Sunday, September 29, 2013

USA's Cold War Near-Miss

Recently declassified documents show that, in 1961, a hydrogen bomb nearly obliterated America's North Carolina! It would have caused a blast 260 times more powerful than the Hiroshima explosion!
Goldsboro USA: Hiroshima's revenge?
Parker F. Jones (supervisor of the nuclear weapons safety dept at Sandia national laboratories) says that just one simple, vulnerable switch prevented a nuclear catastrophe.
Two H-bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on Jan.24, 1961 after a B-52 bomber broke up in flight. One of the bombs acted like it had been armed and fired: its parachute opened and triggers engaged. Jones writes that the MK39 Mod 2 bomb had four safety mechanisms, one of which was designed to not work in the air. When the aircraft broke up, two others were rendered ineffective. So just one simple low voltage switch stood between the US and a major disaster!
Schlosser discovered the 1969 document through the Freedom of Information Act. And as if that one incident isn't frightening enough, he discovered at least 700 "significant" accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1968!!!
Mind you, though it would've been catastrophic on the immediate populous, should we really feel sorry for the USA's near-miss? After all, this was the country that detonated an H-bomb in space...just because it could! Yes, that's true too!
...back in 1958, space scientist James Van Allen announced the discovery of belts of high-energy particles around the planet, that were held in place by the magnetic fields. Today these radiation belts are called Van Allen Belts. The very next day, the US decided to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to try and disrupt these belts...simply to see what might happen.
Starfish Prime: 90sec post-bang
The plan, codenamed Starfish Prime, was to see:
a) if the radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!);
b) if an explosion would damage objects nearby - it did: the radiation crippled a third of all satellites in low earth orbit. Seven more failed over the following months including the first commercial communication satellite, Telstar.
c) if the Van Allen Belts could direct a blast down to an earthly target (eg: like Moscow!); and
d) if a man-made explosion might "alter" the natural shape of the belts.
I guess, at the height of the Cold War, the thought was: "If we don't do it, the Russians will." And, indeed, the Russians did test atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs in space.
But how irresponsible to discover something and immediately decide to blow it up...with absolutely NO idea as to global consequences! God help us ALL if the US military hasn't learnt from its mistakes.
The big question of course is: have they?

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