In October 1962, the U.S. Army's Vandenberg Air Force Base flew a special launch mission. Inside the Aquinas B rocket launch module erected on the launch pad, it carried not satellites and spacecraft, but 430 million extremely tiny copper needles.
This is one of the most notorious U.S. space programs of the 1960s - Project West Ford.
So why exactly is the United States launching hundreds of millions of copper needles into space? Did these copper needles bring harm to mankind's subsequent space exploration programs in the decades since? Next we will reveal this special plan developed by the United States half a century ago.
The Westford Project
In the 1950s, after Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech, the U.S.-Soviet bipolar Cold War pattern had taken shape, and the Berlin crisis and the outbreak of the Korean War increased the tension between the two sides.
In order to compete for the dominant position in the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union launched a fierce competition in key areas such as politics, economy, military, science and technology, and space technology was one of the hot areas of the arms race between the two countries.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite "Satellite 1" and successfully put it into the intended orbit, which was the first time that mankind broke the bondage of the Earth's gravity and thus entered the "space age".
This great achievement of the Soviet Union caused bitterness in the hearts of the Americans, so the United States also increased its investment in the field of space, seeking to regain its leading position in science and technology.
In 1958, the Second Berlin Crisis broke out and the Soviet Union demanded that Britain, the United States and France withdraw their troops from the West Berlin garrison within six months or they would blockade West Berlin. In response, the West said that it would never withdraw its troops even if it resorted to force. This atmosphere of saber rattling between the two sides led the United States to seriously consider the possibility of a future Soviet attack on Western Europe.
But an obvious problem was that the Soviet Union was connected to Europe by land, while American reinforcements would also need to cross the vast Atlantic Ocean to support Europe. Therefore, it is of great strategic value to ensure communication between the United States and its European allies at all times so as to prevent the Soviets from repeating Hitler's "blitzkrieg" in World War II.
With this in mind, the United States began researching projects to use space technology to improve long-range communication capabilities. Eventually, the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gave birth to a bold idea, which is the "Sifford Project".
Walter E. Morrow, the plan's proponent, said the stability of both submarine cables and radio waves is a concern, as submarine cables could be damaged by Soviet submarines, for example, and radio waves would break the signal after solar storm activity.
However, if a metallic reflective cloud can be artificially created in space, which replaces the naturally occurring atmospheric ionosphere, then long-range communication will be completely independent of any climatic factors.
In order to create the artificial metal reflection cloud envisioned by Walter E. Morrow, the U.S. Lincoln Laboratory finally found a viable material, which is about 1.78 cm long, 25.4 microns in diameter, with a total weight of 19.5 kg of 100 million tiny copper needles.
When these copper needles thinner than a hair are launched into a predetermined orbit, they will disperse, thus forming an artificial metal reflective cloud in space, which can continue to reflect radio signals in poor ionospheric reflective conditions and reach the effect of all-weather ultra-long-range communication.
According to the final criteria of Project Seaford, the Earth will have a ring of artificial metal clouds, similar to Saturn.
So, in October 1962, the U.S. Army secretly executed the first phase of Project Seaford at Vandenberg Air Force Base, launching 100 million tiny copper needles into orbit 3,500 kilometers above the ground.
However, to the surprise of the U.S. military, the first launch of hundreds of millions of copper needles happened to be affected by the solar storm and failed to disperse as planned, and did not form the ideal metal reflection cloud.
To this end, the U.S. Army deliberately studied the timing of solar storm activity, the second phase of the "West Ford program" restarted the following year.
On May 9, 1963, the U.S. Army again launched 330 million copper needles, and this time the launch was a complete success, with hundreds of millions of copper needles forming a 15-kilometer-wide, 30-kilometer-thick ring of reflective metal clouds in orbit 3,500 kilometers from the surface.
On May 14, five days after the implementation of the "West Ford program," the U.S. Army conducted a signal transmission in California and Massachusetts, proving that it has a data transmission efficiency of 20,000 bits per second, which is equivalent to the speed of a telephone modem in 1992.
However, to the surprise of the U.S. military, as the copper needle gradually spread in orbit, "West Ford Metal Cloud" data transmission efficiency is getting slower and slower, in 3 months, it has been unable to establish effective real-time communication.
"Results of the "Westford Project
At the same time, the U.S. "West Ford Program" to launch 430 million copper needles into space has also aroused strong dissatisfaction of international public opinion.
In 1962, scientists from the British Astronomical Society jointly protested to the United States, arguing that the tiny copper needles of Project Seaford would seriously interfere with human astronomical observations. At the same time, the Soviet newspaper Pravda criticized the U.S. approach, saying that "the U.S. has defiled the cosmic space shared by mankind".
Under great pressure from international public opinion, the U.S. claimed that the brass pins of the West Ford program would fall back into the atmosphere one after another in 2-3 years and would not threaten other human space activities.
Since the 1970s, the U.S. and Soviet Union began to find copper needles dropped by Project Seaford in the Arctic, about 5 needles per square kilometer. At first, the U.S. and Soviet Union tried to collect these copper needles from space, but the target was too small and the density was too low, so they finally had to stop.
Of course, it was not international criticism that prompted the U.S. to stop the Seaford program, but the invention of the communications satellite. The satellite's stable data transmission capability immediately overshadowed the Sifford Plan.
As a result, this project has been completely abandoned by the United States.
However, to this day, half a century later, 340,000 copper needles remain in space from Project Seaford, and the global space agency has now shared data on the coordinates of these needles to prevent any impact on space activities.
Nevertheless, as the first country to explore space and the country that creates the most space junk, the United States is inevitably criticized for such an irresponsible approach.