Friday, December 11, 2009

A Familiar Frame Of Mind

I was quite amazed to learn that among the many nuclear weapons tests our country carried out way back when in the early days, we also exploded a weapon in space in an operation called Starfish Prime. Among the effects:

About 897 miles (1445 kilometers) away in Hawaii, the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by the explosion was felt as three hundred street lights failed, television sets and radios malfunctioned and burglar alarms went off. On Kauai, the EMP shut down telephone calls to the other islands by burning out the equipment used in a microwave link.


While some of the energetic beta particles followed the Earth's magnetic field and illuminated the sky, other high-energy electrons became trapped and formed radiation belts around the earth. There was much uncertainty and debate about the composition, magnitude and potential adverse effects from this trapped radiation after the detonation. The weaponeers became quite worried when three satellites in low earth orbit were disabled. These man-made radiation belts eventually crippled one-third of all satellites in low orbit. Seven satellites were destroyed as radiation knocked out their solar arrays or electronics, including the first commercial relay communication satellite ever, Telstar. Detectors on Telstar, TRAAC, Injun, and Ariel 1 were used to measure distribution of the radiation produced by the tests.

Crazy stuff. Back in 1987, while staying at a bed and breakfast near Edinburgh, Scotland, Kathy and I had the good fortune to meet a Mr Clark. Most likely you've never heard of or met Mr Clark, but you're probably familiar with men like him. He was a veteran of World War II, retired British Army, a non-volunteer atomic test participant, and a Scotsman with a farm on Tasmania who visited his homeland once a year thus crossing our paths. His crushing handshake belied his age of seventy. He and I spoke at length after dinner.

I was blown away to hear his tale of being at the site of an atomic test. I don't recall all the details and I can't account for the veracity of his story but I do know there were British troops exposed to various atomic tests back in the 50's. I had recently read a book entitled Killing Our Own documenting American military members' exposure to radiation, the medical effects of the years, and our government's, to put it politely, inadequate response. And here I was hearing it straight from someone who'd been there.

Mr Clark had no complaints. He did as he was ordered and he said he was willing to do so because he feared communism. He spoke at length of the terrible specter of communism that, although diminished in 1987, still haunted the world. As far as he was concerned, any sacrifice was justifiable to ensure its defeat.

And so, in a similar vein, we continue.

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