Monday, June 12, 2017

Weird Fun With Propulsion

If you want to have some really weird experiences, just get serious about getting life into space.

Here's an example:

After I testified before the House Subcommittee on Space on my participation in the passage of a couple of laws to reform NASA's rather nasty attitude toward private launch services I was pretty close to being out of money. Civic responsibility will do that to you if you don't watch it. Even so, a company whose rocket technology I liked was on the ropes -- a couple of weeks from closing their doors. The CEO gave me an impressive sounding position with the company, offered me a percentage in the company and I maxed out my credit flying around to see what I could do to help salvage the business with no guarantee of compensation.

The first day I arrived at HQ, a strange call came in to the CEO. Some guy claimed to have been referred by NASA because he wanted to find out how to obtain certain kinds of permits that the company had obtained. It turns out the guy wanted a permit to let a device he had made go into space. He said he had constructed a high power vibration stimulator as a diagnostic aid in his business, which was vibration isolation in some mechanical systems, and the damn thing malfunctioned. The problem is this particular Damn Thing, when it malfunctioned, started vibrating off to the side of the table and then it fell off -- but before it hit the floor, it turned in mid air and went up at an angle, hitting the ceiling of his shop where it hit so hard it left a dent in the metal conduit -- and it didn't just bounce off and fall to the floor, it stuck there until he unplugged the infernal contraption.

OK, well the obvious questions were asked like: "Was the conduit a ferromagnetic material?" etc. "Are you sure it actually accelerated up to the ceiling or did it just jump up and somehow stick there?" -- you know, the standard Skeptics Society stuff.

This character got my curiosity, not having ever run across one of these conservation-law-violating-sonofaguns before, so I took one of his phone calls and started asking him innocent questions -- like, "How many tests have you run on the device since that time? Have you taken any quantitative measurements? What are the numbers? What did you to do get these numbers?" etc. The interesting thing was he gave me two sets of numbers from two tests, with different weights attached, he said he conducted on a playground with a fishing line attached to the thing to pull the plug on a cellular phone battery at a given height. The numbers he gave were distance traveled vertically vs time. In one test the calculus told me his upward force was less than in the other run by a big margin. So I asked him if he had changed anything else between the two runs other than adding the weight to one of them. He said no. So I asked him to describe his test procedure very carefully. He went through the process verbally, and at one point he said he "turned the variable resistor down until the thing started to lift off -- then I backed off". "Was the resistor in the same position both times?", I asked. "I don't think so because the heavier test run required more power."

Oh, gee whiz -- here is a guy who is not only imagining he ran a levitating device straight up in the air from a playground, but he fabricated results that were inexplicable except from an error in his experimental procedure that he himself seemed not to have thought about. He also told me that on the third run he had some friends of his with him to help and the thing lifted off but then exploded leaving a "line of metallic powder across the playground asphalt". This is either one hell of a smart sociopath playing mind games or he is a covert operative or he is some sort of genius at dreaming things up on the spot that even his conscious mind couldn't have fabricated or he is, in some important sense, telling the truth.

I admit it -- he had me hooked. I invited him to dinner and even though he was a couple hundred miles away, he drove his company truck up to meet me. I won't say what the company name was, because that would give a bit too much information away but it was a company name that was like a double-entendre or pun on his activities that reflected both his mundane business and this weird business of levitating infernal devices -- just the sort of the thing that your dream state would make up and Jung would analyze for you or maybe something that Jaques Vallee would report in one of his weirder "encounter" reports or maybe something that some covert operative would do to mess your mind up or maybe something a complete psycho would do because the little man in his head told him to. So anyway, I had dinner with him and he seemed genuinely worried when I told him that if this was real, he should take precautions by placing a disclosure with an trusted accounting firm to be put in the public domain upon his death or disablement. I don't think he thought I was going to kill him but he could pick up from me that I thought he should be more cautious.

So now what? OK, so he says he is going to build another version of it, because he thinks he knows the principle of operation, but he wants it to be lower power and lower frequency so it doesn't explode and hurt someone. He tells me how his experiments are going but he never seems able to get the original, unequivocal, levitating performance -- all his reports are closer to the rest of the legendary reactionless drives that always end up with marginal effects.

Finally, I tell him to send me a video tape of the thing either accelerating upwards or in a pendulum test and if he doesn't I won't be interested in talking to him any more, but if it shows an unequivocal force, I'll fly him to SV to talk to guys with some capital. He sends me a video tape. It is a short tape with some sort of noise on it. A friend of mine said it had been degaussed but with some sort of external magnetic field -- not by a tape recorder. So I call the inventor and tell him it really isn't OK to send me an erased tape. He seems at first uncomprehending and then a bit afraid but then composes himself and starts speculating on how it might have been degaussed in transit. So he says he'll send me two tapes, one via UPS and one FedEx. I never received any packages, his phone is disconnected and I never hear from him again.

To wrap up the story, sort of, he did tell me the electric motor make he used, so I went to an electric motor place -- an old one that had been around since the early 60s. I asked for the specific motor and the proprietor turned around to the assistant and said "Do you remember that guy from the Apollo program at NASA Ames back in the 60s who was building the flying saucer? Where did we order that motor from?"

OK, that's enough weirdness for now...