Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Scientist Forced to Deal With Government! The Horror! The Horror! (and a bit about plasma physics)

"Strange New Air Force Facility Energizes Ionosphere, Fans Conspiracy Flames"
Wired (July 20, 2009)

"Todd Pedersen had to hustle—the sky was scheduled to start glowing soon, and he didn't want to miss it. It was just before sunset, a cold February evening in deep-woods Alaska, and the broad-shouldered US Air Force physicist was scrambling across the snow in his orange down parka and fur-lined bomber hat. Grabbing cables and electronics, he rushed to assemble a jury-rigged telescope atop a crude wooden platform.

"The rig wasn't much, just a pair of high-sensitivity cameras packed into a dorm-room refrigerator and pointed at a curved mirror reflecting a panoramic view of the sky. Pedersen had hoped to monitor the camera feed from a relatively warm bunkhouse nearby. But powdery snow two feet deep made it difficult to string cables back to the building...."

There's a 30-acre antenna array in Alaska, set up to emit 3.6 megawatts into Earth's ionosphere. The article discusses some of the technical details, and the sort of marketing that Todd Pedersen had to do, to get the array funded and set up.

The author writes, "...But the shocking thing about Haarp isn't that it's a boondoggle (it's actually pretty worthwhile) or that it was spawned by a military-industrial-petrochemical-political complex (a hallowed government tradition). It's that, all too often, this is the way big science gets done in the US. Navigating the corridors of money and power is simply what scientists have to do...."

Me? I'm not shocked. But then, I know how Leonardo DaVinci got contracts: and why professors and scientists hire grant writers when they need money for their projects. Somehow, I made it through the sixties without learning to expect people to fork over money just because a project is, like, groovy.

Bottom line: This is an interesting look at one aspect of contemporary plasma physics research, written from a very well-defined point of view.

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