That Time The USA Wanted To Turn The Earth Into A Death Star
America has employed its fair share of mad scientists over the years, but none compare to Dr. Nicholas Christofilos. He was a top-tier Iron Man villain who was, much to everyone's dismay, born into our boring reality. To give you a small taste of his madness, the ideas he proposed to the government included but were not limited to: detonating thousands of nukes in the upper atmosphere to generate an impenetrable force field over the U.S., draining the entirety of the Great Lakes in under 15 minutes to power a massive particle beam weapon, turning 41% of Wisconsin into a massive radio transmitter to contact submerged nuclear subs, and building a giant coast-to-coast runway so the Soviets would never know where to bomb. (The official history of DARPA charitably describes that last one as "not good.") The man never met a problem he couldn't solve with several hundred nukes and possibly a giant robotic spider.
At this point, we should probably note that Christofilos didn't exactly have a conventional scientific background. He was actually an electrical engineer from Greece, and was working on elevators in Athens when he made a major breakthrough in particle physics. That got him invited to America, where it became clear he was a brilliant experimental physicist. He quickly became a top defense researcher and a member of JASON, an elite panel of scientists who advised the government. Often ridiculously.
He once suggested that a nuclear blast in the upper atmosphere would generate a belt of high-energy electrons trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, which could be used as a kind of a kind of force field, frying the electronics of incoming nuclear missiles. By regularly detonating a ring of nukes in precisely the right spot, he explained, Americans would be protected from any space-based attack. This would potentially require thousands of space explosions every year. It's basically the equivalent of constantly tossing grenades out your front door because the cloud of shrapnel might deflect an incoming sniper bullet.
As outlined in the most Cold War newsreel ever created.
It sounds absurd, but it wasn't some hypothetical plan; they actually tested it in 1958. The government had recently agreed to a moratorium on nuclear testing with the Soviets, but was so enthusiastic about the idea that nine ships were sent racing into the South Atlantic to nuke the sky before it went into effect. Three warheads were duly fired into the upper atmosphere, whereupon they failed to generate any force fields, but probably taught any nearby aliens a lesson.
In fairness, Christofilos was right about the basic impact of detonating nukes up there. The phenomenon is even named after him (disappointingly, it's called "the Christofilos Effect," rather than "the Great Terror of the Clouds"). But the resulting band of radiation was too weak and dispersed too quickly to have any practical influence on incoming missiles. And that's the only reason Americans don't live under a bomb-powered space shield.
Not that the minor failure of Operation: Irradiate God discouraged anyone. That very same year, Christofilos suggested an equally bonkers solution to one of the Navy's biggest problems. Radio waves dissipate in water, so the U.S. had trouble contacting submerged submarines, and it kind of defeats the purpose of an underwater stealth vessel if it has to drag a big-ass buoy behind it to pick up radio signals, which was the situation at the time. Christofilos suggested that this problem could be solved by simply making the radio waves huge -- as in tens of thousands of miles long. But how could such waves be generated? Well, Wisconsin was just kind of lying around cluttering up the place. Why not turn half of it into a massive transmitter?
Yep, Christofilos suggested burying an enormous grid of electrical cables six feet under Wisconsin. When switched on, the current would flow through the ground itself, causing 41% of the state's bedrock to vibrate and generate an ELF radio wave big enough to reach the bottom of the ocean. The granite of Northern Wisconsin was supposedly ideal for this -- a dubious honor, to be sure.
They also secretly tested this idea in the Appalachian mountains by cutting everyone's power at night and plugging the cables directly into the ground, which may explain West Virginia's unusually high population of twitchy old guys muttering about secret vibrations. Incredibly, tests found that the idea would work, and the plan was all set to go ahead until the horrified people of Wisconsin found out and proved inexplicably unwilling to live on top of a giant speaker. Following a storm of protests and lawsuits, the plan was dropped, although they eventually built a smaller version using a "mere" 84 miles of cables instead of the 6,000 miles originally planned.
But Christofilos' best (read: wackiest) plan was to use nuclear weapons to instantly drain the Great Lakes in order to power a massive particle beam weapon, which would race through hundreds of miles of tunnels before shooting up to blast Soviet missiles out of space. To put that another way, he wanted to destroy the Great Lakes to make a space laser.
First they would use nukes to dig hundreds of miles of tunnels under the continental U.S. Christofilos reassuringly described this as being "like a suppository. We would push it through the rock. As it goes into the rock, it melts the rock, it creates this perfect tube." We're not doctors, but that does not sound like the correct way to use a suppository. Also, if you're pitching a supervillain scheme, maybe avoid metaphors like "Let's shove a nuke up the nation's collective ass."
They would then use another nuke to create a giant cavern under the Great Lakes. If incoming missiles were detected, they would open the floodgates and drain the lakes into the cavern in under 15 minutes, providing a massive burst of energy that would power a particle beam they would use to dissolve the missiles. JASON, which had still not gotten sick of Christofilos, spent years workshopping the idea. They budgeted it at $300 million, but were ultimately unsuccessful with funding. It turned out the scenic views of Lake Superior were apparently more important than turning Earth into a functional Death Star. What a bunch of buzzkills.
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