Commentary by Samuel Strait – June 23, 2023
While this article seems a bit out of the ordinary for this reporter, it
is something that has occupied my time for the last couple of weeks and
has some interest to all that occupy this place we call “Earth”. Since
the 1960’s the Federal government has been experimenting with high speed
projectiles in a vacuum. When I say high speed, I mean five times the
speed of a rifle bullet, or approximately 5 kilometers per second. For
us in this Country, it means about 5/8ths of a mile in one second.
Pretty impressive. While the Ames Vertical Gun Range is but a small
part of the NASA Research Center, it is where I found myself
participating in a series of experiments involving the “gun” shooting
projectiles at meteorites in a vacuum chamber.
Dr. George Flynn and his team have been conducting these firings twice a
year of a week’s duration for the past twenty five years to collect data
on each visit to the AVGR. The purpose is to determine the amount of
energy required to deflect large space objects without shattering them
from their impending collision with planet Earth. Historically there
have been few catastrophic impacts on Earth while occupied by humans,
perhaps less than five or six, yet that does not mean we can avoid them
altogether. In the distant past, large objects from space have been
known to have impacted the Earth causing wide spread damage and even
climate altering episodes. The object of Dr. Flynn’s work is to supply
data from his impact experiments to safely supply data which can be used
to intercept such future objects with a missile that does not shatter
the object, but alters its trajectory to avoid impacting on planet Earth.
Myself, a lowly assistant, Dr. Flynn, Dr. Melissa Strait, and Technical
Assistant Taylor Pytet suspended various meteorites in a vacuum chamber
to be shot by the Vertical Gun at approximately 5 km/sec. Each shot
took but a few seconds, but the prep work lasted about two hours for
each shot. Over the course of a week we managed eighteen shots of which
all produced data except one. We set a lab record by managing five shots
in one twelve hour session. Each session began at 4:45 in the am and
concluded ten to twelve hours later. The gun crew of the AVGR was
provided by the Research Center who have been keeping the gun
operational for years. Chuck, the supervisor, Freddie, and Tom operated
the gun, and JP Wiems was our data and photo wizard. Great team and a
pleasure to work with for our time in Mountain View.
After a week of exhausting labor the crew and I took in one of the Bay
Area’s three aircraft museums before sending Dr. Flynn by air to Arizona
to report on our labors, and Taylor back to the east Coast. All in all
it was a most interesting time to actually work in a NASA facility and
earn the title as “Defender of the Earth”. The ceremony not to be missed.
As an aside, San Francisco is as advertised, a mess, but outlying areas
remain mostly civilized. Crime is an issue and certain care should be
taken. We drove to the facility via Highway 101 through downtown San
Francisco, but elected to return at least part of the way along
beautiful Highway 1. Weekend drives along the southern end of Highway 1
must contend with hoards of bicycles riders who seem to think they own
the road. Makes for exciting driving on the narrow winding parts of the
highway. In any event, it was great to return home to catch up on
missed sleep and the welcome serenity of rural California. No pounding
on hotel doors by frantic women in the middle of the night, or police
chasing naked women in the parking lot at four o’clock in the morning.
Somehow this is not this reporter’s idea of entertainment, but what can
one expect out of Governor Newsom’s Progressive Paradise in the third
world of California’s urban centers.