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6 Insane Schemes Attempted at the Dawn of Space Travel

#3. Earth Had a Copper Ring in the '60s

Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

By the early '60s, Plain Jane Earth was sick and tired of being shown up by that ringed astronomical hussy Saturn, and so the Department of Defense decided that Earth needed bling as well. Long story short, the DOD wanted to implement a makeshift global communications system by littering Earth's orbit with a half-billion tiny copper wires.

Adam Crowley/Photodisc/Getty Images
Most of which would be immediately stolen by space rednecks.

Project West Ford was launched in 1963 with the hope that millions of orbiting copper whiskers would collectively form the largest antenna we've ever seen, safeguarding our communications in case of a Russian EMP attack. We're not sure what's crazier: the fact that they tried something as crazy as giving the Earth an artificial ring, or the fact that it actually kind of worked ... for a second. Although the copper dipoles didn't form quite the reflective belt they'd planned, scientists were able to successfully transmit a message from California to Massachusetts, presumably to nobody's surprise more than their own. Let's face it: "What if we fired garbage into space to make a planet-wide orbital radio?" is the kind of idea that sounds way better the night before, with a bag of Funyuns firmly in hand.

With mounting pressure from the international community to "stop trashing space" and the rise of the modern communications satellite, the project was ultimately scrapped. Most of the copper pieces have since fallen back to Earth, but a few are still out there, just waiting to relay some dire alien message to our wayward planet. Or to totally screw up your cellphone signal in Malibu. Probably the latter.

NASA
It's fine, we'll just shoot some garbage men up there next.

#2. Catching a Spacecraft ... While Using Hollywood Stuntmen

In 2001, NASA launched Genesis on a dangerous mission toward the sun.


Really, the word "dangerous" wasn't necessary in that sentence.

Genesis' goal to collect solar wind particles in a canister and bring them back to Earth? Sort of like catching farts in a bottle, only slightly more majestic. Amazingly, the first part went off without a hitch, but on the trip home there was a small problem: The parachute for the canister was too small and would act more like a flapping distress signal than anything else. NASA needed help. And that's when an unexpected hero came into the fold: Hollywood.

NASA hired dozens of Hollywood stuntmen to fly helicopters armed with pool hooks near the proposed landing site, where they would try to catch a plummeting satellite before it crashed into Earth.

FAS
The Benny Hill theme would play on a loop all the while.

It had to be perfectly executed. You know the scene: "We'll only get one shot at this, people. Luckily, we've hired the best. It's said Brick Manhowitzer here once leaned out of a Blackhawk and snatched his own wedding ring out of a pigeon's mouth using only dental floss and chewing gum. Let's hope he can do it again, or ... God have mercy on us all."

But that's where the movie similarities ended, because this is real life, and real life is always way worse than it initially seems. All of the helicopters were in place, the pilots' years of training ready to pay off, when Genesis decided not to open its chute at all, thus careening past the stuntmen way too quickly to catch and plummeting straight into the Utah desert with a giant thud, bursting open on impact.

CBS
Like an old pumpkin filled with science.

Brick Manhowitzer could not take the shame and tragically drank himself to death not long after.

#1. The Original NASA Apollo Program

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Stage one of the Apollo program was to send someone to orbit the moon -- check. Stage two was to land on the moon -- six checks, with a seventh one scribbled out. And stage three? Chill out.

On the moon.

With all of your friends.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Time for moon blunts and moon rocks (of crack).

We're talking a full-on lunar colony. After Apollo 17, more Apollos were supposed to land and stay there, eventually culminating in a 180-day mission with six people living on the moon long enough to qualify for lunar citizenship. Moon rovers would be sent up for getting around, while giant orbiting space stations were also planned as sort of a layover lounge. If that's not pie-in-the-sky overeager enough, Apollo also extended to Venus, where a manned craft was supposed to orbit the planet with a live crew housed in the empty fuel tanks. These monumental plans were approved by committee after committee in Congress before a vote was taken. Somehow, congressional representatives actually bothered to look at the multibillion-dollar price tag and chopped Apollo off piece by piece until only Apollos 11 through 17 were left.


Apollo 18 would've brought a volleyball court and an above-ground pool.

God damn it. Is there some sort of fairy or talking cricket or angry ghost we can hire to teach Congress that money isn't everything? Sometimes awesome is more important.


Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't trying to find a comet that will doom us all, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.

Related Reading: Russia's space agency made such a habit of batshit craziness, we devoted a whole article to covering it. In Soviet Russia, astronauts were pretty damn expendable. For some idiotic space plans that might have worked, we refer you to this article and the Space Cannon. Still need more astro-entertainment? Click here and learn why you should be mourning the space shuttle.

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