,  like some people said. That gave 1%, something I did without my calculator. I only needed to know one real number to do this: the mass of Deimos.  I remembered it was about 2 trillion tons (2E12).  The whole moon is only about 10 km across.


So I took 1% of 2 trillion tons.  Since I was sitting in a meeting and supposed to be doing something else, all I wrote on my giant, yellow legal notepad they gave me when they started the meeting, was "20e9."


That was a cryptic way of writing 20 billion tons. 


I let myself feel how good that answer was.  It felt like "a hell of a lot." 


"I wonder how many Starship Submarine trips that is?" I asked myself.


I had to figure again. 


"Make it easy" I thought. 


"Nickerson's Starship Submarine weighs 10,000 tons, give or take." I thought.


"It takes 10 tons of water for each ton of Starship Submarine to get from Earth to Mars and back, refueling at Deimos, Mars. That's 100,000 tons of water per trip.  How many trips?" I asked myself.


"If we are going to Occupy the Solar System, we better get a very large number of trips," I said to the imaginary NASA official who was going to tell Congress how this changed everything.


"This is like an airport. Lots of trips per day, lots of people go for the trip." I repeated to him.


I didn't need my pocket calculator for that one, but it made the time go by easier to press some buttons.


"20 E 9 divided by 100e3 is," I said to myself, waiting to I punch the numbers into my calculator until someone said something that sounded like it could be calculated.


"200,000" read the calculator.


"200,000 trips" I said to myself.  I smiled and nodded my head in approval. Maybe someone was watching me, and this looked like I was approving of what the speaker was doing because I calculated it.


"Wow!" I said, almost aloud. 


If 1000 people at a time take the trip, that's 200 million people, or almost all the people in the United States of America.



Thanks Dr. Bruce Jokell, Famous Rocket Scientist from General Dynamics Space Systems Division, and Important Manager of a NASA trip to Mars Program, we could Occupy the Solar System.



Air Force Farce

"I know some guys up at Space Division who might fund us," Jokell told me about a month later.


That was exciting. All kinds of customers have money, a little money. Jokell had some friends in the United States Air Force who worked on new ideas. They were at Space Division, Los Angelis, California, about a 2 hour drive north of us. They had a little money.  All we needed was some money from someone to prove that what we had was worth looking at. 


Company politics always seem to work that way.  No matter how much our marketing people would talk about some new idea, and no matter how much the engineers and scientists would claim it would change the world, not a single person would move to support it until someone else, outside, a customer, would pay real money, no matter how small.


That's the way it seemed to be, no matter what.  If someone else paid money, no matter how small, the idea was worth pursuing. Otherwise, it was just words.


One more time I remembered what Dr. Al Lovelace told me about paying for Visions: "Bring Money"


"If you want a space mission, bring money." he told me, within one week of starting work at General Dynamics.  He was the Big Boss, and he knew.


But to get money, one had to have marketing money.  This was a government accounting detail.


Jokell talked Dave Nickerson into getting us some marketing money to go visit his friends at Space Division. 


I had thought that we would just go, like I used to "just go" when I worked at Sandia National Labs. Until this trip, I didn't realize how the system worked. I thought that we only had to go up to Los Angelis, an hour or two ride. We would only be gone one afternoon. Why would anyone care, or even notice?


"No, this is business," Mike Moran told me.  "We have to keep track of every hour we charge, or we can go to jail," he reminded me.  Moran was our Comptroller (chief accountant).


I remembered that lesson. Moran, had once told me a story about time cards I could not forget.


"You can get a D in college for cheating and General Dynamics will hire you without even flinching, or asking why," he told me one day, as we were talking about how unethical General Dynamics seemed to be.


"I saw them do it," he asserted. 


He saw them hire a guy with few skills who was also a known cheat. He was a warm body. General Dynamics had some government contracts that read "cost plus fee," so more people meant more fee. 


I was shocked, but it was true.


Moran then told me about the work habits of General Dynamics engineers he knew:

     "These engineers will try to get out of work every chance they get."


I told Moran our guys at our Laser Lab were not like that at all.


 "All the engineers I know of would quit if you paid them and made them do nothing."


He was shocked, but it was true.


Moran was ethical. 


"You can cheat 'em out of work, but don't cheat their timecard. That's their money," he said, sarcastically, about our employer.


So, to make sure we did not cheat the unethical ones, someone had to go get a few "Business Development" dollars to pay for us to go take a trip to the United States Air Force Space Division headquarters, just up the street a piece in Los Angelis.


We had to write a reason in the marketing money form, for the Comptroller.


"Our reason for going is: they are a prospective customer, and we will get to show them how much of a breakthrough this is for them."


I had worked with the U.S. Air Force while I was at Sandia. I knew first hand that the Space Division people were smart guys.


Jokell and I were trying to get along. Maybe we tried because we had to. I suspect Dave Nickerson, the guy with the money, had communicated to Jokell that he wanted me in the game, with my steam rockets.


Jokell had obtained a company car and we were driving on the long clean highway up to Los Angelis, a 1 or 2 hour ride, depending on traffic. We were both elated that we really were on our way to see the US Air Force Space Division, Los Angelis. 


We were sitting in the car, not saying much, when Bruce broke the ice.  He told me about how the girls he gets to date, now that he was divorced and in some group where he got to meet people, the "girls want to do it immediately." He did not use any explicit language.


"You mean they want to do it on the first date?"  I asked him, using similar language,


"Right away. They don't want to wait." he said, not boasting, and with a tone that clearly suggested he would not mind waiting to find out more about them.  


"Are they good looking?"  I asked. 


I had to ask. Jokell was a relatively handsome fellow, made good money in Aerospace, had a Ph.D., was a relatively straight arrow, no drugs, no dope, no violence, nothing bad. I would expect that ladies looking for someone like that would do whatever they could think of to get him.


"These are really good looking ladies," he asserted.


"This last lady I went out with was beautiful, smart, not off on metaphysics or psychic phenomena." he added.


I could not tell if he was bragging or making it up. Most males make things like that up. I envied him.


That did break the ice.


When we finally arrived at Space Division, Jokell delivered the presentation.  He let me contribute 3 viewgraphs, describing the key discovery of the optimum in specific impulse. But he got to do the talking. He buried what he considered to be an obtuse point deep in a stack of overhead slides that would put anyone to sleep.  And that is what we did. We put them to sleep.


All I saw was that he screwed it up again, by not pointing out the factor of 100 right away. 


I thought there was a factor of 100 increase in payload.  Our exofuel device would deliver thousands of tons. Bruce's way the way NASA and the Air Force would do it, would deliver tens of tons. That would make us a 100 times better than anything known.


That would be a breakthrough.


Where in our presentation did he show the breakthrough?  Why should the guys at Space Division listen and do something?


Nothing we presented would do show it. 


To his credit, Bruce actually did show my overhead of the rocket equation, the one that I figured when I went skiing at Vail, April 1987, and hurt my shoulder joint.


But he completely and entirely missed the fact that we are talking a huge, absolutely huge jump in payload.  The Air Force would really want to know about a huge jump in payload.


They didn't get it from Bruce Jokell.


I can't fault him that badly.  I never made my point either, or Jokell and everyone else would have gotten it.



I went to visit Bruce Jokell one last time before we had to deliver a final exofuel report. I was there on a Saturday, on my own time.


He was sitting at his desk in a rather open area in what a friend of mine called a "bull pen." The bull pen stretched longer than a football field and almost as wide. This was on the 2nd floor of a General Dynamics building where they kept Jokell, and probably some of the Evil General Dynamics contractors. This was one of the Bull Pens they put engineers in if they only earned a "D" grade in college, or if they got caught cheating and needed a job. 


"You can work as little as you can get away with in the bull pen.  This is Cost Plus Fixed Fee contracting, and you are a Cost. You earn the Fee by sitting here." I heard Mike Moran say, in my mind.


Jokell's small desk and little Mac SE computer un-impressed me, as the sun blinded my eyes through his cheap metal window shade.  He didn't have much of an office.  I had an office with a locking door. He was in a bullpen..


I was trying to tell him we need to find water in space, water ice, or space won't work.


My words, "Space won't work." didn't register and didn't communicate quite right.


"Won't work" meant "all we will get to do is send 3 guys on a Field Trip to Mars, at our expense."


All I could think of was some Sports Event in Space.


"We are doing this To Occupy The Solar System,  Nickerson and I", I thought.  


"What do you want, a big chunk of ice with 'Tony take me' scratched on it?" he mocked at me.


Scorn. disgust. 


"Well, Yeah." I replied.


"You dull son of a bitch," I thought. 


I left mad. His scorn made me mad. Jokell and I never did get along  like buddies. 


My kind didn't care about an adventure to Mars. We wanted to occupy it.  And if we could not occupy because Nature denied us the resources, then that's that. We would go away.


I was thinking: if I don't get a big iceberg, space won't work and I won't care.


An iceberg was the only way we could leave the planet 1000 at a time.



Exofuel never went anywhere. Bruce gave me a copy of our thick final report to prove it.





·         Dr. Jim Powell, birth of the Steam Rocket

Birth of a Steam rocket

S2 CH 05.0 012 Powel-thru-iceship-Bx-.doc

009 Powel thru iceship


Actually slinking and actually sneaking, I was making it happen.


It was a typically cloudy morning in Washington, DC. The Hyatt Regency, a somewhat expensive, business class hotel in Crystal City only 1/2 mile from the National Airport, provided me a courier bus to take me the 1/4 mile to the Metro Station, or to the airport when I needed it to. Sometimes you don't walk because it's too slow.


Crystal City was not a city. It was just a lot of brand new, high rise buildings in one mile strip near the Pentagon, including expensive hotels with shiny reflecting windows, and with all the main buildings connected by underground tunnels. Bureaucrats live here. They hand out money.


I dodged the light rain and drizzle when leaving the courier bus from my hotel at the south end of Crystal city and hurried into the tunnel to the Metro.


The Metro was always clean and safe. Sleek modern trains arrived often in the clean, safe, elegant stations, stations where the concrete walls were patterned with a modern architecture.  The Metro was always perfectly clean.  It fit the image of all the professional people who took it work, and fit the image of what a subway in the capitol of the United States should be. I was taking the Metro from Crystal City, in Virginia, to the Pentagon.  


A courteous but clearly authoritative, approximately 55 year old, probably black, thin and clean-shaven Metro policeman politely informed me "there is no eating in this area." 


I was eating from a bag of roasted sunflower seeds while waiting for the train.


"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, a bit startled as he brought me back to the reality of the clean tunnel of the Metro station. I was completely focused on trying to recognize every person at the Metro station. I was sneaking to the Pentagon and did NOT want to meet anyone I knew.  Everything disappeared except the faces of the people at the station.


Immediately I put the food away. He knew I was lost in thought. I could tell he had seen my type many times. My type came from elsewhere, didn't know the rules and was typically lost and focused somewhere else, deep in thought.


 I looked around and didn't see a single piece of paper or trash.  The concrete pattern on the walls was clean, plain and pleasant. I sat on a perfectly clean bench. There were only two or three people wandering around me at this time. I missed rush hour. So far, ok.


I was sneaking, because I was not here on the business my boss sent me to do. That was yesterday. Yesterday we dodged the rain and took a cab. Yesterday, Retired Navy Captain Del Ritchhart was my guide and took us inside the Pentagon on General Dynamics Laser Systems Lab business.  Del and I wandered around talking to Admirals and Captains about how wonderful an orbiting satellite would be, whose only mission is to point a laser towards earth. We explained how our laser would paint the ocean with blue laser light beams, digitally coded with secret messages for the submarines deep below. Everyone knew Del. 


Today, Slinking and sneaking, I was also on my way to the same Pentagon, using the same Metro stop, and going in the same security gate.  Only this time I was alone, completely on my own.  I was on here for my own project, which my boss hated. He would probably get very mad if he caught me.


I was only supposed to be in the Pentagon to see Navy people about Laser Lab business, not to see the Air Force, Star Wars guys about manned space travel.


I made sure I didn't get off at "Pentagon City" stop. That was just a big mall. The correct stop was "Pentagon." This was stop for the basement entrance to the Pentagon. The Metro stopped here and only here, not to some place on the surface to a parking lot. 



I went up the long, long escalator to the Pentagon from the Metro. The escalator seemed like a few hundred feet long and nearly straight up. One could get dizzy looking up the long tunnel. I looked at everyone who was coming the other way, to make sure I didn't know them.


I sat down by the old wood benches next to the bank of security guards to wait for my contact . The Pentagon security gate had a big waiting area with about 20 old fashioned wood-style benches.


I looked around and began to feel I was in a place just like the old movies about the Pentagon. Except that this was in color, not black and white. The old movies of the Pentagon were black and white. I started to daydream and imagine was really at the old Pentagon, during the 1950's.


It was always better to be early here. Del Ritchhart taught me that. Sometimes our escorts would get here early, maybe an extra 12 or 7 minutes ahead of time. That would mean we could get another 12 or whatever minutes with the people we were trying to influence or learn from. Everybody's schedule here seemed to be measured in minutes.


Every tens of seconds seemed like 3 minutes as I sat here, waiting, scanning everyone's faces to be sure I would not be recognized. There sure seemed to be a lot of non-military people coming here today, going to the Pentagon.


There were a lot of people going in and out of the security gates, too.


Clearly ethnic Americans, some with clearly Italian features, a disproportionally large number of American with African descent.


At least 3 fat ladies waddling around with apparently no schedule driving them, clearly badged for Pentagon security and passing through the security gates like they were Admirals.


Hot looking professional ladies in business suits moving with clear intent.


Lost souls in business suits from the engineering or science staff of some contractor far from California, looking around and gawking at everything and who have obviously never been here before and led by their perfectly groomed marketing goat.


Crowds of high school visitors on tour and dutifully following their barking military escort in Army green-brown uniform, holding his closely shaved head perfectly rigid with respect to his shoulders and his shoulders perfectly rigid with respect to the rest of him, and who was making sure they got the spirit of the regimentation of the Pentagon.


Colonels and officers absolutely perfectly groomed, with an equally perfectly groomed aid or two attending them. Three or four perfectly dressed males in dark blue suits with stripes exactly 1/2 to 3/4 inch apart and with the conservative tie and white shirt, walking with a clearly marked Admiral and giving him their "Elevator Speeches."


I was still sitting, waiting for Powell, entranced by the people going in and out the security gates.


As I sat there waiting for my contact inside the Pentagon to come out and get me, I fretted that every person who walked in or out might be someone I just met, and tell Del Ritchhart that they saw me.  Del would tell my boss. And I would be in deep trouble.


I tried to look at everyone before they could see me, to make sure I could hide my face if I recognized them.


The security gate looked the same today as it did yesterday. So I fretted, because it reminded me that it was only yesterday when Del Richhart escorted me, and everyone knew him.  When Del Richhart was a Captain in the U.S. Navy he had been their Official Navy Liaison to the "Hill."  Everyone knew him.


Any contact between the elected officials on capitol hill and the Navy went through him, or else. Or else trouble for the Navy guy.  No matter where we went, even when we would just be walking somewhere in the Pentagon, someone would run up to him and shake his hand and smile and make such a fuss.  


That is why we hired Del. He knew everyone and could get us to see anyone. It went the other way, too.  If he said "I don't feel comfortable with that" then that was a message that we better not go tell somebody what we planned to tell them. We would sometimes exaggerate.


The contractors made it a point to use people like Del Ritchhart to make contacts in the Pentagon.  The good part was that if a retired Navy Admiral or Captain called up one of his active-duty buddies for an appointment, the buddy would almost always grant the meeting.  That was exceptionally valuable for the contractor. 


The bad part was that these retired fellows were the most ethical fellows I ever met. They were like fine-mesh filters. They would only let us through if what we were proposing to talk about was good for the Navy or the government. The retired fellows kept their reputations clean.


Dell was the same and kept us honest.  During the last year, he went with us every time we went to the Pentagon. He sure introduced us to a lot of people. We met so many people that I had good reason to be afraid someone would recognize me and ask "What are you doing here today?"


Lucky for me, no one saw me.


Looking at my watch, I realized that I had only been sitting here about 3 minutes. It seemed like half an hour.


My mind started to wander back to rocket science. Technical daydreaming like this almost always reduced my anxiety and helped me prepare and get into the mood of impending meetings.

No matter how I calculated it, the simple steam rocket worked like crazy.  Just get some water and fly. So simple. "And it works," I said, almost aloud.


The payloads are big, as big as a Starship Submarine.  The propulsion is simple, just like a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine's nuclear reactor water heater, almost. The missions would be stunning, a 100 people at a time, in a Starship Submarine, going to Mars.  A whole fleet of them. 


I heard the noise of the Pentagon and saw the people again. I was back in my chair, back from technical rehearsing.


"Where is Jim Powell?" I thought. I had never met him.


"What does he look like?" I thought.


" I only know his voice," I thought, having only talked to him on the phone.


"What we need is someone who can design a steam rocket that everyone will believe," said a voice in my head, trying to sort through my strategic intent for the meeting.


Locke Bogart led me to Jim Powell.  Locke was one of my colleagues at GD LSL.  Dave Freiwald brought him in. The engineers at GD LSL thought Locke was nuts, evil, crazy, and a wild man. They didn't like him at all.  Locke did come from a whole other universe, an alternate reality.  They were right.


But not evil. Locke was everything they said except evil. Locke was good, ethical, and smart, definitely smart. He could see concepts at the speed of lightning.


Locke came from the part of the defense department that was supposed to come up with new ideas. He was trained not to see barriers, and not to follow arbitrary rules made up by arbitrary kings and despots in arbitrary bureaucratic structures.  He did not fit at GD LSL. But Freiwald brought Locke to the lab the same as be brought me in. None of us fit with General Dynamics because none of us were evil, power mad and greedy enough.


Locke took one look at the steam rocket and figured all the relevant technical details in about 10 milliseconds. He listened to the arguments for water of hydration and ice in space, and in another 10 milliseconds, he knew we needed to find a way to get a simple space mission to find it. He believed the water was out there just from other data he his acquaintances had told him about. In a flash he had figured it to the conclusion. As we used to say in college, "Done. Simple." Like a physicist of the finest kind, like a Creating Visionary from the Wild part of the Defense Department. I liked that part of Locke.


Jim Powell told me over the phone he was arranging for us to talk with "Crazy Roger," Colonel Roger Lenard, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who was now in charge of a secret nuclear rocket program. 


Dr. Jim Powell was also a Creator Visionary from the wild part of the Department of Energy, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York. Powell and Locke knew each other. They worked together. Both knew reactors and how to figure them.


Jim and I and Hans Ludewig had talked over the phone, and Jim came up with a design for a nuclear rocket engine that would work on steam. He faxed me a copy and I faxed Dave Nickerson a copy. We all saw the design sketch.


Another 3 minutes had gone by. It was already 5 minutes before I was supposed to be here.


Hans Ludewig and Jim Powell appeared at the security area. "Tall fellow," I thought. 


Bearded, very pleasant voice, not fat, not heavy set. Long coat, like they wear in New York. Of course, Powell must be from New York. No suit.


Hans was thin, about my height, very German looking.


I never knew where I was going in the Pentagon. I was always lost. Someone else was always the guide. It was an old building. It seemed to keep feeling like an old building no matter how often I wandered through parts that were being renovated.  The passages were perfectly marked, with coordinates any engineer or soldier could follow. The floor number and the indicator for the number of the inner ring were painted as a number-letter mark, clearly stamped at every turn and every opportunity where one could go the wrong way.  But I never know how to navigate this place anyway. Powell knew.


Powell lead us downstairs, to a basement. I thought he was kidding when he said "we have a hole in the basement of the Pentagon."


This really was a basement area. It looked like it. It was jammed with offices and important rooms with conference tables and a projection screen for viewgraphs, just like the rest of the building. The Star Wars basement place looked old. The placards and the framed posters were modern. shiny and new, very professionally done, perfect. The letters and words that were placed on the wall to designate the name and function of the important rooms were also new. But this place was still felt old, like it was built back during WWII. At least it didn't smell old.


No matter where I went in this Pentagon there would be a security desk area with no windows anywhere, and three people in charge.  There would always be at least one well dressed and very attractive lady, one very plain but interesting and attractive lady, and one grossly overweight lady who would waddle slowly at her own pace and who did not care who was in a hurry or not. I was just a face to that one. The three of them were busy processing my security clearance.


This was definitely a standard waiting room for security. But it was dark down here. Not very many lights. There was plenty enough light to read by because they kept lamps by the chairs, and that was it. This furniture looked like it was the very best you could find in the Thrift Store. I noticed how beat up and scratched it was.


It only took them a few minutes to show me I passed the security screening. My clearance was ok. Someone inconspicuously pressed a hidden button behind the counter as we approached so we could open the metal door into the more secure area.


Powell led us to a small room inside another, truly unimpressive and old waiting area, with another, uncomfortable, thin couch and hard chairs. Then Crazy Roger came in. His shortness and thinness surprised me.


Powell introduced me.  I had heard of Crazy Roger but never met him till now. He was short, cocky, animated.  Jim and Roger talked for a minute or two about something else. And then Powell talked to Roger and told him that this rocket engine would change the world, and all we needed was $5 K to document it.


"Sure." said Roger, "Tack it on to the something or other." he instructed. Jim was already doing a reactor design of some kind for some space propulsion topic. I did not know any of its details at all. But I clearly understood "Tack it on..."  That was how many great ideas got funded. I vouched for the fact that the nuclear heated steam rocket will definitely change the balance of power in space. No doubt about that. "Whoever gets one first, wins," I said.


"We got the money," I thought, over and over. I was elated.


Jim was pretty smart. He told me in physics language how he had tested some nuclear reactor fuel beads that were supposed to go inside a gas cooled reactor.  For some reason, he actually had tested these beads in red hot steam.


"You tested them at 1200 C?" I asked.


That temperature would make the pipes glow red hot.


"Yes, of course," he assured me.


This was odd. The gas in the gas cooled reactor that I thought he was working on was helium. Helium is one of the most inert gasses known. The reactor beads were designed to work in helium. Why would they test the beads in steam? Chemically reacting, red hot, highly corrosive steam?


The weird part of this is that the reactor fuel beads were not designed to work in water at all.  Instead, Jim tested them in steam. I don't know why he did that.


I was sure glad, because this was precisely what we needed. It was real. We needed something real. A real test. 


"The steam immediately oxidized the pellets and coated them with an oxide, insulating.  They didn't leak for a few days. That means they'll work." Jim said.


I knew exactly how well that orange-hot temperature, 1200 K, would work in a steam rocket. It would work just barely fine.


Since Powell's fuel pellets survived, and since he knew the physics behind this fortunate Coincidence Of Nature, it meant we had found the key piece needed to design the nuclear heated steam rocket.


As we walked out, the philosophical graduate student in my head emoted a mini-fantasy.


"If you are an obvious Visionary, other Visionaries give you wonderful Visions as gifts, for free," the philosophical graduate student asserted, as we passed people in the Pentagon hallway who might have known me, but I didn’t care.


"He gave me his "particle bed reactor" vision, and I gave him the steam rocket vision." the student continued.


I realized that during this uneventful meeting, Jim Powell and Hans Ludewig invented a nuclear heated steam rocket to take 1000 people through the solar system.


Powell and Ludewig had other things to do, so we all went our own way. Someone led me out of the secure area, back to the Metro entrance area.


As I wandered around the news stand about 100 feet from the Metro door area, marveling at the different news papers these Pentagon people read and the 100 varieties of donuts they eat, I had only myself to talk to.


I was fantasizing:

"This invention is just like the invention of the steam powered ocean liner. We must have a steam engine first. I could not take 3000 Italians and Irishmen, fighting with each other all the way from Europe to America, and marrying each other's sisters when they got there,  on a boat powered by sails.  We needed a real engine, a powerful engine for the ship. 


Sailboats are nice, but they only take a few dozen people across an ocean, and the trip takes too long. Columbus proved it. When we invented the steam  engine and powered ships with it, everything changed. The engine made the difference between a few thousand pilgrims and a real mass migration.  The same thing happens with space."


I wandered down the long, long escalator to the Metro station. Perfectly clean. Not a speck of dirt. Not a single piece of discarded paper or food wrapper. Discarded newspapers went in the garbage can, which was also in perfect condition. Nobody seemed to be talking.


I started talking to myself about Powell:

Powell understood instantly. Powell is no rocket scientist. He is a Ph.D. physicist.  That's sure better than a rocket scientist. And he's a Visionary.  He saw immediately what the engine would mean to humans occupying the solar system. I didn't have to explain. He knew. He even told me what it would mean.


People in suits were walking around the Metro station, waiting for a train. No matter what time of day I rode there were people like me in suits wandering around here.


I really liked this Metro. So quiet. So clean.



I was hyped and pumped up. All sorts of conversations were running through my head.

They say there are 10 girls for every 1 man in Washington DC.  I don't believe it. I see many ladies here who are pretty and trim. I can count.


Only about 1 out of 3 ladies is NOT reading a book. I wonder why?


About 1 lady out of 2 is with somebody. Must be that there are 2 ladies for each male.


The Metro was such a nice ride. I had to check and recheck to make sure I caught the right one. I almost never went anywhere in Washington on my own. Del always told me which Metro to get.



I still had to catch the plane back to San Diego today. The Metro took me to Crystal City. From Crystal City I went to my hotel room.   I have to watch for my stop because it came up fast, and I was running out of time.



My stop came up fast, like it was supposed to.  I always got confused here. I always got off the Metro train at Crystal City perfectly ok. But the stop is completely underground and there are several ways to leave the Metro Area.  They are all underground. They all lead to underground tunnels with newsstands, shops and places to eat. No road signs.


If I didn’t dally too long I would have 5 extra minutes to browse the shops.


I wondered "Now which way do I go?"


I only had myself to talk to. So I did, almost talking aloud:

I count 5 racks of dirty magazines at this newsstand. 


I guess men away from home get lonesome. 


I can buy a Penthouse.


There sure are a lot of others on this rack.


Hey, this is explicit. I'm buying a few of these. Hard to choose.


Across the aisle I see Italian food. Too bloating.


Two shops down.  I see Chinese. I like Chinese food.


Crystal City underground was a Mall, all underground. 


I was still hyped about the Pentagon meeting and now started talking, repeating myself, to myself, over and over.

There is plenty of water in space, but there is no hydrogen.


Water is di-hydrogen monoxide. 


Separating out the "monoxide" is really hard to do.


Jim Powell understood in a millisecond.


Jim knew instantly, and so did Dave Nickerson and Lock Bogart.


We can now send 100 or a 1000 people to Mars on a Starship Submarine.


Every time I walked down the shining tile brick walkway the same memory came back. The movie "Dune" had people living deep underground in beautiful rooms, deep underground in tunnels.


Every time I walked this way I pretended I was in "Dune," modern day style. 


The brick hallway had steps that changed levels and changed direction.  I would always pretend these hallways were the tunnels of an asteroid, and I was moving through the tunnels.


I wanted to know: How would it feel moving through the tunnels inside an asteroid, in zero gravity? 


An asteroid has in nearly zero gravity.


I had figured several years earlier that we would have to live deep inside the asteroid, in tunnels.  We would need to have shops and working offices just like here in Crystal City, all in tunnels. We would live in volumes, just like the offices above. 


In space, we would live in volumes, not on surfaces like on Earth.


How would it feel to almost float around the asteroid tunnels in zero gravity?


I pretended more:

These newsstands and food shops on both sides of me are what in this asteroid tunnel. 


I need to give me just a little kick in the right direction, and I move,

almost without needing to push.


These daydreams about living in tunnels in asteroids were really naive. Jokell would have laughed at them.


The Hyatt Regency Hotel was new, clean, shining, majestic, with a huge volume in the great room when we enter.  It's shining escalators going up at least 3 levels, up only half way to the ceiling.  The see-through elevator goes up and down at least 5 levels and disappears into the ceiling.


Hurrying to my room I talked to myself loud enough that someone might have heard me.

This is spacey.

Marble walls.



I want a house like this.


One really good perk working for General Dynamics was that they put us up in the best hotels. I could take an Admiral here for a meeting and he would feel completely comfortable.



The Somewhat Evil and the Somewhat Arrogant


Jerry Husler was a tall, blond, smiling fellow who looked a little like a football player. He had a deep voice and a friendly handshake. Jerry was our Director of Marketing. He and I had been talking to some fellows at the Defense Research Projects Agency in the Washington DC area about a secret communication system. They were on some higher floor of a 15 floor hi rise.


We had just finished telling these prospective customers something that would probably not work. It stretched our ability to deliver and would probably break the laws of engineering and physics.  But Jerry knew how to make really professional looking handouts. So, even if the thing would not work, he made it look like it would work because he printed it on glossy, color handouts.  This was the best of General Dynamics ethics. 


We were looking out in the late afternoon light at the building next to the one we were in, with its rows and rows of windows .


"That building is about the size of the ice I would use for a space ship," I told Jerry.  I explained the concept and how I would take as many people as were in that building to Mars, and how I could use water ice as rocket fuel in a nuclear heated steam rocket to get them there.


"It will work," I told Jerry.  I kept telling anyone I met and everyone I worked with how it would work.  My excitement about it would not stay quiet.


I couldn't stop talking about the steam rocket and how it would change everything. 


"All we need to find is water in space, and everything will change," I asserted.


I owned the discovery, a real discovery, and I knew it. I could prove it. I could back up every statement I made.


"We could go to space wholesale." I concluded.


"Freiwald won't like your doing that space thing," Jerry asserted.


I would agree that Freiwald would definitely would not like my having stayed over an extra half day to talk to the Pentagon guys on my own space topic.


"Freiwald will hand you your balls on a platter if he ever finds out," Jerry volunteered.


"He doesn't have the power to do it." I responded, without even waiting to think about what I had just said.  Freiwald had the power to fire me. But he didn’t have the power to change the laws of Physics.


Freiwald really didn't have "the power," because The Force was not with him.


I was completely confident, and even bold.


"I have something that will make the Laser Lab look silly." I told Jerry, smiling.


"I have something that will change the way humans go to space. Freiwald doesn't have anything like that."


I let Jerry know I was completely confident and had something real.


Jerry dealt in bullshit. Real things stopped him cold.


I didn't realize it immediately, but Jerry was testing me.


As we were waiting for the elevator and looking out the window of the 20 year old building, I realized Jerry was betraying my trust. He was telling Freiwald what I was doing, whenever he would find out.


When I told Jerry "he doesn't have the power" I was signaling inadvertently but forcefully that if Freiwald tries, I will succeed on top of him.


I inadvertently signaled to Jerry I was the one who had The Power. I had the power to hand them their own prized parts on a rusty platter.


Locke Bogart had taken a risk by introducing me to Jim Powell on GD LSL company time. Locke knew we had to risk our jobs to make real Visions come true.


Locke and I and nearly every Program Manager or executive who worked for or with Dave Freiwald learned to dislike the guy Freiwald. It was a shame, because Freiwald really tried. He tried hard. He was imaginative and thorough. He looked for loopholes for us to get extra perks.


I had liked Freiwald for many years before I worked for him, because he tried so persistently. But he just plain drove people mad. He drove customers mad. He drove his employees, his colleagues and his equals mad. He drove his bosses mad enough for them to move him out of their sight.


Locke Bogart only made some people mad only some of the time. But Locke would figure and Locke had Visions. Locke helped me bootleg steam rockets because Locke was a Visionary, too.


Now all we needed is water in space.



·         Jim Arnold and the Near Earth Asteroid crowd

Jim Arnold at UCSD


It really matters where you physically are.


What would you do if you really wanted to know something, and don't know where to start?


You would go where it's happening.


You have to be where it's happening. If you want to be a movie star, you can't be in Kansas or South Dakota. You have to move near Hollywood.  It's the same with anything else.  If you want to learn about space things, you have to move to the Aerospace Belt. That would be Southern California, along the coast. And that's where I had moved to.


Yes, it's nearly always hard to move to where it's happening. In my case, I had given up a good job with the government. I gave up a secure job and a great pension and a wonderful vacation package, 5 weeks a year. But I had been in Albuquerque, not Southern California in the Aerospace Belt. Nobody in Albuquerque knew where the water was in space.


If only I could find water in space, we would have something we could use to start exploring and living there. Humans could start leaving Earth. Where was the water? I was now in the right place, so someone here should know.


My day job in the Aerospace Belt was to get a space program going to make and launch satellites with lasers on them, to beam communication data to submarines lurking deep beneath the ocean.  That day job let me meet all kinds of people who would know who knows.


My hobby job was to find the key for humans to leave Earth. I needed to find water in space.


You need to ask "who would know who knows?"

Then you get lots of answers.


If you ask "who knows where the water is in space?", then almost no one knows. You may as well be in Kansas, or South Dakota.


But if you ask "who would know who knows where there would be water in space?" then you get many answers. All kinds of people give you leads, and many of them are very good.


And that's exactly what happened.



I was in the right place, in San Diego working for a rocket maker and near to UC San Diego (UCSD). One of the things UCSD did was to have lunch meetings where people would talk about space. Different people from different places would come and talk about what they knew and did.


The campus of the University of California at San Diego had big eucalyptus trees, clean, well dressed and well fed students, nice cars in the parking lots and very plain but clean architecture. It also had old metal walls enclosing the labs and offices. UCSD had painted some walls a dull, dirty yellow. 


I had to break away from work to go listen to the speakers UCSD invited. The California Space Institute, associated with UCSD, brought visitors to the campus to speak about space topics. I was able to get on their mailing list because I was a Program Manager of something related to space and satellites from General Dynamics. General Dynamics had money and very good connections, so they liked us to be there.


At one such meeting I listened as an astronomer talk about how his calculation showed the rings of Saturn looked suspiciously like the aftermath of a whole moon exploding, about 10 million years ago.


And after that meeting, I got to meet Sally Ride. Famous Astronaut Sally Ride was their new President. I wanted to meet Dr. Sally Ride. I think she was the first female astronaut. I figured maybe she could help tell the world about the steam rocket that could let us inhabit the solar system. "People would listen to her," I thought.


I thought she would be really interested in space. But to my surprise she was burned out about space. She was leaving space.


Sally Ride told me she was going to change her focus and do lasers.  We laughed about it because I told her I wanted to leave lasers to do space. We talked about lasers a bit. I told her I had learned that the atmosphere of Mars could have an inverted population of carbon monoxide molecules.  One can sometimes make lasers with gasses that have "inverted populations."


That could mean that the atmospheres of planets might be used to create an extremely high power, high energy laser in space, if we so arranged.  We might be able to use the atmosphere of whole planets to amplify communication signals, for communication.


Or maybe, even more exciting and evil, we would use the lasers as extremely powerful weapons. We would fry errant enemies with lasers powered by the atmospheres of entire planets.  The energized atmosphere of a whole planet would be controlled by super smart, very powerful Masters. We would stimulate the atmosphere to emit planet sized beams of energy, and focus them from outer space on to the surface of victim planets. It would be more powerful than any weapon anywhere.


Fantasy. But quite possible.


{{ images: Mars, with it's "inverted population" atmosphere, pulsing, glowing, just bursting with energy,

and then us: stimulating it to emit,

and then: BAM!  a planet sized power beam shoots out,

doing Star Wars type damage ( ! ) }}


Now that would be a phasor beam project, for sure.


But that was lasers with an evil Star Wars twist, and I wanted water in space, completely different. 


"Ah, you want to talk to Jim Arnold. He studies asteroids and meteorites." she said.


Jim Arnold was standing around right there among us, not saying much. 


"Is there any water of hydration on an asteroid?" I asked.


When you ask a question, you need to use the right vocabulary. "Water of hydration" was the right vocabulary.


That question in plain language meant "would any of the asteroids out there give off water steam if we heated them?" If you cook cookies till they roast and turn black, water comes off. That is almost "water of hydration".  If you cook Epsom Salts, water comes off. That is real water of hydration.


"Well, in some, yes there is." replied Jim Arnold.


Then I told Jim Arnold about the steam rocket and how it would push a big payload, bigger than anything we had yet invented. But it needed water. Huge amounts of water.


"You know there is a whole group of people interested in that. You ought to talk to them." he told me.


He asked me to follow him to his office. A small office in the Chemistry Department. In a building with dull painted metal walls and metal doors. In a dull building. On an upper floor with dirty leaves blown there from the wet ocean wind. He could almost see the ocean from his office. And then Jim Arnold gave me John Lewis's phone number.


"Talk to him. Tell him I said to call." he said, giving me the entre I needed.


When he walked out of his office to get something, I stood there focusing  closely at the index card he let me hold. The card had John Lewis's number on it, the number Arnold gave me.  There were more numbers on the card, and I copied one down to make sure I had at least two ways to get hold of this fellow. I kept phone data like Arnold did, but mine was on computer, not like his on those old index cards..


In those days, people used 3 x 5 inch, stiff paper sheets called "index cards" to store their phone numbers. If they lost the card, they lost everything. Nowadays, we use computers. If the disc drive burns out, we loose everything.


Arnold didn't tell me that he was one of the first people who analyzed the idea that there could be a whole lake of ice at the poles of our own moon. He never said a word that he was interested in finding water, too. He did not brag that he predicted ice on the forever dark poles of the moon.  He never volunteered that he worked with the former head of JPL, the Jet Propulsion Lab, the NASA funded lab of California Institute of Technology.


He didn't say a thing about moon ice, even several years later when he would review my a paper on mining the local comets for ice. He just would not brag.


He started me on the right path. I thank him forever.


I went there, to a meeting at UCSD asking who would know who would know, and someone knew.




·         Mayor of the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, and Space Solar Power catastrophe


Famous Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Dan Greenwood, Mayor of the Moon

·         Mayor of the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, and Space Solar Power catastrophe


Echoes of what Don Summers had told me, verbatim, just before I had left a secure job rattled in my head:

    "The conquest of space is going nowhere until there is a clear profit."


If getting all the electricity humans would ever need from space is not a clear profit, then what is?


The California Space Institute had mailed me a notice about a Solar Power Satellite meeting. That would be an interesting meeting. Getting electricity from a satellite should be "a clear profit." That's what I was looking for. They also claimed the world famous Carl Sagan and the famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin would be there.


This could be a very important meeting. We could change the world, entirely. No more oil wars. No more nuclear reactor problems. Free electricity from the sun, from space, for everyone.


We could save the world.


I showed up. A happy mathematician business man who said he wanted to be "Mayor of the Moon." hosted the meeting. His name was Dan Greenwood. Dan looked about 49 years old, taller, thinner, pleasant, wore a brown suit and was always smiling.


The famous Carl Sagan was supposed to show up, so I made it a point to be there. Some local San Diego rocket scientists and space scientists sponsored the meeting. Their program would set up solar power satellites and beam electricity down to Earth. Dan Greenwood's group would put solar power electric generators on the Moon instead of on satellites. Then they would beam microwave electricity back to Earth, and we would all be saved.


Someone had named this meeting "Lunar Power 1."   


The first time I met him Dan Greenwood said

    "Hey, lets generate electricity on the moon, using solar power, and beam it to earth with microwave beams.  And it will only cost a Trillion dollars to start. What a grand idea." 


Duh? He seemed to be a bit simple. These guys seemed like clowns. Were these guys for real?


It was early evening of a very pleasant, mildly sunny day in La Jolla, California. A gentle breeze blew from the Pacific Ocean, and green succulent plants were almost visibly growing and were already as tall as trees. Flowers were in full bloom. The La Jolla building had red tile floors, and the triple-wide, open doors leading to a garden-like walk that went directly to the beach. 


Rocket science and the Navy picked a great part of the world. I was glad to be here.


The sun was still shining, and it was shining directly into my eyes. I was on the second floor, facing towards the west facing window, watching the sun setting lower and closer to the ocean.  A rather pretty scene, I thought, as I looked straight out the window over the deep blue Pacific ocean at sunset.


I had to pay something atrocious for the meal, but it didn't matter. Carl Sagan and Buzz Aldrin were supposed to be there.


This was a perfect scene for a save-the-world project.


I didn't know exactly what the Astronaut Buzz Aldrin had done, but I sure knew about Carl Sagan. My wife Terri gave me one of his books for Christmas because it was about infinity and space. He was famous. He was on "Nova" and talked about "billions and billions of stars." People would listen to Carl Sagan.


I thought about how I would tell Carl Sagan about the steam rocket and how to populate the solar system.


I kept looking for Carl Sagan. No Carl Sagan. Dr. Bruce Jokell Showed up instead.


What a downer. Why would Bruce Jokell show up? I was still not comfortable with Jokell, because he was still wrong on using electricity for his rocket fuel, and I was an Aspie. Bruce and I stayed away from each other this meeting.


Dan Greenwood noticed that I would listen. Aspies will hyper focus on things. The reason I never got caught being an Aspie was that I focused on people. Most Aspies are like Spock and don't care about humanoids. I focused on Greenwood.


Dan repeated to me at least a few different times that he wanted to be "Mayor of the Moon."  From his mannerisms and the way he talked about how he would achieve that goal, I concluded he was not playing Hardball Politics like General Dynamics.  He was playing back-woods softball.


My General Dynamics training sprang into action when I noticed a scary poster towards the south end of the meeting room. 


"Never show anything that scares the customer away." I recalled Jerry Husler telling us, teaching us to be marketing types.  Jerry Husler was one of those marketers you hear about. He would make things up, have them drawn up into very pretty brochures, and sell them. Then the engineers would have to find a way to make the crazy things work that Jerry had shown in his beautiful brochures.


Recall that Husler was our chief marketer and taught us a lot.


"Never show anything that scares the customer away," his voice repeated.


I saw "$1 Trillion" in big letters, as the cost of the program. I'm a customer, and that was about to scare me away. 


"One Trillion dollars!," I said aloud, exclaiming to no one as I read the poster aloud.


I looked around. Nobody was listening to me, fortunately. 


"Dumb. Real Dumb," I thought.


I had learned not to say "a Billion dollars," for our laser satellite. These guys were saying "Trillion.", a 1000 time more than a billion.  At the Laser Lab we had done everything we could think of to drop the starting price of our satellite to well under $500 Million. That $500 million was down from the $2.9 billion we first proposed. Our $2.9 Billion scared the Navy people away.  That was way too much. That was more than the price of a submarine.  The entire Defense Budget was only $250 Billion. 


Jerry's words echoed again: "Never show anything that scares the customer away,"


These "Lunar Power 1" guys were imagining that their program would cost 4 times more than the entire Defense Budget of the United States. And that was just to start the program. 


That was Stupid. That will chase away any and all serious supporters.


I had decided to go to this meeting because I wanted to see a "clear profit" in space, and to meet Carl Sagan. Carl didn't show and the "clear profit" was a clear disaster..


This other fellow, Buzz Aldrin, was the one who actually showed up.  I couldn't exactly place him, but I knew that his name sounded like he was one of the important astronauts.  I had forgotten which one. I never could follow the names of sports figures.


I knew that Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on the moon, and Sally Ride was a lady astronaut, whom I met here at UCSD (University of California, San Diego), and Harrison Schmidt was a Ph.D. geologist who went to the moon and tried being a Senator. 


And I remembered exactly where we were and what we were doing when the astronauts landed on the moon. But I didn’t remember their names at all.


I had to think hard to remember Buzz's role.


I didn't meet them personally when they landed on the moon, so I didn’t know them.


I could not recognize them either, because the astronauts had bubbles for faces.  I couldn't relate their space suit bubble to a person anyway. What they did was easy to remember, but not their names.


NASA focused on athletic adventures. I didn't follow sports or any other athletic adventure, space or not.


I was surprised that he was just a plain looking fellow no taller than me, with a light brown suit. He was so friendly that I easily started talking to him right away.  I focused on Buzz because he knew what he was talking about, was excited and passionate about it, and people would listen to him.


We immediately started talking about going to Mars. Neither of us even realized that we didn’t ease in to the topic at all.


I told Buzz Aldrin about how I would power a space ship using steam, and how we would use a nuclear reactor to boil the water from the tank and turn it into red hot steam.  I told him of the orbital maneuvers I would use to get to Mars and back. He understood everything instantly and instinctively.


Buzz told me how he would make his Mars space ship by having two astronaut capsules held together by a long, thousand foot cord, and that he would spin them.  The spinning would create his gravity. 


We all knew that without gravity, our bodies would loose bone calcium and we would have severe osteoporosis by the time we landed on Mars.


Buzz thoroughly earned his Ph.D. in Astronautics from MIT, judging from the things he said and the way he said them. I quickly figured out that he could and did figure. He understood exactly what I was talking about no matter what detail I mentioned. 


About 10 of us sat down at one of several of the long tables in the room. I could tell from the kind of white tablecloth and table settings that this would be a rubber chicken supper. My objective was to sit by the people who counted.


Dave Criswell's 3 foot by 4 foot, white poster boards with the Trillion Dollar price tag were visible from every table in the room.   I was facing west, towards the view of the ocean and sitting across from some oceanographer types and a very nice looking smart lady. Her name was Betty Walton.


When you go to meetings like these, they always serve some kind of thing they call "food" but feels like rubber. Typically it is hard boiled, rubber chicken, or hard steak.


You are not here to eat. You are here to elbow your way to the front of the line to talk with the key people. You can eat later. You are too fat anyway. That's what Jerry Husler barked at me during a marketing lesson.


Criswell, the speaker started describing how they would make electricity on the moon.  This is why they brought us here. He told us that the solar power collectors would probably be located at the moon's poles because the sun shines there most of the time. 


I was hoping he was going to explain "a clear profit."


Criswell told us how the solar power photovoltaic cells would energize electric power systems.  The power systems would feed an array of microwave power converter devices on the surface of the moon. These devices would be like very efficient, microwave oven devices, except that they would beam their energy towards Earth.


It was grand. Dan Greenwood was smiling at the grandeur of it all. 


I had picked up from Dan's language that Dan almost certainly had not calculated the details at all.  I wondered how much detail was in Criswell's calculations.


I calculated the diffraction limit quickly, and estimated the smallest possible size of the transmitter antennae.


"They better be a hundred kilometers across," I thought.


The transmitters that were beaming the energy to Earth had to be "a hundred kilometers" across or the beam would spread out. I presumed they had calculated that already.


If you are any kind of Engineer, you would calculate statements like this in your head while they talked.


If you can't calculate like this, get out of the way. You are probably some political science major. You are not qualified to comment on global warming, electric cars, economics, space travel, medical procedures, or anything. Maybe you can comment on a good restaurant, but not on anything that matters.


"The power converters will feed microwave electricity to a 100 mile long antenna,"  Criswell said, as if on queue, "could be on the equator, or could be near the north or south pole of the moon."


Criswell had at least done his homework on the microwave antennae.


Criswell pulled out a picture of his lunar solar electric power scheme for earth. He had the moon, the Earth, and something strange, something that appeared to be a mirror in orbit around Earth. The mirror would reflect a microwave beam from the moon to the surface of the Earth.


{{ Image: the moon, the Earth, a reflector in orbit around earth, and a beam going from moon to reflector and from reflector to a spot on Earth }}


"That's nice," I thought, "he has to track something moving 10,000 miles per hour. His antenna is on the moon and its doesn't move. He has to change the direction of the beam entirely electronically, by phase control. That's going to be tricky."


Any engineer would tell you that this would be a bit tricky, at the power level Criswell was talking about. This was at the 10,000 Megawatt level, enough to power half of Los Angelis.


His voice and the words he used signaled that he did not do real things. Only calculation things.


"He has two things in space," I thought, "one on the moon and one in orbit close to Earth. Both are tough. Two miracles."


He would need 2 miracles to make any profit at all.


The good looking smart lady across from me involuntarily winced a facial expression when she heard microwaves would be focused on some spot on Earth.  I could see she did not want to get cooked by a microwave beam some crazed geeks set up and whose beam accidentally wandered off target.


Criswell kept talking. 


"Rectenna's on the ground collect the microwave radiation and convert it into DC power, anywhere on Earth, day and night," he asserted.


I heard him, but didn’t quite believe it.  His antennae would collect feeble microwave radiation and little rectifier diodes would convert the energy into DC electric power.  I could buy what he said if it were a radio receiver. But as an electric power station?


Maybe we will have satellite radios someday, but not a satellite power plug. If the microwaves are strong enough to power something, they are powerful enough to fry you.


"How dangerous would that be?" I wondered. 


"The microwave radiation that hits the earth is do diffuse that you could jog under the beam and be perfectly safe," Criswell asserted, again as if on queue.


It only took a millisecond or so for me to  complete the emotion.

I thought: "Hey, that's pretty good. What a nice coincidence. They figured it out and a microwave energy beam enough to power Los Angelis won't fry you when you jog under it. Neat. Did they calculate that right?"


"How big are these rectenna fields?" I wondered.


"These are not very big antenna farms, less than 5 miles across," Criswell asserted. 


"Five miles across" is rather big. It's 16,000 acres, 25 square miles, more than the area covered by a San Francisco tourist map.


"This system will generate enough electricity to let everyone in the world use as much electricity as American's do today. All 50 Billion people," he asserted.


"Pretty simple," I thought.  It all sounded pretty good.  No nuclear reactors. Enough electricity for everyone.


"Fifty Billion People?" screamed a voice in my head.


 "Where does he get that. That is 10 times as many people as we have on Earth right now."


I started to figure what it meant to have the population Criswell was using as his customer base. 


Then, Dave Criswell proceeded to completely kill his project. Criswell chased everybody away with just one chart.


Not only did he point to that $1 Trillion placard, he started to explain it and draw attention to it.  


He made the chart so Big, so impossible to hide, 3 foot by 4 ft, so no one could miss it. He talked about it, casually defending how just to start the program it would cost a $1 Trillion.


"Hey," I thought, imagining how to tell him, "that's ten to the twelfth dollars, as much as the entire USA National budget, $ 1 000 Billion, $1 000 000 000 000."


"That's almost as much as the United States collects in taxes," I mumbled, loud enough for the smart lady to hear me. She heard, but she was still wondering if the microwave beam would cook her.


His chart showed how it would cost way too much to make electricity this way.


For some reason, David Criswell insisted this would be cheaper and better than making electricity on Earth any other way.


"Why can't we use nuclear power?" I asked him, loud enough and blatantly interrupting enough that everyone could hear me.


"Because you need too many of them," he replied, instantly, as if he had calculated and really knew the answer.. 


I agreed. He was talking 10 kilowatts per person and 50 billion people. That would be 500,000 Gigawatts.  A typical nuclear reactor power plant would generate about 1 Gigawatt. In my head I calculated that we would need 500,000 nuclear power stations.


"Yeah, you're right," I said.

way to make electricity that environmentalist extremists would let you do."


"You get everything you need from the moon," Dan Greenwood told me, smiling. 


A friend of his agreed.


"You have an unlimited amount of silicon on the moon, in the sand," this fellow said.


Bull. This is stupid.


"This guy doesn't know anything," I thought. 


Silicon and silicon dioxide, which is sand, are as different as sodium and sodium chloride, which is salt.  Raw silicon doesn't just come pouring out of the sand.  Raw sodium doesn't just come pouring out of salt.


Then I figured something that made the whole thing look silly.  Criswell said that each power station would generate something like 10 Gigawatts.  That is like 10 nuclear power stations would generate, but never mind. At 10 Gigawatts peer lunar solar power mirror station, that would mean about 50,000 antennae in orbit around earth.  Each one is 10 or 100 km across.  This is getting really nuts.


But, every time I had ever said "no, you can't do that," someone did it and made me wrong. So I shut up and tried to listen.


This guy was nuts. Instead of 500,000 nuclear power stations, he would need 50,000 of his solar power satellite mirrors. That's a huge number of monster things in space, and on the moon.


He must be a physicist. Completely impractical.


"Besides," he continued, obviously having been asked this question multiple times, "there is no other

Questions kept popping into my head. Practical questions.


"Why can't I just generate electricity in the Sahara Desert or Arizona, and then beam it around the Earth, like you do?" I asked.


If his mirrors would work all the way from the moon, then sure as hell they would work from close by, like from Arizona.


These guys are crazy.


I just could not buy it.  Anything we would do on Earth had to be easier than doing anything on the moon.  The moon is dry. No water. No air. But the Arizona is sunny 12 hours a day and way easier to work on that any place anywhere in space, no matter what.


Blatant and outrageous. Space projects are way too expensive, and he could prove it.


I wanted these guys to win, because I wanted us to be a space faring nation, a space-faring species.


He had to make it cost less, or Congress would ignore him.


I told Criswell to find a way to make the initial start cost less, way less.


"You can't get anyone to buy it if it costs too much." I told him.


"You're going to kill your program before it starts"  I asserted, bluntly.


"It's all because of that chart. The Trillion dollars is way too much to start." I asserted again.


Criswell resisted, adamantly.


"Well, go ahead. Resist." I emoted.


"You wonder why nobody cares about this?" I thought, loud enough for Criswell to "hear."


"Well, Dave, we don't need solar power electric generator on the moon now anyway. If we need electricity to save our lives, we can use nuclear electric generators, and they will cost a lot less."


I realized that talking with Buzz Aldrin was the only good part of the meeting.


Ice Exploding on to Earth

Trying to meet anyone of value here, I came across a very mild mannered astronomer who got his Ph.D. by doing calculations on the atmosphere of stars. I wondered why that would be worth doing. We are not going to be next to a star for a million years.


Dr. Ted Fay was about my size, thin, apparently vegetarian. His day job was working for an aerospace company named McDonnel Douglas in Los Angeles.


"Where can I find water ice near Earth?" I asked.


Any chance I got I asked that question.


"The comets. I think a piece of ice hit Tunguska, Siberia" he replied.


Startled, I didn't believe him. How can ice exist in space and not evaporate away, from the heat of the sunlight?


"You mean there are pieces of comet floating around near Earth?" I asked.


"I think it could be." he said, not very assertively. 


I did not believe.  I thought that Ted Fay could see how much I wanted it to be true, and he was just patronizing me, telling me whatever made me feel good.


He said ice existed on small comets or comet pieces.


I wondered about his words: "comet pieces" and "small comets?" What small comets?


What was especially captivating was that he said "crashing into Earth."


That would definitely qualify as "close". I wanted water in space, close enough to use. Crashing into Earth was bulls eye close.


As we were getting in a car, leaving the meeting, he promised me:


        "We will find you your ice." 


I did not believe him. But he said it in such a strange, subtle, ominous way that I thought there really might be ice out there in the space near earth.


I had come to the meeting to meet Carl Sagan. I had come here for a clear profit. Instead, I meet some astronaut, and the clear profit is a clear loss. The meeting was useless, as I had expected. The people throwing the party wanted to do something that would cost so much no one in their right mind would ever support it.


It was clear that we would not need solar power from the Moon to save the world. We could save the world with nuclear power. We could use Arizona instead of the moon for the collectors.


Alternatively, the overpopulating civilizations of the world could kill each other off and save us the trouble.  


I did not like this meeting.


Many years later I would realize:


It didn't matter that Carl Sagan was a no-show. Buzz Aldrin showed, instead. And Ted Fay showed up, who knew where the water was.


·         Vomit in the Space Ship, and space is bad for us

·       Vomit in the Space Ship

Supper with the oldest Russian astronaut



Just about everyone in those days had thought that people could live in space just like living on earth. Artists drew pictures of happy families with their happy kids and happy dogs with their tongues hanging out, all gently floating in a big space greenhouse as big as 20 football stadiums. Everything was green and neat, and everyone had a smile. Acres and acres of neat rows of crops were growing in the background, orchards with fruit on them, even. There was plenty of room and everyone was healthy and beautiful.


So, I was sure surprised when I found out that the zero gravity of space was bad for you. The local space society arranged for me to find out. That was not what I was supposed to learn.


This was the 26th of September, 1990.  I heard some older lady say with an idealistic, naïve vocal intonation how this was "a beautiful San Diego evening."


This was not San Diego. We were in Escondido, 40 miles north of the San Diego airport and inland one range of hills, along the I 15 freeway.


“The World Future Society” blared the poster-banner marking the building of the meeting.


As I tried to find a parking space I could not help but notice how The World Future Society sure drew a crowd, of old people. 


I saw old men wearing out-of-date suits and nice clothes, and driving older big cars that were in reasonable shape, with not too many dents and the paint still somewhat ok.  The older women's faces showed excessive makeup and didn't hide the wrinkles. Some wore clothes that even I could recognize to be no longer in fashion. 


“Only in California,” I remembered thinking when I first heard the name "World Future Society." Now when I actually saw the people, it was even more clear. I shook my head slightly from side to side and emoted a feeling that expressed  "What a name for a social group.  They really think they are part of the force that is changing the Future of the World."


“These guys are probably second or third tier has-beens,” I mused, “Ex Wanna-be’s.” 


I wore my Pentagon suit. I wore my entire Pentagon uniform. I deliberately walked like I was someone who worked with the Pentagon and lobbied Congress. That was because I did.


It was a game. I could feel how the people here could tell immediately when they saw me that I was different from those old has-been’s wandering around.


The L5 Society made this connection for me. They are now called "The National Space Society."  I liked the part where they had enough clout to make some kind of valuable connection. This demonstrated the ability of L5 to connect. It made me feel good that I joined the L5 Society. The L5 Society gave me a choice seat.


The San Diego L5 Society had acquired some interesting "positioning" tickets to the supper meeting of the World Future Society. The positioning tickets were a reward for some work the L5 society did for the World Future Society, and the reward was a few seats with designated positions of the chairs at a table, relative to where the invited speaker sat.


Hey you, 4th Grader, do this:

Make sure you get a choice seat like this, any chance you can.


The "L5 Society" was hard core space cadets. It was originally started by some people who wanted to make a space base at "L5."  L5 is the name of a place in space, place number 5, and there are only 5 such places around a heavy celestial object. It's a convenient place to put a space habitat in orbit around Earth.


I walked around the banquet hall for a few minutes, somewhat lost and gawking at the old, wrinkled has beens. The room holding about 300 people was filling up. Then one of the L5 Society ladies found me and escorted me right to the special table.  There were only six of us at the Russian Cosmonaut's table.


The waiters were preparing to serve some form of rubber chicken with fluffy, tasteless sponge desert coated with sugar glaze. The back wall of the stage was covered almost entirely by the silver-white projector screen. The podium was empty and waiting for the speaker to step up to it.  The stage platform, up 3 feet off the floor, stuck out from the wall about 10 feet, and the steps up to it were only 5 feet from our table, to my left. My seat faced the audience. We had a prime spot. 


The featured evening speaker, Cosmonaut Georgi Grechko, and some kind of aide / translator / guide person sat down at our table. Grechko faced me. The aide needed an extra chair. They forgot the Featured Evening Speaker would come with a Translator Aide Person. The aid spoke Russian.  Grechko handed one of the stage attendants his box of slides, said something in Russian to him, and the aide said something English to him.


The first thing I noticed was that they called him "Cosmonaut," not "astronaut." The next thing I noticed was that he was just not very interested at all in either his audience or anyone at his table. It was like we did not exist.


We did not exist. He was trying to ask the aide, who spoke Russian, how to work the new video camera he just bought. He was asking in mixed English and Russian. He was clearly very captivated by the new toy. He was fondling it and fiddling with it.  Then I noticed his English was not that good at all. No one with a ticket at this table spoke Russian.


The Cosmonaut finally noticed that we were sitting there at his table, staring at him.  He caught on quickly.  He looked at us and started to brag and name-drop.


I had been in this kind of situation many times. General Dynamics would set up a table and carefully place the important fellow, such as a United States Navy Admiral, with his one or two aides, and two or three of us who needed to talk with the Admiral, each in our appropriate places.  My job was to talk to the important fellow. Get to know him.  Engage him. Get him to invite me to his office early next week.


Someone who name-drops was also a familiar situation. The really big difference between this guy and meeting with a United States Navy Admiral was the name dropping. A US Admiral doesn't name-drop.  The Admiral really does talk to the President.


I wondered "What do you say to an astronaut who can hardly speak English?" 


He was trying to tell us about how he had just spent the day with Bert Rutan and with the super-high tech airplane Rutan had made. The airplane was like the one that flew around the world. We all knew about that airplane. That airplane made world history when it flew around the world. Most of us knew Rutan's name. He was the famous airplane inventor who made it all happen.


Grechko seemed at ease, and even as he bragged he did not seem that interested in us.


He passed around a 35 mm slide of something I found too hard to read and did not recognize. But one of the L5 Society people with me recognized it and acted all so-impressed.


I always asked questions. My question to him came rushing out of my mouth, driven by an instinct. I could feel what kind of person he was and what his mood seemed to be at the moment.


    "What's it like inside a space ship?" I asked.


With no hesitation whatsoever, he looked at me and said

    "Stink like barn."


His Russian accent came through clearly. But his human emotion of the humor of it all came through loud. 


It took a moment for us to catch it.  This guy was telling it like it is, with intonations of basic human body odors.  Not prim. Not proper. Just plain bluntly human. Russian. Basic.


After a moment, I burst out laughing.


His instant answer and the smirk on his face added to the joke: I was not the first one in the world to ask him that question, either.  But I didn't care. He looked at me and connected.


"I am oldest, grandpa, cosmonaut.

Am not that old.

Not in best shape,

but good enough,"

he said with a laugh, boasting a bit.


He seemed to change the subject, but he was now aware of me, and turned to me when he started talking, and then turned to the others to finish the sentence.


"Why does it stink?" I asked, looking directly into his eyes, and smirking a bit. He could tell I knew what to ask next. He was begging me to ask. 


I could tell from the way he said first few words to us, and from what he said, that he was playful, not arrogant, and that he was certainly in charge, but not pompous.


He looked at me first again, and then talked to all of us at the table.


With a thick Russian accent he started:

"Young, astronaut,"

speaking in one word punctuations

"go, on, ship."


He continued, pausing just a moment, and then with his hands starting from his stomach and moving up and out, away from his face,


"and throw up."


He moved his hands away from his mouth one more time and looked at us, trying to communicate that slimy, smelly, awful stomach stuff comes blowing out their mouth, into a ship with no gravity, so it floats. 


Graphic images of vomit floating weightless in blobs in a space ship startled us.


"Sch-tomahk sikh"

he said, with Russian accent. He meant "stomach sick".


The expressions on our faces instantly rewarded him. Our reactions were clearly why he liked to tell this story.


"I try to tell them."

he started to explain,


"They think,

what does old grandpa know?"


he said, referring to the young astronauts.


"But I know what to do,"

he said, speaking faster.


He moved his chair out, away from the table. Then he sat squarely in the chair.


"I sit on chair and grip tight,"

he said, as he reached down to the chair seat and pulled himself tightly into the chair, like his arms were tight straps clamping him to it. 


He tensed up and held on for a few seconds, clearly straining. He was not acting and was actually showing us what he actually did, in space, in the astronaut chair.

"I hold on tight for 10 minutes. 

I don't throw up.

They do,"

he concluded, and then he laughed.


"Old guy know more than young punk."

he asserted, bragging and laughing a well rehearsed punch line.


"They have to be humble.

They throw up,

stink up ship."


"Can, not, open, door."

he added, waving his arms like trying to open a locked door in a small car. He was trying to make us feel like we were locked in a small car with obese, grossly vomiting adults, and he succeeded.


He wanted to make sure we understood that the ship smelled bad and that vomit without ventilation was one of the reasons.


"Ship stink like barn."

he said again, turning to me, and concluding a short story I gave him a chance to tell. 


We finished eating the rubber bulk food.


Then the commentator spent a few minutes introducing him. Grechko proceeded to narrate a picture story to the crowd, showing Russian spacecraft of all kinds. 


"I see your satellite."

he said as he held an imaginary sphere the size of a large grapefruit.


"Was so tiny"

he said, with a puzzled look, and then the look became deliberately puzzled.

"Tiny Payload."


"You, put, up, kilogram."

"We, put up, ton."


His humor was subtle but pointy.


He was referring to the fact that the Russian space vehicles launched a 1000 times more mass than ours.


One of the major points of his speech was that Russia launched far bigger payloads than the Americans, and he wanted us to remember that.


He was right of course.


"Stink Like Barn" I won't forget.


All the spaceships smell like a barn. Every astronaut and space ship visitor I ever met verified that. Every astronaut I ever talked to assured me the ship "stink like barn."


I learned that space was bad for you. When we are weightless, our bones loose calcium and our immune system does not work. Our bones become brittle.


I learned that even the Russian space ships are too small. They are like jails, dungeons, cruel and unusual punishment. Poop floats, too, by the way.


The meeting was great fun.


The message was depressing. We are the wrong species for space.


This was the first of a long series of disappointing facts about space that hammered me.




·         Getting Fired because of "... no clear profit", Col. Simon Pete Worden and the White House


·       Getting Fired From A Space Job

A Message from The White House




"The conquest of space is going nowhere until there is a clear profit."


Don Summers had poked me in the chest with his index finger while he said it.


He was sure right.


Sure enough, we were being fired. Our conquest of space, with our wonderful satellite to submarine laser communication system, was not needed anymore. The Cold War was over. Nobody wanted to send secret messages to secret nuclear powered attack submarines, not even with a super marvelous laser in space. No one wanted to send secret target data to secret "Boomer" submarines with a belly full of rockets, each tipped with a handful of nuclear bombs. The Cold War was over.


The Clear Profit was gone. And so were we.


But my timing was superb. When Professor Jim Arnold gave me the phone number of the Professor who wrote the book on near earth asteroids, I had called the number. Professor John Lewis answered and assured me that there were many near earth asteroids, many that were easy to get to with a rocket, and many whose dried-clay-like dirt would spit water steam when heated up.


Better yet, Prof. John Lewis liked my idea of a steam rocket. He liked it so much, he gave me the phone number of one of his ex-students. The ex-student, Colonel Simon "Pete" Worden, was now in the White House. I left a phone message for Pete Worden in the White House.



6 October 1990. 

Everyone in our lab that morning had that blank stare of the doomed. Everyone mumbled idle talk, like the condemned. Everyone slowly assembled into the conference room. Everybody knew. The big oak table that would normally seat 6 or 8 very important managers on each side, facing each other, was moved way off to the side. The room no longer looked like the Big Important VIP Conference Room. It now looked like a room with 100 chairs crammed into a room that should hold 30, at most, and with the extra chairs squeezed along all 4 walls. 


I wandered outside for a moment, before going in with the rest of us. The overcast sky was quiet and grey even though it was 9 AM. No wind, no rain, no sun, plenty of parking.   I looked longingly at the place I got to go to every day. I knew it would change today. The entry to our building was a very pleasant, reddish brick stone, with artificial stone facades, smooth black rock panels for style, perfect, new anti-reflection glass doors, surrounded by green bushes, clean architecture, clean, new asphalt for parking, every tree and every bush neatly trimmed.  The conference room door was 10 feet past the receptionist, through the electronically opened security door.


The pretty, 22 year old receptionist answering the phone and greeting visitors at the entrance of our facility was a temporary, sitting there only for this last week. As I wandered back, she told me how many there were in her family, where she was from, and some family history. I flirt a lot. I am an Aspie who focuses on people. Her story and her face were interesting. Her person was strong and confident.


Dr. Reg Lowe was our Vice President from the St. Louis headquarters of General Dynamics. He had announced this special meeting that we "all need to attend."  Every one of us, every employee, was about to walk into the conference room to hear what Reg had to say.


We all knew why the Vice President from Headquarters commanded us to be here for this meeting, even though it was supposed to be a Big Secret. The Berlin Wall had fallen.  The End of the Cold War was raging wild in southern California. There was no need for "Satellite to submarine laser communications" (SLC), and SLC is what we were all trying to do there, like it or not.  The Navy had delayed funding our SLC program indefinitely and had no intention of spending the $3 Billion everyone knew it would take for a prototype system. 


No Clear Profit.


Only a female technician permitted herself to cry. She was crying all the way in. She knew but was not supposed to know. I knew what Reg Lowe was going to do the night before because my boss, The Great Freiwald the General Manager, called and told me.


"We have nothing to fear," my Freiwald told me, because "General Dynamics takes care of its managers. We will all have a job somewhere in GD." he asserted, reassuringly. 


Just as I was on my way into the meeting room, the pretty receptionist casually handed me a message. I was a bit startled when I saw who it was from. She didn't seem impressed at who it was from, and she was just taking messages.  It was from "White House".


Colonel S. Pete Worden from the White House called me back. John Lewis told me to call Worden at the White House and leave a message.  So a day before, I did. Amazing. The White House answered. Superb timing.


I walked into the jam packed conference room and sat in the back against the wall next to Bill Baker, the Department Manager head of the Mechanical Engineering Department.


Then Reg Lowe fired us all, the entire laboratory. Reg told everyone how we would get paid till January, how our benefits would be paid until then as well. To help us, GD was hiring a very well known, very effective outplacement service to help us all get jobs. Reg went and on and on and on.


I could not hear a thing during the whole meeting. I was smiling from ear to ear. I kept holding the message in my hand, on my lap, so I could glance at it, during the whole meeting, to make sure it was real.  


All the message said was:

    From: Pete Worden

    Address: White House


As soon as Reg Lowe was done firing us all, I called the White House.  Someone got Pete Worden. Almost as soon as I said hello I told him how to use a steam rocket to take huge payloads to Mars.


Hey 4th Graders, This Is Easy:

Moral of the Story: Contacts count.


You can meet anyone you need to meet.

Even if you are an autistic Aspie,

you can meet anyone you need to meet.


The only thing you must have is


passion for what you believe in.




·         Ice In Space from Village of the Damned, and Periodic Comets

A Swarm Of Local Comets



When your daydream hobby job can change the world, and only you know it,

you will probably have some hard times.


Get ready for them.

The hard times are not that bad.



Village of the Damned


It was sometime in the winter of 1990. I was out of a job and looking for one, and always wearing a suit. Every morning I would put one of my Pentagon suits. I would choose a pair of my black wingtip tie shoes and put on a clean, pressed white shirt and a power tie. I would grab my briefcase and drive to my office about 25 miles from the lush green hills and opulent Rancho Bernardo, CA, and park in a clean, multilevel cement parking structure.  Did I say "my office"?


It looked like we were employed.


Every day I would walk into a brand new, 4 story building with a blue-green glass outside wall. I would take the elevator to the 4th floor, open the heavy, 8 foot high, 3 inch thick, beautifully polished and stained hardwood doors with expensive, 1 foot dimension big brass door handles. My feet would almost sink into the thick new carpet. Through those luxurious doors I entered the Offices for Fired Executives.



I would greet at least one well dressed young secretary, notice and appreciate her nice hooters, and then, I and at least a dozen other fired executives would disappear into the building, somewhere deeper, to the "offices". I would select a little cubby hole that would be my office for the day.  I would scan the empty "offices" to find one with a window. Each office had a telephone. Some had a nice chair, and a few had a window with a nice view. 


Then I would spend the day along with other depressed, fired Executives from all over San Diego, where every day we would feel the shame and total humiliation of being fired. We would look for a job from the Village of the Damned.  


Every day I walked in shame. Being fired for any reason was Intense Shame and intense embarrassment.


Those of us from General Dynamics knew that when the new year started, our severance paychecks would stop.


All that we could be sure of was a telephone. Just a telephone. Everything else was a gift. The secretaries would professionally answer that phone and take faxes for us.


We were so lucky because we received this Special Executive Severance Benefit. We were the 5 managers of the General Dynamics Laser Lab.  I was the only one who actually went to this office every day. I didn't know what the others did. Each of us was offered a nice, comfortable, free office, and we could count on free phones with free long distance calling, and a female voice to answer them for as long as it would take to get another job.


We even got special counseling services. Twice a week a different Ph.D. industrial psychologist would talk to us. One set of psychologists told us about the cycles of emotions of the Unemployed Executive. Another group would help train us on finding high paying work.


I would sometimes day dream out the window. I could not help it. After making a phone call, I needed time to think, to rejuvenate, to rest. Then, make another phone call.


Getting an office and phones at the Village of the Damned was a big a perk reserved only for being a fired executive of General Dynamics. The rest of the guys only got some tutoring on how to go find their own jobs from their base at home.


Then General Dynamics fired the guy who fired us. Dr. Reg Lowe, Vice President of General Dynamics in St. Louis, himself got dumped. He didn't expect that. Neither did most of the people in all of General Dynamics all over the United States.


The head of General Dynamics Space Systems Division, the great and honorable Big Boss, Dr. Alan Lovelace may as well have gotten fired. He was sent off to a small building somewhere in Outer San Diego, 5 miles east of any impressive buildings, in charge of 35 people.  That was his punishment and humiliation for letting the Cold War end. 


The Evil of 50 years of unethical behavior of General Dynamics finally caught up with it.


From a few windows in the Village of the Damned I could see rolling waves of real offices in the rich suburbs of San Diego. Offices of people with jobs.


Hunting Ice, Hunting for Work

Every so often, at least a once a week, I needed to escape, to go somewhere with some intellectual diversity.   The University of California at San Diego was only 5 or so miles away.  I went there because their library had a section on astronomy and space resources.  I needed to find ice in space so I could melt it, to get water to fill the steam rocket fuel tank. I was bound and determined to get a job saving the world and starting the Exodus to Space, to Inhabit the Solar System.


If I could not find any ice, I would not get a job, I thought. I had to find ice. I knew it was out there, somehow.


At this point, during the autumn and early winter of 1990, the only place one could find ice with 100% certainty and on something with low enough gravity to be useful, was on little moons far away, deep in the solar system, out by Saturn. 


Bullheaded, I would only settle for a space water station what would let my little steam rocket haul 10,000 tons. 


The only places in space that would let one little steam rocket launch and blast off with a 10,000 ton payload, and 20 times that much water for propellant in the water tank balloon, would be a place with almost no gravity.  The only places like that were little asteroids and tiny moons, like the moons of Mars. Those were the only ones I knew of with low enough gravity.


If you were a real, imaginative rocket scientist, you would see a flaw here, and would trump me, figure out the key to getting huge amount of water, and beat me. But no one did. Lucky for me.


Even though my rocket scenario was not the best, I had a plan.  I rehearsed it over and over. I doodled little pictures of the plan while I searched for more people to call.  I wanted to make sure I knew what story to tell.


It was like a daydream.


I would take a rocket to some valuable rock- or moon-place in space.  I would heat the dirt or permafrost until the water steam would come out.  I would condense the water vapor. I would collect 200,000 tons of water.  Then I would put the water into a tank, the rocket fuel tank balloon bladder.


I know how to calculate how a small tank could hold a lot of water.  A tank weighing as little as the payload of the Shuttle could hold 25,000 tons of water, or more. That would be a huge amount. The Shuttle payload is 25 tons.


 I would load the payload on top of the rocket.  Then I would turn on the steam rocket engine.


The nuclear reactor, no bigger than big pickup truck, would boil the water into steam. The steam would be so hot the pipes would glow orange.  I would connect the rocket nozzle directly to the nuclear reactor.  Just like the nuclear reactor and rocket nozzle I wrapped my arms around at Jackass Flats, Nevada, 20 years earlier. The steam would come out the back of the rocket and push the rocket.


The rocket would roar silently in space. 


The steam rocket would have enough power to launch 25,000 tons

tons, not kilograms,

off places with low gravity, like a small water moon of Saturn.


 The rocket would decelerate the space ship and the ship would begin to fall towards the Sun. 


My computers would very carefully calculate how long to decelerate and in what direction.  We would aim it so we would almost  hit earth. 


A million miles from Earth we would turn on the rocket and slightly change course so we would not crash into Earth, but just skim it. 


Finally, just as we got somewhat close to Earth, closer than the TV satellite stations at GEO, we would turn on the rockets to full thrust.  We would try to slow down enough to become captured in an orbit around Earth itself. 


Then we would have delivered the payload, 10,000 tons of water. 


I did calculate it all.  We would bring rocket fuel to an orbit around Earth.


And then we could fuel the Exodus and Inhabit the Solar System.


"Inhabit the Solar System"


What a daydream.  I daydreamed this every single day at the Village of the Damned.


And I needed was real data. Saturn had two little moons that were almost pure ice and were so tiny they had almost no gravity. I could see them in my mind-eye. I had seen actual pictures of the little Saturn moons named Iapetus and Hyperion.


They were awfully far away. They were at Saturn. But they were absolutely 100% sure sources of water. I could not find anyone who would assure me of water in space any closer than these moons of Saturn.


I was fretting. The water had to be on places with almost no gravity, or my little engine would not push hard enough to push us off. We needed water to be closer than this. I needed water somewhere near Earth. I was fretting over it.


I fretted and fussed, but the reality forced me to continue. I knew I had it. The math proved it.

I need water in space to run the steam rockets that will let mankind open the Final Frontier. I am sticking with steam rockets and space. I have something no one else has.


The trees in the University of California at San Diego parking lot were always green.  Once in a while a little fog or rain would mist my face as I walked the path to the library.  Most of the time pretty young college ladies would pass by. They would not notice me at all. They would not even glance. I thought it was because I had my Pentagon suit on and I was already getting old and ugly and had bad breath. That was all true.


I was just wandering around in the library. The part of the library I needed was well lit. Almost no students gathered here, and almost none were grabbing all the chairs. No computer terminals were here, to help me search.  Dark, heavy wood tables were big enough to put 4 chairs around them, and for me to take an entire table for myself and to spread out.  A coin operated Xerox machine was conveniently right there, by the books.  This was the astronomy corner. 


I was looking at each and every book on the shelf related to astronomy.  Stars and galaxies didn't catch my eye. There were a rows and rows of them.


Ice in Space

And then I stumbled over it. “Long-term Evolution of Short-period Comets” 


It was a binder, not a book.  It's title had the words "comets" in it, so I dragged it out.


Strange title, too. I didn't know that "Short period" comets existed. The binder had a lot of comet orbit data, with pictures of the orbits. Some orbits looked like those symmetric patterns we used to see on the oscilloscope screens in old sci-fi movies. I saw rosettes and loops and curly squiggles.


Comets are water in space. That much I knew.


I did not expect what I saw before me. These fellows were describing a whole formation of comets between Mars and Jupiter.  The authors were some Italian astronomers,  "Carusi, A.; L. Kresak, E. Perozzzi, and G.B. Valsecchi"   All of my ancestors are Italian. I didn't know Italians had done any science since the Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo.


Why don't we see all these comets, right now?


Apparently, most astronomers must have known about these comets but forgot about them. Or, maybe they didn't tell me because they thought everyone knew.  Maybe only Ted Fay knew and maybe that was the reason for his cryptic message to me: "We will get you your water."


Just for the heck of it, I calculated the delta-V a steam rocket would need to develop to make a trip from one of those comets back to Earth.  I didn't have the exact equation with me, but I knew how make a good estimate.


The binder had listed most of the periodic comets. They had even listed the orbital elements in a form that I could calculate the delta-V with my hand calculator.


Nature is usually a bitch. Most of us don't really expect anything to work out. Things almost never work out. But the calculation was rather simple. So, I picked one whose orbital data looked like it might be good, and worked out the delta V.




One of them turned out to have a reasonable value of delta-V.


Something worked out.


So I kept looking.  Even if there were only one, I only need one to win. This 2 inch thick binder was full of pages, and they only used about 2 or 3 pages for each comet.  So, there just had to be another that would be as good, or maybe better.


I started to figure the delta-V for each one that looked right. I figured it with a hand calculator, right there in the library, because I could not afford the time nor the money to copy the whole thing. It cost 5 cents per copy. I was out of a job and "broke." I had to be selective. There were about 150 comets. When I had figured about 5 or 10 of them I realized that many of them were ok.


"OK" meant the mission delta V was low enough that the steam rocket could bring payloads back to Earth. I started making a list and copying the best ones. 


Totally Stunning!


All the comets had weird orbits. Carusi and his colleagues had calculated the orbits for times extending thousands of years. When they did that, they saw abrupt changes in the orbit anytime the comet came close to any planet. Some orbits were simply unstable.  Many had Lissajou patterns for orbits, which meant they were stable, but their orbits around the sun would be shaped like roses or flowers, symmetric but not circles or ellipses like everything else.


I went home with a few that looked reasonable. 


This meant that I found the water. Ted Fay was right. He knew there was water there. He told me the first time I met him, at the Lunar Solar Power meeting, "we will find you your water." I didn't believe him. But he was right. He knew.


All the way home my mind repeated like an echo:

I need to redo the calculation.

There is always a mistake somewhere.

Makes it worse.

Every time.

Don't get too excited.


There was no mistake. And as expected, the delta_V's were not quite as wonderful as I had hoped.


A few weeks later I convinced Ted Fay and his wife to meet me at UCSB and we talked about it.


Ted was right. We did find the water. I found at least a few comets that were close enough to be water stations for my steam rocket.


I could not believe it.


·         Elevator Speech

Stalking Customers and the Elevator Speech



Stalker at the Meeting



It was now early January 1991 in Poway, California, just 45 minutes from the San Diego airport. It was now official. All the Managers were fired, officially unemployed. Our paychecks officially ended December 1990. They cut off our money flow.


Fired or not, I was sticking to my Vision. I knew we could Inhabit the Solar System because I found where I could get the water. I saw the orbital data in the document at the UCSD library. Ted Fay knew all along his colleagues had found the water.


We had the key thing, the thing we needed most of all, abundant water in space.


However, I needed a job, a day job. Cutting the money flow was like someone numbed my arm with Novocain and then cut my wrist. During the first minute, nothing changed.


Strangely, nothing seemed to change when my paycheck died. The large, 1 inch brown olives we picked 4 months ago from the neighbor's tree were still curing in brine in the one gallon jars on the old wood desk in the garage. The eucalyptus trees in our yard, trimmed by the tree-trimmer guys so they would not be a fire hazard, still smelled the same when I crumbled a dark blue-green leaf and put it to my nose.  The grass was still green. The two trees with the soft, peeling white bark were still growing. The 500 foot hill a few streets away was still charred from the scary fire that dropped ashes in my driveway and on my shake-shingle wood roof, and turned the sun blood orange-red. But they cut off my pay.


The weather was the same, mild and partly cloudy. The computer and printer were the same. Terri still drove 45 minutes to work, every morning.


No wonder people go broke. Everything around you seems to be the same after you have no salary.


Absolutely determined to find someone somewhere to employ me to take 1000 people to Mars, I kept repeating to myself that I had something no rocket scientist had: a steam rocket. And, I had a heretic's rocket equation to prove that it would increase the payload by at least 100's of times. Multiple times I checked the equation and its assumptions, and verified it was an absolutely correct equation.


Most significant, I had also signed up for a NASA meeting on Mars and asteroids. Contacts count. Professor John Lewis would be at that meeting. He knew everyone.


The meeting was in Tucson, Arizona. Jennifer was going to go back to college in Las Cruces, New Mexico after the Christmas break. She could drive me and drop me off in Tucson, Arizona, where the Space meeting was.  That would save a couple hundred dollars of airplane ticket. I was going with her because it was on the way to the space meeting.


People in the space business went to these meetings, and I needed to find and meet them. General Dynamics taught me well on how to find and stalk the important people.   For this I was skilled.


The Elevator Speech


If you want to change the world, you need to get your "Elevator Speech" perfect.


General Dynamics taught me the "Elevator Speech."


While Jen was driving us through the desert from San Diego to Tucson, the Elevator Speech, a lesson Dr. Frank Chesus taught me, replayed in my head. Chesus was the  best of the Old Bulls of General Dynamics, I thought. He was definitely Ethical. He was once the Big Boss in Charge. He and I got along very well. I clearly heard him emphasize:


"You only have enough time to ride the elevator with him from the top floor to the bottom floor."

He looked right at me when he told me.

 "You have to tell him such an interesting small talk story that he invites you to a real meeting, or tells you to call him on the phone."


For days before any meeting, we would practice our elevator speech. We would try it on people.


Stalking The Important Ones

General Dynamics held formal short courses for us the Executives on how to "stalk" people.


An Elevator Speech started with stalking the important person one needed to meet, such as a General or someone from Congress or the White House.  The important person was someone who could strongly influence the awarding of a huge contract.  A fleet of fighter aircraft or a new class of submarine could mean a contract for $30 Billion. For example, that would only cost the taxpayers $3 Billion a year, for 10 years, for a bunch of fast, 15,000 horsepower airborne race cars, called "fighter jets,".


First, go find out which important people are going to be there. Next, make it a point to learn the names of any important person who might even show up unexpected. Write the names down immediately. Then, look for one of those key persons. The person would most likely be an invited or keynote speaker. 


A key point: physically move and position yourself so that the guy has to walk by you when he leaves the podium or gets up from the table.


Gerry Husler's imposing, commanding voice replayed in my mind. Husler was our Director of Business Development. He told me exactly how to do this. He was ordering me to do it.


"You better damn well make sure you are in his path even if you miss the free lunch. Get directly in his path. You can eat later. You're too fat anyway. Your job is to meet him, not to listen to him talk. You can talk to his aides.  Refine your point based on what the guy says. Elbow your way in there so you are the one who gets to walk with him to the elevator. Got that?"


And then he smiled and laughed a bit. Husler was big enough to elbow his way around. I was smaller and had to resort to Kung Fu methods, fast walking and missing the meals.


Husler wanted me to elbow my way ahead of the more timid guys from other companies, our competitors. In this game, the successful ones push and shove to be first, to be the one the important fellow, the target, has to pass when he finishes.  When he passes, we start walking with him and tell him a very short story, the elevator speech.


Chesus's voice mentored me again:

"You have something he wants. You know it. You have to tell him.  There's something positively intriguing about what we're doing. He needs it."


Then Chesus instructed me to be absolutely sure I had done my homework and knew exactly what thing that General really needed and really wanted.


Husler commanded:

"If you don't know exactly what that thing is, get out of the way. You'll be shoved out of the way by someone who does."


Husler didn't laugh when he said that. He was serious as hell.  He knew we scientists from the Department of Energy were typically timid, too timid for him.


"You don't just run up to the guy and blab. Find out what he needs," he commanded.


Husler paused and smiled a little and commanded again, "Captivate him with a little story."


Husler told stories a lot. They were mostly bullshit because Gerry would typically lie about what we could do or what we already did. But he told a good story. 


The General Dynamics marketing guys taught us how to work a meeting where we probably did not know anyone at all. When I had that job, we were looking for a new market for a laser and we would show up at a technical meeting related to it.  We would make sure we attend the general startup meeting.


Starting out with a blank page was not that hard:

    1.) Pick the most carefully dressed random person who people are swarming around,

    2.) Just walk up and ask them "Who would know the person here that knows the most about xxx whatever?"


That would get us a name. 


We would also look at the speaker's roster and write down the names of anyone who looked like they might be important or influential. We would only know their status or position by the list of attendees. We would go find them and ask the same thing:


     "Who is the one that everyone respects?"


Then we would go look for technical leaders, because the technical leader would know who has the money.  The technical leader got there by knowing in great detail what the money-persons want. This technical guy would only work on important things, things that pay money.


Then the Stalking began. I heard the voice of an Frank Chesus telling me how to do it, without Gerry Husler's bulldog mannerisms.


Pick a guy on the list. Move a chair and park right by the door where everyone has to go thru to get in and out.  If he's in there, he has to pass right by you. Ask anyone around you if they know what this guy looks like. You tell them "I only know the person's name and I am supposed to meet him." 


Frank taught me like an old sage teaching a young warrior. I was a warrior to him. He liked me because I understood his ham radio language. He loved that stuff. He loved the technical work. He had risen to be the General Manager of a General Dynamics Division.  And he always favored the people who knew something, and were not those marketing bullshiters. 


The oversize pants of his conservative suit had impressed my wife who told me he was old, boring, poorly dressed and arrogant. But I didn't think so. I liked him and followed every move he described.  He was sharp and he would teach me every chance he got.


"You spend a lot of time finding out a whole list people who might lead you to the kind of person you need. You don't know who you need. That's why you are there, to find them. You keep all the names at your fingertips. Most of the people on your list you never heard of before. If the person is important, lots of people know what they look like. If they are not important, you don't care and cross them off the list."


Frank Chesus was direct, but it was like learning how to fight to win. Husler would bark loud to make sure we got the message:


"You better damn well know precisely what you want.

If you don't, then don't play the game."


The desert of eastern California and western Arizona in the winter passed by my window as Jenny drove the old brown Honda packed to the bursting point with college stuff. 


I started to fret and worry: "How am I going to pay for Jenny's college when my mortgage is $2,200 per month and I don't have a job?"


Jenny bought a 6 week old little Siamese kitty, and we paid the $100 for it. I fretted some more, thinking "Doesn't she understand? We are broke."


We weren't completely broke, but with no income, spending a dollar was like spending $20.  I had learned that fact the hard way.  If I would save 5% of my income, which is really hard and nearly impossible, I would be saving $1 out of every $20. To get $1 saved, I must make $20.


So, when I have no income, if I spend $1, it is like spending $20.


Fretting. Sweating. Uncomfortable. I had no income. And there was no one on the horizon who was hiring. Everyone in the USA was laying off technical people. Just like now, only then it was just technical people.


The little black kitty pooped a little black thing the size of an olive pit. Driving in the heat of the Arizona desert made the kitty black thing fill the whole car with smell.


It took my mind off of things.




·         The January NASA Meeting: comet


A NASA meeting on space and asteroids.


This meeting would be the start of a deluge, a hurricane of new places in the space near Earth we could use to inhabit the solar system.


Prof. John Lewis, the professor who wrote the book on near Earth asteroids, was in charge of the meeting. He told me about it and invited me.


Long before we approached Tucson, Arizona, this January 1991, wisps of the sweet smell of sage, the faint smell of a cactus flower, the smell of dry saltbush pollen and the flowers of a yucca, all stimulated memory flashbacks, like hallucinations. The familiar smell was the same entrancing smell we got when we first moved to the cold high desert in Albuquerque, during 1970 when Jennifer was born.


As we approached the city, the outsides of the clean, white-brown stucco buildings surprised me with the sharp contrast of the blues and reds the architects used on the walls. The city almost looked like a surreal painting.  The city was so bright and clean, even as we began to see it from 30 miles away. The sun seemed brighter than San Diego, and the sky was deep blue, not like San Diego at all.


She dropped me off and went on to college in Las Cruces. I was alone, and without a car, without the expense account to pay for anything, without a business card stating how very important I was. I was here, with nothing. On my own.


Knee-jerk training from General Dynamics took over. My only purpose at this meeting was to play the game:

    "Find contacts who will give me a big contract,"

otherwise known as a Job.


Instantly upon checking in to the Motel, I put on my Pentagon Uniform, a dark blue suit with thin stripes 1/2 inch apart, a white shirt, appointed with a simple green-red-banded Pentagon tie, and my black wing-tip shoes. I went to the meeting before doing anything.


It was a huge conference room, as science meetings go. It seemed big enough to hold a convention of aerospace contractors trying to win a space launch contract. According to the roster, it was only a bunch of space scientists and engineers trying to get small, one or two person contracts. Proof that this meeting was feeble, small and unimportant was the fact that there were no booths with vendors, and there were no Pentagon brass wandering around.


The conference room must have held 1000 chairs. The conference seemed to be packed.   There seemed to be people everywhere, and the room was full most of the time.


Professor John Lewis was the chairperson introducing speakers and sitting right up front. Professor John Lewis wrote the book on asteroidal resources. He was famous.


     Lewis,  John S. and Ruth A. Lewis, “Space Resources, Breaking the Bonds of Earth,”   ISBN 0-231-06498-5, Columbia Univ. Press, New York 1987


This NASA meeting I signed up for had lots of the right kind of people for me to stalk, because Professor John Lewis told me who would be there and insisted I present my scheme at this meeting.


John Lewis was the fellow who gave me the phone number of Colonel Pete Worden, in the White House, and told me to use his name to get a return phone call. And I did get the return phone call.  John Lewis was definitely one of the right guys to stalk. He was very quick and very smart, recognized by everyone to be so, and offered something more valuable than money: connections. He got me to speak with the White House.


Professor John Lewis was easy to approach, but the Professor was definitely not "easy." It was clear. Don't cross him even just lightly. He would eat you for lunch fast if you didn't know anything or if you wasted his time. He would tell you, fast. And he would not be kind about it.


Dr. Geoffrey Landis from NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland was my coauthor. He understood the steam rocket performance equations immediately. It was a simple knee jerk calculation for him the first time I showed it to him. He had a Ph.D. in some kind of rocket science.


Landis liked the idea of publishing the first paper on steam rockets with me. We showed how to get to Deimos, one of the two moons of Mars, from Earth orbit. Ours was a big space ship, about 30 times more massive than the Shutt