ASK DR. SCHUND
Dr. Schund, what caused the devastating Yellowstone National Park conflagration?
The Space Defense Initiative was aptly christened "Star Wars" by those who recognized willing suspension of disbelief when set up by fast talking Federal pitchmen and the illusory fabrications of special effects. The two major agonies of SDI were,
Everybody agreed. Even a public that elected Jimmy Carter president was smart enough to conceptualize guns.
- what sort of Buck Rogers symbolism would be so preposterous as to be believable, and
- where to do the testing so that ultra-top secret research could be leaked to Americans and Russians without the doyens of wastrel spending appearing to be streetwalkers on payday.
The traditional handgun, rifle, cannon, or 40 inch naval whizbang belching shells the weight of Volkswagens suffers from nuisances imposed by the limitations of the nature of physical reality. Star Wars had DoD funding, and was therefore immune from physical reality. The lump that issues from a gun muzzle is propelled by expanding gas. Past Mach 2 or 3, engineers cannot get much more impulse from hot gas to further accelerate the slug, and air in the gun barrel ahead of it cannot push aside fast enough to allow its passage. The idea of multiple explosive chambers branched along the gun barrel to sequentially fire as the projectile passes is a nightmare of synchronicity and slow reloading.
When chemistry comes up short (2000-pound blockbusters) we resort to physics (thermonuclear warheads), hence the electric railgun - lineal descendent of some strikingly original cogitation by one Tom Swift. Imagine a half inch cube of plastic with a gold plated backside snugly fitting within a square tunnel extending perhaps ten feet. The tunnel's top and bottom are electrical insulators. The two sides are copper rails connected through low inductance cabling to a capacitor bank the size of a defense contractor's budget and storing a few megajoules of energy (in the miniature prototype). The tunnel is capped with a thin membrane and evacuated to a high vacuum. The cube sits against a big Mil-spec spring in the breech. The rails are locked into the capacitor bank, and a visiting school kid from Ashtabula, Ohio plucks the magic twanger.
When the gold shorts the rails a gigawatt electrical current flows, flashing metal into a sheet of plasma - a much better conductor. A massive magnetic field inflates at right angles to the current flow, and force is exerted at right angles to both. The plastic cube goes zipping down the tunnel with the fires of hell nipping at its butt, to emerge traveling at a stately three to five miles per second, Mach 25. Something clever is stationed downwind for the cube to hit, to amuse the scientists whose blather validates the testing. A janitor then hits the switch which begins the two hour capacitor bank recharge cycle.
No bullet is shaped like a sugar cube. The top secret, Lotus Eater-classified heart of the railgun was the projectile itself, which was a miracle of physical intuition, massive supercomputer simulation, and Department of Agriculture food surplus woes. The ultimate orbital weapon was a hardboiled egg with a big golden end. Some say the technical wizard who fashioned the incantation was a lab grunt who thirsted for his boss's Mil-spec secretary. Others maintain it was an ex-fraternity initiation chairman.
Really neat defense research is done in expendable hell holes like Nevada, because sometimes somebody slips a decimal point and suddenly the hell hole is not there anymore. To confuse spies and provide Mil-spec recreational facilities for the administrators, all railgun research was concealed in Yellowstone National Park, disguised as geysers. Who could have suspected?
Sheila Poswilly was a superlative nipple ring electroless plater from San Francisco who answered her country's desperate call. She figured she could set up her retirement in a couple of years by slipping out a little of the yellow metal each day, and maybe collecting intimate amusement information about her bosses which would later prove to be of some small negotiable value. Nobody could gold plate as perfectly as Sheila. Nobody could achieve the sub-micron tolerances of uniformity and geometry essential to America's defense, except for Sheila. Nobody ever told Sheila that the eggs positively, absolutely had to be hardboiled before launch, or else.
Or else, when the magic twanger is plucked a few thousand acres of Yellowstone National Park erupt into a firestorm when the fastest, and hottest, scrambled egg in the history of mankind belches forth from the first full scale multi-gigajoule Star Wars railgun. Don't you just hate it when things like that happen?
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