CCNet 113/2002 - 1 October 2002
"Zoroaster is said by the Persians to have left society, owing to
his love of justice and wisdom, and to have lived a solitary life on
a mountain. Then this mountain began to burn on account of the huge
quantity of fire falling from heaven and continue so to burn, wherefore
the King with the chiefs of the Persians had approached thither, intending
to adore the Deity. Then it was that Zoroaster had come forth unhurt
from the fire and approached them gracefully, bidding them not to be
afraid but to offer some offerings unto God, since he had visited
--Hossein Alizadeh Gharib, Griffith Observer, September 2002
"Old warriors would have gasped in disbelief if they could have
foreseen the debut of a new American rocket last month. A giant 19
stories high, the Atlas 5, successor to America's first
intercontinental ballistic missile, blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.,
and roared into space to deploy a satellite. But Yankee smarts had
little to do with the fiery success of the rocket's engines. Instead,
the brains were Russian. Moscow may have lost the cold war, but its
companies are beating Western capitalists at the game of making rocket
--William J. Broad, The New York Times
(1) U.S. CONSIDERING NEW NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY ON IMPACT THREAT
(2) SPACE FORCES HAVE BECOME INDISPENSABLE IN WAR AGAINST TERRORISM
Space Daily, 30 September 2002
(3) SPACE IS BIG, BUT NOT BIG ENOUGH
Space Daily, 30 September 2002
(4) THE MAGI AND THE METOERITES
Hossein Alizadeh Gharib, Tehran, Iran
(5) U.S. HOUSE SPACE SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON IMPACT HAZARD THIS THURSDAY
Andy Smith <email@example.com>
(6) THE NASA BUREAUCRATS' NEW EFFORTS TO TRY AND SANDBAG THE NEO PROBLEM
E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(7) TWO STORIES OF INTEREST
Daniel Fischer <email@example.com>
(8) AND FINALLY: A MISSILE THAT WOULD MAKE LENIN FAINT
The New York Times, 22 September 2002
(1) U.S. CONSIDERING NEW NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY ON IMPACT THREAT
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics - Hearing
The Threat of Near-Earth Asteroids
10:00 A.M. - 12:00 NOON
2318 Rayburn House Office Building (WEBCAST)
Contact: Republican Staff: Jennifer Wiseman
Democrat Staff: Richard Obermann
Recent relatively close encounters with asteroids have highlighted the
threat posed to Earth by so-called "Near Earth Objects" (NEOs). The House
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a hearing to examine the
threat posed by such objects, the status of current NEO survey efforts, and
the national policy with regard to NEOs.
Witnesses scheduled to testify include:
Dr. Edward Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA
Dr. David Morrison, Senior Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center
Brigadier General Simon Worden, U.S. Air Force
Dr. Brian Marsden, Director, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical
Dr. Joseph Burns, Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering and
Astronomy, Cornell University
(2) SPACE FORCES HAVE BECOME INDISPENSABLE IN WAR AGAINST TERRORISM
>From Space Daily, 30 September 2002
by Tech. Sgt. Scott Elliott
for Air Force News
Washington - Sep 30, 2002
Even as the Air Force strives to meet the conventional demands of a new era
driven by transformation and the war on terrorism, the service's secretary
remains focused on national security space management.
"We must ensure our space forces, equipment and concepts of operation remain
as innovative and capabilities-based as those we develop for air-breathing
systems," Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche said recently.
"Space capabilities in today's world are no longer nice-to-have," he said.
"They've become indispensable at the strategic, operational and tactical
levels of war."
Recent space-based contributions to the war on terrorism include locating
the enemy by using intelligence and surveillance assets, tracking and
targeting them through the combined employment of weather and communications
systems, and engaging the enemy and assessing battle damage with navigation
and reconnaissance systems.
Looking to the future, Roche said he sees America's military capability
growing beyond the traditional role of force enhancer, to being more active
in preventing, fighting and winning wars.
"Our adversaries have noted the advantages we gain from space," he said.
"Given the total interdependence of air and space power, we cannot risk loss
of space superiority."
But, as important as the space hardware is, the secretary is committed to
the individual airman.
"The resource most critical to ensuring (our) space superiority in the years
to come is not technological or fiscal -- it's people, like everything else
in the Air Force," Roche said.
"We must develop a well-thought out approach to what it is we want from our
space systems and our space cadre, and then educate warfighters throughout
the joint community on how these capabilities can positively affect
Copyright 2002, Space Daily
(3) SPACE IS BIG, BUT NOT BIG ENOUGH
>From Space Daily, 30 September 2002
Paris (ESA) Sep 30, 2002
According to Douglas Adams, in his famous book The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the
Galaxy, space is big. However, it seems near-Earth space is not big enough.
In December 2001, the Space Shuttle pushed the International Space Station
away from a discarded Russian rocket booster that was due to pass
uncomfortably close. Space litter is a growing problem but smarter satellite
design may help in the future.
>From the beginning of the space era, satellites and deep-space probes have
populated the Solar System. There are now a huge number of satellites
orbiting the Earth, for different purposes including Earth observations,
weather forecasting, telecommunications, military applications, and
The space around Earth is therefore becoming more and more crowded.
Aside from the aspect of 'space traffic control', there is the question of
what to do with space litter.
ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, tracks
space litter. It estimates that over 23,000 objects larger than 10
centimetres have been launched from Earth. Of these, about 7500 are still
orbiting -- only a very small proportion of them (6%) is operational.
Half of all the objects are inoperable satellites, spent rocket stages, or
other large space litter; the remaining 44% is debris from explosions and
accidents in space. To make things worse, there are an estimated 70,000 to
120,000 fragments smaller than 1 centimetre and the amount of space debris
increases by about 5% every year.
Tiny fragments, such as paint flecks, moving at very high velocities of
around 6 kilometres per second can create problems for the spacecraft and
for astronaut. One way to lower the threat is to remove satellites from
orbit at the end of their working lives.
If we force satellites down through the Earth's atmosphere, they burn up.
However, this is more complicated if the satellite is so large that parts of
it are liable to survive reentry and strike the ground. This is the case for
some Earth observation satellites, for example, which are very big and
heavy. When removing a (dead) satellite from orbit is too difficult, it is
simply left in orbit.
However ESA is developing a new technology for its Darwin mission. This
technology may allow smaller, more easily disposable satellites to replace
often enormous relics in the future which would improve spacecraft control.
Darwin will use a flotilla of six 2-metre-diameter telescopes, flying in
tight formation, to simulate a single telescope up to 250 metres across. The
new technology being developed for Darwin allows the flotilla of spacecraft
to control their mutual position with extremely high accuracy.
Artist's impression of the Darwin free-flyer model. Courtesy
In the case of Darwin, this enables you to analyse the atmospheres of very
far-away Earth-like planets with high precision and detect the chemical
signatures of life. Once this technology is developed, this could also find
other applications: miniaturised versions of such technology could replace
large, traditional satellites.
"Imagine using an array of 20-centimetre telescopes. They would be small,
light and easy to mass-produce, so cheap to manufacture," says Malcolm
Fridlund, ESA's Project Scientist for the Darwin mission.
They would see objects just as sharply as traditional satellites, if not
better, and, at the end of their mission, scientists could ensure that they
burn up in Earth's atmosphere like shooting stars. This way we keep space
Another improvement is to position satellites further away, to reduce
'traffic jams' in near-Earth space.
"This is a better position for Earth observation anyway," says Fridlund,
"Because, in low-Earth-orbit, the satellite orbits every 90 minutes, it is
only over each spot on Earth for a short period of time. In geostationary
orbit, however, the satellite would be looking at one whole hemisphere
continuously, so you could just point the array to wherever you are
Moreover, we could use Darwin's formation-flying technology to equip every
satellite with a collision-avoidance system. Unrelated satellites would
communicate with their neighbours and take corrective action if they began
to drift together.
Of course, nothing will completely remove the threat of space litter.
However, if we can use advanced technology to remove unwanted hardware from
orbit, space will definitely become safer.
Copyright 2002, Space Daily
(4) THE MAGI AND THE METOERITES
>From Griffith Observer, September 2002
By Hossein Alizadeh Gharib, Tehran, Iran
By the time the Hellenistic Greeks encountered the priests of ancient Iran,
they were already known as Magi. The Magi were identified as Zoroastrian
ritualists, and they seem to have originated among the Medes, long after
Zoroaster emerged as a prophet around 1100 B.C. Zoroaster's ethical doctrine
was framed by a cosmic conflict between truth and lie, good and evil, and
light and darkness. Its influence on Iranian religion increased during the
Achaemenid dynasty (550 - 330 B.C.). From 728 B.C. to 550 B.C., before the
Achaemenids crafted the Persian Empire, the Medes were one of the primary
power brokers of western Asia. The Greek historian
Herodotus wrote about them in the fifth century B.C. and also identified the
Magi as a tribe of Medes that advised the king and interpreted dreams. The
Magi also recited ritual texts and officiated at sacrifices. Later Greek and
Roman authorities regarded them as "wise men." Today, most Westerners know
them from the story of the Christmas Star in the Bible's New Testament.
According to the book of Matthew, the "Magi," or Three Wise Men, followed a
special star to Bethlehem and the Christ Child. On a search through ancient
Persian sources for eyewitness accounts of, and other references to, events
that might have been connected with the formation of some of the small meteorite
craters I have discovered in Iran, I encountered a wealth of ancient meteor and
meteorite lore associated with the Magi and Zoroastrian tradition.
Stargazing and the Early History of Zoroastrianism
The early history of Zoroastrianism is a blend of ancient legends, scattered
bits of interdisciplinary knowledge, and an oral tradition that remained
unwritten until at least eight centuries after the true era of Zoroaster.
Linguistic evidence, careful dating of the various stages in the development
of Mesopotamian constellations (Rogers, 1998)-some of which we find in
Zoroastrian scriptures, and a wealth of later historical accounts all lead
us to set the approximate date for the formulation of foundational elements
of Zoroastrian faith not later than 1000 B.C. Ancient Greek and Roman
scholars accepted as fact Zoroaster's reputation as a dedicated stargazer.
Astronomical knowledge in some parts of the Avesta, the Zoroastrian
scriptures, is abundant, especially in works like the Tir Yasht ("the Book
of Praise of Sirius"). The very ancient forms of language used in these
passages of the Tir Yasht and six other similar works suggest they comprise
some of the oldest parts of those texts. In the Tir Yasht (1.2, 5.8), there
seems to be a reference to what probably was a Leonid meteor shower,
occurring each year around mid-September in the pre-dawn sky:
"We praise Sirius, that bright white fast flying healer, shining far high
which sheds pure unpolluted light. We praise Sirius, the mighty glorious
star who wins over shooting stars, who smashes shooting stars when they are
hurled between the earth and the sky as worm [-shaped] stars near the vast
mighty scenic deep sea. He truly comes as a sacred horse, exciting water
into waves,Sand swift winds begin to blowSthis way the beautiful peaceful
rain comes to the land." (Zoroaster. The Book of Yashts, p. 343)
Despite the later account of Ptolemy (Ptolemaeus Claudius. The Almagest, p.
253), Sirius is described as pure white, not red. More evidence for this
ancient observation of a meteor shower appears in an unexpected Greek
source, Pseudo-Clementinian Recognitions, now only extant in a Latin
translation from the second century A.D.
Zoroaster, a very great observer of the stars, wished to be regarded as a
divine being and began to elicit sparks from the stars and to show them to
the people. (Geiger and Windischmann, pp. 131-133)
An observer able to "elicit sparks from the stars" may not only have noticed
the occurrence of meteor showers but also recognized the annual periodicity
of some of them. The account also hints that at least one meteor shower was
so active in the second millennium B.C. it reliably offered a spectacular
event to impress those not so aware of the such celestial phenomena. Dio
Chrysostom, in the late first century A.D., was a Greek philosopher and a
friend of the Greek biographer Plutarch, and in his Borysthenian Creation
Chrysostom wrote about the life of Zoroaster,
according to an alleged myth of the Magi. Were the event he reported to
happen today, it very well might change the life of any contemporary
observer of the sky. In the past, this remarkable phenomenon confronted
those who saw it with powerful forces of nature they regarded as signs from
the gods. Although the passage is only a few lines long, it is rooted in the
original words of Zoroaster.
Zoroaster is said by the Persians to have left society, owing to his love of
justice and wisdom, and to have lived a solitary life on a mountain. Then
this mountain began to burn on account of the huge quantity of fire falling
from heaven and continue so to burn, wherefore the King with the chiefs of
the Persians had approached thither, intending to adore the Deity. Then it
was that Zoroaster had come forth unhurt from the fire and approached them
gracefully, bidding them not to be afraid but to offer some offerings unto
God, since he had visited their territory. (Geiger and
Windischmann, pp. 135-136)
The Mithra Yasht, one of the older Zoroastrian texts, references a
mysterious, fiery, white, all-metal chariot of the deity Mithra, who in
later sources acquired some affiliations with the sun. In the Mithra Yasht
(18.70), we seem to reading about a daytime bolide that heralded the fall
of a meteorite.
"We praise Mithra, he who the God-created Verethraghna [a Persian symbol of
war and also the planet Mars] moves before him like a boar which kills in
just one hit...a boar with speckled face, with iron feet, with iron
cladding, with iron nerves, with iron tail, with iron chin...a rushing boar
which is trailed by flaming, glorious, mighty, rushing fire." (Zoroaster.
The Book of Yashts, pp. 424-503)
We later find an account in the Vidaevadata of a stone given to Zoroaster by
God to repel the Devil. This book's name means "the anti-Devil data," and it
was written in its final form around the second century B.C. It contains the
traditions actually held and practiced by the Magi at that time. In chapter
19, verse 4, Zoroaster was attacked by non- believers, and
"Zoroaster stood up and went forth...with a massive stone which he had
received from God, the Creator, and was in a large stall. [The Devil asked,]
"Where did you get that stone?" [Zoroaster replied,] "Of this far-horizoned
earth, beside the River Daraja, beyond the hill of the house
of Poroshasp." (Razi. Vidaevadata, pp. 1728-1729)
Possibly this passage is referring to a 1.5-ton meteorite (Alizadeh Gharib,
1999, pp. 1728-1729) that once was kept in a fire temple in Ardabil, a city
in the northwest Iranian province Azerbaijan (not Aran, the neighboring
region to the north which later, in the Soviet-era Cold War climate of
political intrigue, adopted the name of the ancient Iranian province of
Azerbaijan and now is known as the Republic of Azerbaijan) which
Zoroastrians traditionally regard as Zoroaster's birthplace. Alternatively,
the passage may document the more massive iron of Armanty
(Alizadeh Gharib, 2002, pp. 1820), found in the nineteenth century in
central Asia, which many scholars regard as the birthplace of the religion.
Later, during the Islamic period, the fire temple at Ardabil was transformed
into a mosque. The meteorite still existed in the tenth century A.D., when
Maghdassi, an Iranian traveler who resided in Jerusalem, visited Ardabil:
"In the Grand Mosque of Ardabil there is a large stone that even a heavy
hammer cannot scratch and had fallen from the sky to outside the city.
People carried it to the mosque. And I quote from the elegant servant of the
mosque, who told me, "We were walking near Ardabil when suddenly we saw
something like a huge shield in the sky which was falling to earth. When it
landed, we found it was a stone. It was like this [iron], which is narrow at
both ends." (Al-Maghdassi. Ahsan al-Taghassim fi Marefat al-Aghalim, p. 380)
This temple still exists as a religious monument, despite looting several
times by the Ottoman Turks and the Russians. The present whereabouts of the
Zoroaster meteorite are unknown. I am hopeful, however, it may be recovered
because I have identified clues regarding its fate. The iron of Armanty
enjoyed a more fortunate fate, for it now resides in sromchi, the capital
city of China's Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. Isotopic testing may be
able to uncover its terrestrial age and establish a date for the fall. The
Armanty meteorite was found in a region that originally was inhabited by the
Scythians, an Iranian people mentioned by Herodotus.
He reported a Scythian myth which refers to the fall of several gold
implements out of the sky and onto Scythian lands. The date for this
legendary event is supposed to be about 1500 B.C. Interesting reports in
Greek sources also provide information on the Ardabil fire temple. This
report is also from the Pseudo-Clementinian Recognitions.
Zoroaster, wishing to enhance his reputation as a divine being by eliciting
sparks from stars, repeated this practice very often until he was borne away
by God himself, whom he troubled too much...People built in his honor a
monument and ventured to adore him as if he were a friend of
God and had been lifted to heaven in a chariot of lightning. They also
venerated him as a Living Star, hence he was called Zoroaster ("the living
star") after he died...yet his ashes were collected as if they were the
remains of lightning and brought to the Persians to be preserved by them,
under constant watch, as godlike fire fallen from heaven as a heavenly god.
(Geiger and Windischmann, p. 132)
A similar story in another Greek source, later translated into Latin as
Homilies of Clemens, reinforces the meteoritical aspect of Zoroaster's
People of those times honored the tomb with a temple built in Persia where
the bringing down of fire had taken place. The Persians first took coals
from the thunderbolt which had fallen from heaven...being the first to adore
it. (Geiger and Windischmann, p. 133)
Sky, Stone, and Iron
Thanks to iron meteorites that occasionally fell from the celestial vault,
the sky was associated with iron by the Persian peoples. This tradition is
embedded in words for these elements of nature. In Avestan, the ancient
language of Zoroastrian scripture, the word asana means both "sky" and
"stone." Modern Persian (Farsi) preserves the tradition, after three
thousand years of linguistic development, in two cognates, aseman ("sky")
and sang ("stone"). In other branches of the Iranian family of languages
unaffected by foreign influence, including Kurdish and Baluchi, the words
survive in more pristine form. In Kurdish, the word for iron is asen, and in
Baluchi, it is ayen. The word for iron in modern Persian is ahan.
Interestingly, it is eisen in German. Linguistic relationships aside, there
are hints in old Zoroastrian sources that imply this association of stone
and iron with the sky. According to the book of Gatha (chapter 30, verse 5),
which is thought to represent the oldest parts of the Avestan holy scripture
and the original words of Zoroaster, the sky is made of the hardest stone,
worn by Ahura Mazda, the God of Creation and cosmic order, like armor. In
this sense, meteorites had a spiritual and religious importance and could
repel evil spirits. This understanding was reiterated in later Avestan
scripture. In the Farvardin Yasht (verse 2), the sky is said to be "shining
metal." The second chapter of the Bundahishn, a Zoroastrian encyclopedia, is
titled "On the Material Genesis," and it confirms,
First, God created the sky, clear, far away, and egg-shaped, of iron stone.
(Faranbagh, Dadegi. Bonde Heshn, pp. 39-40)
The Bundahishn also contains a passage about the possibility that various
objects-including fish, toads, and of course, stones-fall out of the sky.
[The glorious Zoroaster] also tells in religion that as Sirius carries water
with the power of wind to the air, it also carries anything present in the
whirlpool to the air, things like stones, fish, toads, and similar objects.
The evidence confirms that these things come down with the rain, for it is
evidently witnessed that there are times that fish, toads, and stones rain
down. This fire which also falls and which people call lightning is also
stone. It goes up with water to the air, where it reaches the hands of
demons who are the enemies of Sirius. They take it using magic, heat it, and
spoil it to hot and dry or to cold and dry and bring it back to earth to the
loss of people. (Faranbagh, Dadegi. Bonde Heshn, p. 96)
This passage in the Bundahishn is among the most direct documentations of
the relationship between meteorites and magical power. This association of
meteorites with magical power was a prime incentive for the Magi to search
The Magic of Meteorites
Before the advent of the iron age, in which iron ore could be smelted into
metal and forged into tools and weapons, the metal most in use in the
civilized world was copper, along with its alloys. When, however, a fragment
of a metal harder than copper fell from the sky, the ancients took notice.
This heavenly metal had something no other metal could match-hardness. Iron
is one of the hardest metals, especially when it contains some impurities.
The strange circumstances of iron's appearance on the surface of the earth
invested it with supernatural power. Trailing smoke and fire, along with the
thunder generated by supersonic passage through the atmosphere, a meteorite
arrived in high style. Iron meteorites were at one time the only known
source of iron, and they were revered as highly valuable objects belonging
to celestial gods. It is, then, no surprise we find all kinds of iron charms
and miniature weapons made of meteoritic iron in the bronze-age burials of
Egyptian and Mesopotamian kings. Small weapons of this celestial metal could
penetrate any known armor, and their quality surpassed similar weapons made
of softer metals. These attributes alone would have persuaded people that
iron meteorites possessed supernatural power. For the ancients, owning an
iron dagger was a little like an individual today owning a nuclear weapon.
The reputation of heaven's iron continued for centuries. Najib Bakran, the
thirteenth- century Persian geographer, wrote in his geography of the
Sometimes when lightning strikes, something lands on earth similar to iron
but colored like copper and shaped like an arrow or spit. Being hit by one
of these results in immediate death, and if it strikes any part of the body,
it will pass through it. Nothing may shield from it, and normal iron does
not affect it. Nothing can be made of it due to great hardness, and I heard
that such a material landed in Mazandaran and Daylam [on the southern shore
of the Caspian Sea], some as large as a weapon. People call these "bricks of
the heavens." (Bakran, Najib. Jahan Nameh, 1962 facsimile)
It is highly probable Najib Bakran, when writing these lines, was actually
describing a finely-oriented, rust-covered specimen he examined personally
or even some small arrowheads made of meteoritic iron. The magical power
attributed to meteorites was one reason Iranian kings like Mahmud of Ghazni
so eagerly sought them. He once demanded a dagger be fabricated from a large
piece of iron meteorite witnessed to fall in 1009 A.D. Detailed accounts of
this meteorite have been transmitted to us through the words of two Persian
scholars of the time, Avicenna and al-Biruni. According to Avicenna,
"One day in the vicinity of Jouzjanan, a piece of iron weighing 150 man (450
kilograms or 990 pounds) fell from the air. The people around there heard a
great sound. When it was brought to the king of Jouzjanan, King Mahmud of
Ghazni, who had heard about it, demanded a piece of it. They all tried in
vain to separate a part of it, but it was not possible. At last, expert
ironsmiths began to make a sword of it [in their usual way of hot forging],
but they failed because its grains, similar to millet, were interlocked.
This made it a highly solid object. Nothing worked on it, neither stone nor
iron and steel." (Kashani, Ghazi Ahmed. Taarikh-e-Negarestan, p. 113)
The same belief in meteoritic power prompted Jahangir, the fourth Mogul
emperor and the ruler of India, to order two swords, a dagger, and a knife
be contrived from a meteorite found in India around 1621 (Schaefer, 1998, p.
70). Magical power aside, meteorites had practical material value. According
to an Assyrian cuneiform text, iron meteorites were worth eight times their
weight in gold. Such meteorites were probably traded through Assyrian
commercial outposts in western Iran at a time they were perhaps available
from masses of iron meteorite. This may also explain why such an ancient and
vast land as Iran has failed in recent times to yield a single
piece of iron meteorite. In Mesoamerica, on the other hand, a number of
massive iron meteorites have been found since the era of the Spanish
conquest. The late Harvey Harlow Nininger, a celebrated and pioneering
meteoriticist, noted this geographic disparity in his contribution,
"Meteorite Distribution on the Earth," to The Moon, Meteorites, and Comets
(Middlehurst, Barbara M., and Kuiper, Gerard P., 1963, p. 171):
The suggestion has been made that climatic conditions in the southern
Cordillera favored the preservation of meteorites and that erosion was
especially favorable for their exposure. However, the great arid highlands
of Iran, with an even more arid climate and with a considerably greater
population, have yielded none of the world's great irons...The question
naturally arises whether the older civilization of Persia may have disposed
of massive irons, processing them for utilitarian purposes.
Nininger concluded the absence of massive Iranian iron meteorites could be
explained by their consumption by expert metal workers, who had long since
exhausted the supply through cold tool making, a conclusion reinforced by
the discovery of a handful of meteoritic artifacts in bronze-age burial
sites in west and central Iran. A cuneiform text, inscribed around 2000 B.C,
verifies ancient exploitation of meteorites.
I brought the amutu [iron meteorite] to the boss, and he said, "I will smelt
it!" I said, "I will not give permission for smelting." He said, "When you
have gone, I will smelt it." He smelted the amutu, a lump of three shekels
resulted, through smelting...I suffered a loss of four shekels. He offered
me eight shekels of gold [per shekel of meteorite] for the rest of the
amutu. I said, "It is too little." (Bjorkman, Judith K. 1973, p. 112)
Memory of the time when iron meteorites were so valuable may have persisted
through generations and fused with the belief in the spiritual and magical
powers assigned to iron meteorites. This memory also may have sustained a
high demand for these objects, despite their rarity and diminishing supply.
The Persian Magi were knowledgeable and wise specialists who would have
understood the situation, and we are aware of their eagerness to obtain
meteoritic material thanks to Pliny the Elder (first century A.D.). In the
Natural History (book XXXVII, chapter LI, line 135), Pliny describes several
kinds of fulgurites found in Kermania (Kerman), a south-central province of
Iran, and then, quoting Sotacus, Pliny comes to this point:
"Sotacus distinguishes also two other varieties of the stone, a black and a
red, resembling axe-heads. According to him, those among them that are black
and round are supernatural objects, and he states that thanks to [weapons
made of] them, cities and fleets are attacked and overcome, their name being
baetuli, while the elongated stones are cerauniae. These writers distinguish
yet another kind of cerauniae which is quite rare. According to them, the
Magi hunt for it zealously because it is found only in places that have been
struck by a thunderbolt." (Pliny the Elder, p.
The last sentence suggests the meteorites most favored by the Magi were what
today we would call observed falls. In any case, the spiritual and
commercial value of meteorites kept the Magi on the lookout for them.
The Magi of Our Time
Pliny's description of the Persian Magi as diligent meteorite hunters
reminds us there are people in our era who travel great distances and expend
energy and time in pursuit of the "bricks of the heavens." Meteorite
entrepreneur Robert A. Haag is a modern meteorite Magus. Henry Augustus Ward
(1834-1906), although now all but forgotten, was an American museum builder
and pioneer meteorite hunter. Not a single book has been written about Ward
and his endeavors, but stories of his travels around the globe, as far as
South America, Australia, and Persia, are recorded. On 18 April 1880, a
clear afternoon sky was suddenly darkened by an unexpected cloud and nine
sonic booms. This event occurred over a region about 37 miles (60
kilometers) southwest of Tehran, before the puzzled eyes of a shepherd, who
was tending his flock when something hit the ground with a great noise. The
shepherd hurriedly returned to his village and reported his "vision." Some
of the men of the village returned to the place where the shepherd had
experienced the unknown and observed a pit about 61/2 feet (2 meters) deep
at the exact spot, punched by a stone that now rested at the bottom of the
cavity. The stone, weighing about 119 pounds (54 kilograms), was transported
to Tehran to the court of Naser al-Din Shah, then the King of Persia. Soon,
the news of this meteorite fall spread through Europe and to the German
mining engineer Fredrich Dietsch. Examined by experts, the meteorite proved
to be a mesosiderite, a variety of stony-iron meteorite which today we know
formed through successive collisions between well- developed,
gravitationally-differentiated minor planets. The metallic cores and stony
mantles of parent objects are evenly mixed in these meteorites. Eighteen
years after the meteorite fell near Veramin, Iran, when Muzaffar al-Din
Shah, another Ghajar dynasty ruler, was king, Henry August Ward was in
Sweden, where he noticed a small fragment of the meteorite in the hands of
the famous polar explorer A.E. Nordenski"ld. Ward promptly packed his bags
for the long journey, via St. Petersburg, the Caucusus, the Caspian Sea, and
the port city Anzali, to Tehran for an audience at the palace of the Persian
king. It took place on Tuesday, 6 December 1898. Ward left us with an
overview (Ward, Henry A., pp. 453-459) of his meeting with the "King of
Kings," who let him cut a fragment from the famous Iranian meteorite. The
piece, though small (about 5 pounds or 2.3 kilograms), is the largest
fragment ever passed to private hands. This may have been one of the few
times Ward was unable to secure all of the main mass of a meteorite.
Donating the fragment was the highest favor the King of Persia ever granted
with the Veramin mesosiderite. It is possible the king wanted to engage
American interest in Persian affairs through the Yankee scientist.
At the time, the usually conflicting colonial interests of the British and
Russians had converged, and the two nations were cooperating at the expense
of Persia. Ward, unaware of the subtleties of power politics in the region,
left Iran quickly, He died eight years later, on 4 July 1906, in an
automobile accident in Buffalo, New York. Ward's heritage was tons of
meteorites acquired from over 600 separate falls. Ward's Natural Science
Establishment still operates in Rochester, New York. The rest of the Veramin
meteorite remains in Iran. Although reduced to 114 pounds it would be
coveted by all of those Magi and metal workers who in antiquity scoured
Persia clean of meteoritic iron.
Alizadeh Gharib, Hossein. "From the Solar System to the Court of Naser
al-Din Shah" (December, 1998) (in Persian).
Alizadeh Gharib, Hossein. "A Tale of Mummies and Meteorites," Meteorite
(February, 2002): 18-20.
Alizadeh Gharib, Hossein. "Zoroaster's Meteorite," Sky & Telescope 97, 5
(May, 1999): 12-14.
Bakran, Najib. Jahan Nameh. Moscow, U.S.S.R.: folio 20a, 1962 (facsimile
edition) (in Persian and Russian).
Bill, James A., and Louis, William Roger, eds. Musaddiq, Iranian
Nationalism, and Oil. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988.
Bjorkman, Judith K. "Meteors and Meteorites in the Ancient Near East,"
Meteoritics 89 (1973): 91-130.
Faranbagh, Dadegi. Bonde Heshn. Tehran, Iran: Toos Publications, 1990 (in
Persian). Geiger, W., and Windischmann, F. Zarathushtra in the Gathas and in
the Greek and Roman Classics. Leipzig, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1897.
Kashani, Ghazi Ahmad. Tarick-e-Negarestan. Tehran, Iran: Hafez Library, 1972
al-Maghdassi. Ahsan al-Taghassim fi Marefat al-Ahgalim. Leiden, the
Netherlands: 1909 (in Arabic).
Nininger, Harvey H. "Meteorite Distribution on the Earth," in The Moon,
Meteorites, and Comets (Middlehurst, Barbara M., and Kuiper, Gerard P.,
eds.) Chicago, Illinois, USA: University of Chicago Press 1963, pp. 162-182.
Pliny the Elder. Natural History (Volume X). Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1962.
Ptolemaeus, Claudius. The Almagest. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Encyclopedia
Britannica, Inc., 1952.
Razi, Hashem, trans. Vidaevadata. Tehran, Iran: Fekr-e-Rooz Publications,
Rogers, John H. "Origins of the Ancient Constellations: I. The
Mesopotamian Traditions," Journal of the British Astronomical Association
108, 1 (February, 1998): 9- 28.
Schaefer, Bradley E. "Meteors That Changed the World," Sky & Telescope 96, 6
(December, 1998): 68-75.
Ward, Henry A. "The Veramin Meteorite," The American Journal of Science
(fourth series) XII: 453-459. Zoroaster. The Book of Yashts. Tehran, Iran:
Tahoori Publications, 1968 (in Persian).
Copyright 2002, Griffith Observer
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(5) U.S. HOUSE SPACE SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON IMPACT HAZARD THIS THURSDAY
>From Andy Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello Benny and CCNet,
The U. S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics (SSC) is planning a
hearing on "The Threat of Near-Earth Asteroids", this Thursday (3 October).
There have only been a few such meetingss, in the last decade (3 or 4).
The SC Chairman is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, of California. He is a
long-time supporter of a well-funded and organized NEO program. The SSC is a
part of the House Science Committee (SC)and Congressman Sherwood Boehlert,
of New York, is the Chairman. Another strong supporter for a good program is
Congreeeman Ralph Hall, of Texas...the ranking minority member. At this
time, the Associate Administrator of the NASA Office of Space Science (Dr.
Edward Weiler) is listed to talk and there may be others added to the
agenda. See http://www.spaceref.com/calendar/calendar.html?pid=1734
It would be good for all, who can, to contact these folks and to monitor the
meeting. It may be WEBCAST.
We are pushing for: (1) Larger telescopes (especially LSST) to join in the
hunt....with more help for the existing search programs, for the existing
large survey telscopes (Sloan, etc.) and for the MPC Data Center, (2) A
quick-reaction deflection capability, using existing equipment (weeks
instead of years to react),(3)The development of rapid 24/7 alarm and
evacuation plans for the coastal cities (5 hour goal) and a dynamic
international preparedness program, to include the excellent (largely
volunteer) programs in Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, Canada, the ESA, etc.
We feel it is very important to assist such elected governmental groups as
this, in understanding the importance of the NEO issues and to encourage
them to help their government agencies to increase the key activity funding
support levels. NASA, the Air Force, the Department of Energy Labs, NOAA and
others have done a lot, in the last decade, to help us to understand this -
the greatest of all credible natural dangers - and to prepare to prevent
impact, if possible, and to survive impact, if we must. We thank them and
all of the groups, around the world, that are helping. However, there is
much, much more to do and we are, indeed, living on borrowed time.
International Planetary Protection Alliance (IPPA)
(6) THE NASA BUREAUCRATS' NEW EFFORTS TO TRY AND SANDBAG THE NEO PROBLEM
>From E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
Hello Benny -
My G*d! but these bureaucrats are a nuisance! After all, what better way is
there for me to spend an absolutely lovely fall Saturday afternoon than
sitting on my butt and straining my eyes reading a computer screen? Oh, but
let me count the ways... Ordinarily I could put all of this off, but since
next Thursday the US Congress's Space Subcommittee is having a hearing on
NASA's failure in dealing with the impact hazard, I get to spend yet another
Saturday further improving this wonderful florescent tan of mine...
I suppose it's a question of timing. Two items appeared at the very end of
the last week which demonstrate fairly conclusively that the bureaucrats
within NASA are doing their best to try and avoid dealing with the NEO
hazard by sandbagging it; thus my writing this dispatch for Conference
participants became urgent.
If you remember, the UK bureaucrats were quite successful in "sandbagging"
the NEO hazard by setting up the PPARC studies, and Alan Harris played a key
role in the effort...
US NEO PROGRAMS PPARC'D WITH AN ATTITUDE: HOW THE HELL DID ALAN HARRIS GET
PUT IN CHARGE?
Having already done his bit to trash the UK Southern NEO observatory, we now
find Harris doing his bit to try and trash the US small object detection
programs. From space.com:
"Spotting Smaller Asteroids that Could Threaten Earth
"Work on the "next generation" of surveys to detect near-Earth asteroids
(NEAs) is underway, according to Alan Harris, asteroid expert and senior
research scientist at the Space Science Institute. Both NASA and the
National Science Foundation (NSF) -- through the National Optical Astronomy
Observatory in Tucson, Arizona -- have commissioned study teams to define
surveys that would spot smaller NEAs.
"A Congressional mandate presently has NASA looking for asteroids larger
than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). One of these, were it to hit Earth, would
have terrible global consequences. Harris told SPACE.com that NASA is
considering space-based as well as ground-based surveys, weighing the
cost-benefit of searches that scan for smaller-sized NEAs that could cause
"The other work supported by NSF is defining the capabilities and
requirements for NEA surveying using a proposed ground-based Large Synoptic
Survey Telescope, the LSST. Building of this instrument -- also called the
Dark Matter Telescope - is being supported in various astronomy,
astrophysics, and planetary science circles."
ALAN HARRIS: OPPONENT OF SYSTEMS TO PROTECT AGAINST IMPACT
This space.com report is somewhat incredible, given that Alan Harris is
widely known within the NEO community as a person who is unable to
differentiate between defending against asteroid and comet impact and
defending against missile attack
"1) NEO DEFLECTION SYSTEM FAR TOO DANGEROUS TO DEVELOP
From: Alan W. Harris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Re. the comments from George Wetherill, passed on to you by David Morrison,
I too am skeptical if an impending collision by an asteroid could be "a
wonderful thing." I worry that if something like 1997 XF11 had played out
where the error ellipse continued to shrink down close to the Earth, so that
we could certify that the object would pass only a few radii away from the
Earth, but we could at the same time certify that there was no real chance
of an impact, we would nevertheless see the folks who brought you Star Wars
casting just a shadow of a doubt on our celestial mechanical predictions, and would
be urging a massive program to deflect or destroy it "just in case."
"This kind of stupidity is not exactly my idea of "a wonderful thing,
inspiring the nations of the Earth to work together to save the planet,"
that George suggests, but I am sure that is the kind of hype that would be
used to sell the program. I am quite sure that such arguments would prevail
at a level of risk far below the level at which they are warrented; the only
question is, how low? I would venture a wild guess that a factor of a
thousand is about right --that is, if we were to live so long, we would fall
victim to the development of such a deflection scheme about a thousand times
more often than one would really be justified, or turned around the other
way, the odds that we will be peddled a deflection system when one is not
rationally called for is about 1000 to 1 more likely than that the
discovered object really poses enough of a threat to call for such action.
"With regard to the remarks by Farinella, non-nuclear schemes might be a
practical way to divert the mischief of those who would "protect" us in
advance of proven need, if we are politically unable to keep them from
"doing something." But if a real threatening object were to be discovered,
I think most of the world's population would be happy to go with the most
expedient solution rather than tinkering with solar sails and other such
"Cheers" indeed. Given Harris's extreme anti-ballistic missile defense
position, all else follows. In his view, not only is a NEO deflection system
too dangerous to develop, a NEO detection system is as well: after all, you
have to find potential impactors before you can deflect or destroy them.
This may also be seen in the following extract from Harris' and Morrison's
attack on the UK Southern Hemisphere Telescope
(http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/cc101000.html; To put this into context,
it needs to be added that Morrison's reluctance to avoid having resources
diverted from manned Mars flight sutides at Ames is well known.):
FROM ALAN HARRIS:
"Your (Morrison's) piece summarizing misconceptions about Spaceguard is
excellent. I hope your distribution gets around to enough of the media to
make a difference in their reporting, and as well to the various agencies
and committees that make decisions regarding telescope placement, space
missions, etc. Some of the comments made in response to your list of
"misconceptions of the Spaceguard Strategy", in particular relating to the need for
surveying from the southern hemisphere or from space, approach the level of
I don't know if rather specious but carefully worded comments constitute
"junk science", but my thinking is that they do. Neither do I know if
Harris's and Morrison's attack had any effect in ending the UK NEO telescope
project, but my thinking is that it did. Continuing with Harris's comments:
"Rather than making intuitive appeals to "the world as it might be," we
would do better to look at quantitative calculations of "the world as we
think it is."
Well, my opinion is that Harris needs to look at the world as it is, instead
of the world as he "thinks" it is, and take a really good look at the
historical impact data in that real world, the one where many people were
killed and large areas destroyed by impact, rather than relying on
"theoretical" hopes that somehow interfering with defense against asteroid
and comet impact will lead to abandonment of missile defense systems.
Continuing with Harris:
"Further criticism should then be based on the model representation used in
the calculation rather than intuitive wishes of how thing "should be." I
have reported several times the results of my modeling of "all sky surveys."
In one simulation reported a couple years ago, I explicitly tested..."
and further theoretical blather, much of it deliberately aimed at trying as
best as possible to confuse the total impact hazard with only that hazard
arising from 1 kilometer diameter and larger asteroids. As for the impact
hazard itself, the following extract from Harris probably demonstrates
better than anything else his complete obliviousness to cometary impactors:
"My point is, the time scale for the impact flux to change is very long,"
(Actually it can and has changed in an instant - epg) "so to borrow a
computer term for word processors, "WYSIWYG," or "What You See Is What You
Get." (This, when actually given the current state of affairs, "What we
don't see is what we'll get". - epg)
"We have observed the frequency of 1 km and larger objects "crossing our
bow" to within a factor of 2 or so, thus we can simply calculate the
frequency of how often such an object hits the Earth, again within a factor
of 2 or so. There really is not much more uncertainty than that in the
present impact rate, or the rate for the past and next century or even
My gosh, all those long period comets Harris observed! Whatever the
rationalisations behind them, and Harris has sufficient abilities and
resources to generate large amounts of rationalisations, Harris's
conclusions are always the same
"My real worry is that too many people will get frantic about the impact
hazard. ... I actually think we're doing about as much as we should." (Alan
Harris, 27 February 2002)
Well, my real worry is that "experts" such as Harris will remain in
positions where they are able to needlessly and recklessly endanger
thousands if not millions of peoples' lives. Given Harris's fundamental bias
against missile defense systems, and his confusion of missile defense
systems with asteroid and comet defense systems, it is clear that no amount
of evidence will be able to change his somewhat blindered mind. The only
question left is how the hell Harris got put in charge.
ED WEILER'S MANNED MARS PROGRAM
Some Conference participants may remember that just a few short weeks ago I
asked Ed Weiler whether he preferred the proposal within NASA for the
construction of a man tended Moon based NEO observatory or the proposal for
manned flight to Mars. In reply, Weiler denied that either proposal existed.
Which brings us to our next item, the NASA proposal for manned Mars flight
which Weiler signed this week
(http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=6674). The wording is a little
tricky, so bear with me here.
The actual document itself is the "Memorandum of Agreement Among The Offices
of Space Science, Biological and Physical Research, and Space Flight
Establishing the NASA Exploration Team" and last week Weiler committed the
OSS to its implementation. The scope (goal) of the agreement is: "To achieve
NASA's mission of "To explore the universe and search for life," the Enterprises
hereby establish a single entity that has responsibility for cooperatively
providing the options, priorities, and assessments for future human/robotic
Now as certainly one place in our solar system where life is likely to be
found is Mars, all of this in more simple terms is an endorsement of manned
Mars flight. You would think that it might have occurred to these geniuses
that if any astronaut ever does find life on Mars, his chances of being
allowed to return to the Earth will be as near zero as you can get. Even if
the US agreed to his return, which in itself is highly unlikely, the chances
of foreign governments approving this unfortunate's return would be even
lower. Further, they could reasonably be expected to take whatever measures,
and I do mean WHATEVER here, they might feel necessary to prevent that
return. All of this kind of reminds me of the mathematics of infinities,
except in this case you have 0 and then numbers of lesser magnitude than
You will notice no mention of securing the lives of millions of people as a
goal for these folks. One would also think that it might have occurred to
them that since the majority of the public would rather have NASA spend
their money on keeping them from getting hit by the various pieces of space
stuff, instead of flying a few astronauts off to Mars, they more or less
have guaranteed NASA no end of grief by setting up manned Mars flight as
NASA's sole goal.
Ah well, you might also hope that they might have a minimal interest in
keeping alive the public so that they could finance the construction of
their manned Mars ship, but then that would be ignoring the real world,
where the point is actually to stay employed by promising things which you
SINS OF OMISSION: ED WEILER'S BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE, ERRH, MANNED MARS
Since tying defense against asteroid and comet impact with defense against
ballistic missile attack has proved so successful for those who want to
spend all of NASA's money on manned Mars flight, perhaps the presentation of
a few facts about the manned Mars program may serve to clarify matters
One of the key reasons currently being put forth by various staff within the
Office of Space Science for the necessity of developing space based nuclear
electric power generators is that they will be necessary for manned flight
to Mars. While this proposition is debatable,(solar thermal systems work
quite well for manned Mars flight), one fact that isn't debatable is that
these same nuclear electric power generators can be used to power solid
state heat capacity lasers for ballistic missile defense:
which has real nice illustrations of a working unit, and
which discusses the testing program and abandonment of chemical lasers.
Yes, it really does work. Another interesting point from the second piece:
"One of the basic advantages of electrical lasers is the fuel. On a
demonstration last week, the solid-state laser burned through a
three-quarter-inch thick layer of steel with just seconds of laser exposure.
The electrical current came from a wall outlet and cost no more than $20,
much cheaper than the cost for an equivalent chemical laser, researchers said.
And in combat situations, powering an electric laser weapon from a diesel-powered
generator is likely going to be much easier than fueling its chemical
counterpart by lugging around a volatile - and limited - mix of
elemental fuels, they said."
Of course, the same things hold for space based systems, except more so, and
on the subject of fuel, NASA's sudden interest in sending nuclear electric
powered probes to Pluto at the same time the Army had success in testing
this electrically powered high-energy laser is merely a simple coincidence.
While the use of such nuclear electric powered lasers is certainly the best means of
diverting a threatening asteroid or comet by laser ablative propulsion,
let's not mention it, shall we?
No, no, no, no. The important thing for the general public to remember here
is that Weiler's nuclear electric power generators for manned flight to Mars
will be used for ballistic missile defense. Now as many of the IMF meeting
protestors are due to be released here in Washington in the first part of
the week, and as many of them are certain not have money for lodging, it seems
to me that the only humane course of action is to suggest to them some
activity which will both make them feel useful to society, while at the same
time assuring their continued health through the provision of adequate
Oh well. It also seems to me that all of this manned Mars malarkey has
diverted sorely needed money away from the vital task of dealing with the
impact hazard for entirely too long.
CAN I GO NOW?
Well, Benny, my day's shot, and my evening is as well now. The sun sets on
yet another perfect day, another one of the many which I have missed due to
the rather complete lack of adequate action on the part of certain
government bureaucrats, ahem, "employees". Here I had thought I would
finally be able to quit smoking by using the nicotine skin patch, but with
this latest round of nonsense today it was the patch and 4 (extralight)
cigarettes. Is it too much to hope that these clowns, errh, "officials", get
their acts together and finally do what the people who pay them actually
want them to do, or is that simply asking too much of them? Baring that,
could somebody just fire them? Quickly?
Oh well. The House Space Subcommittee meets Thursday for hearings on NASA's
"plans" for dealing with the NEO hazard, so perhaps I will finally be able
to put down this labor at last and rest. Hurricane season is nearly over in
Mexico, and with some generous donations from others my essential studies on
Olmec mega-tsunami traditions could be significantly advanced this winter.
as always, yours in science,
(7) TWO STORIES OF INTEREST
>From Daniel Fischer <email@example.com>
The following note, coming from an avid meteorite collector directly
involved in the work and through a mailing list, should be of interest - it
seems that there are not only streams of meteorites with identical orbits in
the solar system but that there are meteorites of vastly
different composition in one such stream:
From: "Dieter Heinlein" <Dieter.Heinlein@a-city.de>
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2002 21:44:17 +0200
Subject: [AKM-Info] Neuigkeiten zum Neuschwanstein Meteoriten
Hallo liebe Meteoritenfreunde,
es hat einige Zeit gedauert, bis der "Neuschwanstein" Meteorit, der am 6.
April 2002 gefallen ist und dessen erstes und bisher einziges Stück von 1,75
kg Mitte Juli gefunden wurde, klassifiziert werden konnte.
Denn zunächst haben wir an dem ungeschnittenen Meteoriten am MPIK in
Heidelberg die kurzlebigen Radioisotope messen lassen, um beweisen zu
können, dass es sich bei dem Fundstück tatsächlich um den Meteorit handelt,
der am 6. April niedergegangen ist: es sind wirklich hohe Gehalte an
kurzlebigen Radioisotopen, wie z.B. Be-7 gefunden worden! Danach wurden von
dem immer noch intakten Meteoriten Silikonformen erstellt, damit wir für
verschiedenste Zwecke (für Windkanalexperimente und Modellrechnungen der
Isotopenanalyse, sowie für Sammler und
Ausstellungen) maßstabgetreue Abgußmodelle erstellen können.
Erst Anfang September wurde das erste Stück vom "Neuschwanstein" Meteorit
abgeschnitten. Eine erste Dünnschliffanalyse zeigte, dass es sich dabei
nicht etwa um einen gewöhnlichen Chondriten, sondern um einen sehr seltenen
Steinmeteoritentyp handelt: nämlich um einen Enstatit-Chondriten (E6).
Weitere chemischen Analysen ob es ein EH oder EL ist, laufen gerade.
Die Tatsache, daß aus dem gleichen Orbit wie Pribram (ein gewöhnlicher H5
Chondrit) ein ganz anderer Meteoritentyp kommt, macht die Interpretation der
Bildungsgeschichte beider Meteorite jetzt noch wesentlich interessanter und
wir dürfen auf weitere Untersuchungsergebnisse
The discovery of the Neuschwanstein had been described in this press
And finally the following press release could be of interest for your
studies of apocalyptic ideas:
(8) AND FINALLY: A MISSILE THAT WOULD MAKE LENIN FAINT
>From The New York Times, 22 September 2002
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
OLD warriors would have gasped in disbelief if they could have foreseen the
debut of a new American rocket last month. A giant 19 stories high, the
Atlas 5, successor to America's first intercontinental ballistic missile,
blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and roared into space to deploy a
satellite. But Yankee smarts had little to do with the fiery success of the
rocket's engines. Instead, the brains were Russian.
Moscow may have lost the cold war, but its companies are beating Western
capitalists at the game of making rocket motors. With technology that is
simple and reliable, powerful yet relatively cheap, the Russians are winning
over not only commercial customers around the globe but the American
military as well. What's more, the Russians have outperformed their
technologically advanced rivals by relying on a strikingly low-tech fuel:
The Atlas 5, made by Lockheed Martin, is the brainchild of the United States
Air Force, which realized seven years ago that it would need to replace its
aging fleet of cargo rockets with a new generation of inexpensive but
dependable rockets able to loft large payloads.
The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, as the project was called, let
American companies pick whatever technology they wanted. Joan B. Underwood,
a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, said the
company's teams seized on a Russian engine design after being dazzled by
Russian secrets accessible after the end of the cold war.
"We were astounded," she said. "The Russians were able to develop systems
and metals and capabilities that allowed them to fire engines at higher
pressures, temperatures and efficiencies."
A Russian company, NPO Energomash, formed an alliance with Pratt & Whitney
to make a new engine for Lockheed Martin. The result is the RD-180, a new
Russian design that experts say has a performance edge of at least 10
percent over its Western rivals.
"We're getting the crown jewels," said Charles P. Vick, an expert on the
Russian space program at the Federation of American Scientists, a private
group in Washington. "It makes up for 30 years of not doing the appropriate
amount of engine research ourselves."
The trick is that the Russians learned during the cold war how to excel
without pushing technological limits - the opposite of the West's approach.
For instance, Moscow often relied on kerosene, an inexpensive fuel that can
work at room temperature. In contrast, Washington pushed to perfect the use
of liquid hydrogen. This costly, high-energy propellant must be refrigerated
down to hundreds of degrees below zero, a temperature that can freeze,
shatter or otherwise play havoc with fast-moving parts.
The RD-180 uses kerosene in a clever process known as staged combustion. The
burning of fuel starts in a preburner that powers the engine's pumps. The
blistering hot residue then speeds into the main combustion chamber, jacking
up heat and performance. (American scientists adopted similar technology in
the space shuttle program, but not in rocketry.)
A penny-pinching wonder, the RD-180 has sent American rockets into space
three times: in smaller, less-sophisticated launches in May 2000 and Feb.
2002, and most recently on Aug. 21 with the massive Atlas 5.
THOUGH a cargo carrier now, the Atlas began life in 1959 as an ICBM. So a
rocket once meant to drop thermonuclear warheads on Russia has been made
more powerful by the same people it was meant to annihilate. "Funny world,
ain't it?" notes the Atlas ICBM Historical Society on its Web site.
The Atlas 5 flight was a commercial launch, which Lockheed Martin is
encouraged to do under its Air Force contract. (The government paid $500
million of the rocket's development costs, while Lockheed Martin put in $1
billion.) The newly lofted satellite belongs to Eutelsat, a large European
satellite operator, and is to broadcast radio and television signals across
Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
The Atlas 5 is scheduled to begin lofting military payloads in 2005. But
sooner than that, the Russian engines may get an added bit of government
business. The Air Force is developing two separate families of military
rockets: the Atlas 5 and the Boeing Delta 4, which uses American technology.
The latter program has been delayed, however, and now, with the Atlas 5
soaring high, Air Force officials are considering shifting a Delta payload
to the new Atlas.
The peace dividend will grow, Lockheed Martin officials say, as new,
beefed-up versions of the Atlas 5 are unveiled in the future. The largest
will be able to loft into orbit payloads up to 28.5 tons - nearly 5 tons
more than the nation's current leader, the Titan 4.
Call it the engine that came in from the cold. "This," said Ms. Underwood of
Lockheed Martin, "is a very big deal."
Copyright 2002, The New York Times
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