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Poker Flat Research Range - Wikipedia
January Learn how and when to remove this template message. Archived from the original on The University of Alaska System. Alaska Nanooks men's ice hockey Carlson Center Media: Prince William Sound College. Retrieved from " https: Articles lacking reliable references from January All articles lacking reliable references Coordinates on Wikidata. Views Read Edit View history.
In other projects Wikimedia Commons. The red cloud and streaks in the sky visible almost everywhere in Alaska were caused by a release of a chemical called barium from a foot rocket. Nuclear weapons had a big role in that first Alaska launch and were the reason Poker Flat was built in less than a year by Alaska scientists, students and just-get-it-done guys rather than contractors.
To back up a bit, long before Cold War drama intervened, the late Neil Davis wanted a northern rocket-launching facility. The Geophysical Institute researcher and such colleagues as Tom Hallinan were the best in the world at developing low-light television cameras to observe the aurora; they wanted to send instruments up into it without having to travel thousands of miles from existing rocket ranges.
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Knowing what he wanted, Davis had chosen unoccupied land out by the Chatanika River for a facility. Poker Flat remained a dream. Davis and the university had no money for a rocket range. But things changed when an American B bomber crashed into an ice-covered bay near Thule, Greenland, in January The plane was carrying four hydrogen bombs. Bomb contents scattered on the ice, costing millions in cleanup as the radioactive waste was shipped back for disposal in the U.
Denmark, which was in control of Greenland, barred the U. But military strategists had a problem only rockets could help solve.
How the Cold War inspired the Poker Flat rocket range's first launches
When a nuclear explosion detonated in the atmosphere, the bombs created large plasma clouds of ions and electrons that prevented radios and radars from working. Strong auroras can produce similar effects. Researchers wanted to differentiate between the two. Military scientists had designed an experiment in which a rocket would release barium about miles above Earth. The chemical would cause an artificial red aurora.
A Brief History of Poker Flat
They wanted to see if over-the-horizon radar could detect and track this plasma cloud. The researchers wanted to find out more about the properties that scrambled radio and radar signals, and they needed answers within a year. That's when the door opened for the Alaska scientists. A rocket range in Churchill, Manitoba, had a full schedule of launches that year.
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Officials knew of Davis's plan — he had even written a Poker Flat feasibility study for NASA — so they set federal money aside for a rocket range in Alaska. That money was not enough, and it was slow in coming. But Davis and others like Larry Sweet and Eldon Thompson started scrounging materials, including old mining cars that had been dumped in a river, steel beams from an old bridge over the Chatanika River, and a winch Sweet had seen in a Fairbanks backyard.
Related ROCKETS OVER ALASKA, The Genesis of Poker Flat
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