Category:
Really Bad Ideas

Using an atomic water cannon to change the earth’s orbit

Back in the early 1970s, engineer William Peterson proposed builing a gigantic, atomic-powered water cannon in the Mojave Desert and blasting ocean water out of it. He claimed this would not only create rain to water the desert, but would also change earth's orbit, in a beneficial way. Eventually, he said, we could even use the cannon to move the earth to a new solar system!

I've got two questions: 1) Would salt water shot up into the atmosphere come back down as fresh water? and 2) How big would you have to make something like this to actually move the earth?

Logan Herald-Journal - Nov 23, 1971



Text below from a Nov 1971 UPI article:

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER WANTS TO CHANGE EARTH'S ORBIT

By Robert E. Sweet

SEATTLE (UPI) — William E. Peterson wants to erect what amounts to a giant atomic water pistol in the Mojave Desert, shoot it off and change the orbit of the earth.

Or, as Peterson himself once put it in an edition of a local Rotary Club bulletin which he edits: "Some weirdo hereabouts is campaigning for a project to fly the earth."

Peterson is a 40-year-old structural engineer who works mainly on dams and bridges. He has a sense of humor and can understand why some people might think he's a crackpot. But he is dead serious about his "earth sailing" project," which he has tried to sell to everyone from President Nixon to the Sierra Club to private foundations.

PLAN DETAILED

Peterson's plan is to build a nuclear cannon, a mile in diameter at the base, tapering off to a narrow nozzle on top. With an atomic blast that he estimates would be equal to about one million tons of TNT he would force a piston mechanism to shoot sea water out the top of the cannon at terrific speed.

He figures about 10 per cent of the water vapor would escape earth's gravity and the spray would nudge the planet's orbit in the same way jets propel a spacecraft.

The water that remained in the atmosphere, Peterson said in an interview, would act like a "giant sprinkler system" and create rain to water the Mojave Desert.

CITES PREDICTIONS

A new orbit would improve the world's climate, ease pollution problems and "put some life into Death Valley," he said.

"Some reputable scientists say we're in for another ice age in the year 2000," Peterson said, in an interview, noting that others predict all sorts of ecological disasters on the horizon.

"So some day — and maybe not too far in the future — we're going to have to know how to control the orbit to maintain at least the quality of life we know now.

"If we can't do it this way sailing "Our Great Ship Earth," how are we going to do it?"

Peterson said other potential benefits of his proposal include: — Turning the globe into a giant spacecraft and flying it to another sun when our sun burns out, which scientists estimate will be in about 5 billion years.

— Applying the same technology to other planets to bring them closer to the sun for more living space for earthlings.

— Replacing dams with sea water cannons for the sake of electrical power.

— Desalinating sea water.

EASE NATIONALISM

— Easing the excesses of nationalism by fostering a sense of international cooperation in working on the project.

Peterson said the cannon would not necessarily have to be used to alter the earth's orbit. A smaller blast of water would be just a rainmaker and the water that did not leave the structure could drive power pistons to supply electric energy. Or, a nozzle at the top could be directed in such a way as to squelch forest fires.

His plan has been a personal project with Peterson for 13 years, but only in the last few years has he begun promoting it. Among those to whom he has divulged his plan are: President Nixon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Sierra Club, Sen. Henry Jackson, D-Wash., Washington Gov. Dan Evans, and a few private foundations.

REJECTED BY NASA

NASA rejected the plan because its political and ecological implications were beyond the scope of the agency. H. Dale Grubb, NASA's assistant administator for legislative affairs, wrote Peterson:

"It would be presumptuous and inappropriate for one nation or an agency of one nation to speculate on the accomplishment of such a project."

Brock Evans, a spokesman for the conservation-dedicated Sierra Club, replied: "Death Valley, as you know, is a national monument at the present time. Our viewpoint is that we don't always need to make the desert bloom."

Donald F. Moore, an assistant administrator of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Environmental and Science Services Administration, wrote Peterson:

"The President has asked me to review the proposal ... and give you my comments.

"Your idea of changing the orbit of the earth as a means of controlling climate and distribution of rainfall is most intriguing and certainly represents highly creative thinking on your part.

ELASTIC MEDIUM

"Experience has shown, however, that the atmosphere is a very elastic medium, and thus instead of blowing out into space like the exhaust from a rocket, it absorbs the energy and momentum from a nuclear blast and eventually returns it to the earth so that no actual motion of the earth takes place."

Peterson answered these doubts saying: "actually it would be impossible to draw this conclusion since no one has thought of the type of device I have proposed."

He believes his proposal "warrants a feasibility study," even if admittedly it is a "real futuristic idea."

"I don't feel the (federal officials) gave it a fair shake. They just discounted the ideas and did not by any means prove they wouldn't work."

Peterson said he is gaining support locally and would attempt to win voter approval by going from state to state, campaigning.

And, he added, at least his children are convinced the plan would work — they call him "Earth Pilot No. 1."

Posted By: Alex - Wed Nov 09, 2022 - Comments (4)
Category: Really Bad Ideas, Spaceflight, Astronautics, and Astronomy, Environmentalism and Ecology, 1970s

X-Radium Cooking Utensils



Here is a fascinating short monograph (a PDF) about the Radium craze, including a discussion of the product above.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Jul 19, 2021 - Comments (6)
Category: Death, Domestic, Really Bad Ideas, Twentieth Century

Anti-Pollution Ventilators

1996: French engineer Yves Lecoffre proposed installing 70,000 "anti-pollution ventilators" (aka fans) around the streets of Paris to blow away the exhaust fumes from cars.

Was he joking about this? Was it some kind of April Fool joke? Not as far as I can tell. Though I can't imagine how his scheme would have made the slightest difference to Paris's air quality.

Calgary Herald - May 4, 1996



Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Posted By: Alex - Tue Apr 13, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Engineering and Construction, Really Bad Ideas, Urban Life, 1990s

Follow a stranger

Apparently there's a long history of artists surreptitiously following strangers around in cities, just to see what happens. It's called the Art of Following. More details from Debbie Kent in the Guardian:

“Follow a stranger” is one of the instructions I’ve been given by Serbian artist Miloš Tomić in what is billed as an alternative tour of the city, and I really enjoy it, while also feeling as if I’m doing something a little bit wrong...
My assignment from Tomić is, of course, not intended to upset anyone. Rather, what I’m doing is a one-off exercise, and, as artist and writer Phil Smith puts it, is handing over control of exploring the city to someone else, chosen at random.
Smith regularly gives this task to students of theatre and performance at the University of Plymouth, seeing it as a valuable exercise. “The idea is that you’re exploring the space but someone else dictates it to you – it neutralises your will,” he says. “The intention – or hope – is that the followed person will lead you into places you haven’t been before.”

I don't see anything that could possibly go wrong with following a complete stranger around.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Sep 28, 2018 - Comments (1)
Category: Art, Really Bad Ideas

The Dubai Iceberg

A case of satirical prophecy in the news.

Back on April 1, 1978, prankster Dick Smith towed a foam-covered barge into Sydney harbor, claiming it was an iceberg he had towed from Antarctica. Of course, it was an April Fool's Day joke.

But now a Dubai-based engineering firm claims they really want to tow a 100-million-ton iceberg from Antarctica to Dubai. They figure that even if 30% of it melts by the time it gets to the Persian Gulf, that'll still be a whole lot of fresh, frozen water.

But what are they going to do with it once it gets there? How would they stop it from melting into the ocean before they could get it onto land and use it?

More info: stuff.co.nz

Posted By: Alex - Tue Sep 11, 2018 - Comments (8)
Category: Really Bad Ideas, Transportation

Deer Vasectomies

image
On Staten Island, the deer population is reportedly getting out of hand. To address this problem the powers that be have decided on deer vasectomies as the plan of action. The deer will be tranquilized, neutered, and then returned to the wild. At least as wild as it is on Staten Island anyway.

Posted By: patty - Fri Jun 10, 2016 - Comments (5)
Category: Animals, Government, Really Bad Ideas

Kiss Of Death

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Next up for Darwin Award near miss- guy who tried to kiss a cottonmouth snake on the lips. Yeah, he's from Florida.

Posted By: patty - Wed Apr 22, 2015 - Comments (6)
Category: Animals, Injuries, Really Bad Ideas, Screwups, Pain, Self-inflicted and Otherwise





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Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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