Who is Donald Gault? (courtesy nasa.gov)

Wired got wired into NASA’s Ames Vertical Gun Range (AVGR) for a feature on Uncle Sam’s planetary impact simulator. (I was hoping to read NASA’s plans for shooting at asteroids looking to ruin humanity’s day but at least we know what that would look like.) Hi-tech, schmi-tech. Gunpowder baby! “At the far end of the barrel, a gunpowder explosion is used to compress hydrogen gas to as much as 1 million times atmospheric pressure. The compressed gas gets released and sent down the launch tube, firing a projectile pellet at speeds between 7,000 and 15,000 mph. The shot enters the cylinder, in which low pressure or even a vacuum is maintained, and hits . . .

a dish filled with different material that simulates whatever planetary body researchers are studying. High-speed cameras mounted on windows around the cylinder record the impact aftermath at up to 1 million frames per second.” Pah. More recent cameras can record at 200m frames per second. No wonder we’re behind the Russians in the race to put a man on the Moon. Mars. Wherever.

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43 Responses to NASA’s Big Ass Gun

  1. Well that was built in the 90s if i recall correct. The history channels “The Universe” interviews them and shows some of the footage of the thing in action. It’s really a neat way to show how impacts work. They even shoot at glass to show the shock that happens… now that was really cool. Also really neat to see what a tiny object can do at high speeds.

  2. Two (or three) simple words:

    Jules Verne (, biotch)!

    They need to name it “The Columbiad”.

    From Wikipedia (because we know that all truth flows from Wikipedia):

    In Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon, a giant columbiad space gun is constructed in Tampa, Florida after the American Civil War, with the purpose of striking the Moon. Although the cannon is originally designed to fire a hollow aluminum ball, a bullet-shaped projectile is later designed with the purpose of carrying people. It is now known that neither concept is viable using such a cannon.

    • Hey, the only reason the Columbiad launcher is not “viable” is that the potential passengers (humans) are a bunch of weak-shelled wusses who can’t tolerate a few measly 100Gs acceleration without turning into a thin red paste. Otherwise, the theory is great.

  3. They are the ones that discovered why all crater pockets are round. In slow moving projectiles you would have to hit 90 degrees to produce such a round crater. Why then are all the craters on the moon and other stellar bodies perfectly round? Great question

    They found out that once you get to a certain velocity (a really, really fast velocity)…the energy dump is not directional. Just nicking the surface at shallow degree can dump the same as a direct impact.

    • LOL! I admit it, I was. Just shift the emphasis a little bit, and you’ve got a big *ass* gun.

      I don’t own any ass guns (I’m lacking both $$ and space in my garage), so I’ll have to be content with NASA and Star Wars. Or else eat lots of chili.

  4. It’s cool. Big friggin’ deal. What has NASA done to improve our daily lives lately, or ever?
    Another colossal waste of our money, whenever it was constructed.

    • I’m going to disagree on the waste of money. Basic research, even though it has no immediate “improve our daily lives” benefits, constitutes the “capital” of all scientific and technological development. All of the practical tech stuff (cell phones, computers, lasers, yadda yadda) were developed out of the weird “useless” experiments conducted somewhere by some nerdy scientist who was examining basic principles. Research is the capital, and technological daily-use developments are the “interest” earned on that capital. If you starve the basic research, you don’t get any “improvements” in your daily life.

      • I don’t completely disagree with you, but: Give me 10 “useful” accomplishments that NASA has given us in
        the last 40 years.

        • That is the problem – NASA has mostly gotten out of the basic research game since the Moon landing effort ended. This big gun thing may be one of the few actual science projects they still have going. Didn’t the current NASA chief (Obama-appointed) say that NASA’s primary mission now was to show the Muslim world how much we appreciate all of the great scientific advances they developed 700 years ago?

          I suspect the actual basic research budget at NASA is 5% or less of their total – they are living off the capital of their 1960s research.

        • Brilliant Pebbles, an SDI program, rather interesting the targeting systems they developed for that in the 1990’s where it became technically functional, or Aurora with an auto pilot system for edge of the earth hemisphere atmospheric flying in excess of mach 7 as one mistake with a human controlled flight in earth atmosphere and the laws of physics get demonstrated rather violently and fatally! Not to mention the propulsion system such an atmospheric plane must employ designed from multiple ram/turbine style engine combinations far in advance of the SR71 Blackbird, a plane 40 years ahead of its time as certainly some of that technology has been developed and implemented in the F22 Raptor which can hypercruise above Mach1 without afterburner! Thats not including all the various comunications systems and such, you really havent a clue where that all ties into with NASA and how much of that comes from their funding and research, including the manned space station in orbit today!

          Oh and if anyone thinks there isnt a replacement technology already viable and available for space that they have kept hidden from public view as they did for the F117 & B2 for nearly 20 years of developmental testing and manufacture to in field validation, then your a fool.

        • Lookup the SBIR (Small business innovative research) grants that NASA puts out every year. Fueling small businesses in the USA to create actual processes and products.

      • I know I’m late to the party here, but I’m going to reiterate the benefits of “useless” research. The benefits of what you find when you’re not looking are uncountable.

        Isaac Asimov said it best: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…'”

    • KMc, there’s a publication just for NASA spinoff technologies. http://spinoff.nasa.gov
      If you ever need kidney dialysis or a CAT scan, you will be grateful for the tech that helped create those machines. Recent estimates are that the economy receives about $10 of benefit for every $1 spent by NASA. I myself was kept alive as a premature infant by warming unit derived from space-suit helmet heating systems.

      Most people think of NASA as a space exploration agency, but it’s tangible benefits in R&D are immense.

        • Once you leave the huge gravity wells, it’s stupid to fall right back down into them. Asteroids should be our ONLY target in space, and the Lagrange points. Screw the planets.

    • NASA is welfare for smart people.

      I can think of worse things the government wastes moneys on.

    • Well, the computer you’re using to bitch, for one thing.

      Improvements in materials science, aviation, internal combustion engines, insulation, energy conversion et cetera.

      An improved understanding of this planet and how it works, GPS, improved weapons technologies.

      NASA, over the years, has paid 20:1 what was invested in it.

      Oh, it is also likely that by the time the Earth is next due to get creamed by a wayward rock we’ll be able to slap it aside instead of dying like good little lemmings.

      You of course will not believe me, but nothing concerns me less than that.

    • ‘Wahhhh we’re not immediately getting a return on our investments in NASA’ Buddy not everything is about dollars and cents. The thirst for knowledge is what makes us different from every other living thing on this planet. The thirst for knowledge is how we solve real-life problems. If we don’t satisfy that thirst and gain knowledge as a species, then whats the point of being intelligent?

      You want to complain about something being a waste of federal dollars? Complain about Iraq and Afghanistan. Complain about Social Security and medicare. Don’t complain about an agency that consumes about half a percent of the federal budget. Don’t complain about an agency that has done more to advance human knowledge than any other company, organization, or agency in America.

      Fucking conservatives man. Always wanna cut where we aren’t spending enough and wanna spend where we’re already spending too much.

  5. Where does NASA get its ammo? I checked with Lower Than Dirt and they’re all out of spheres, cylinders, irregular shapes and clusters of many small particles.

  6. Now there is a camera technology that takes 1 trillion frames per second called the Fempto camera. It is used to watch a 1 nanosecond burst from a laser (light bullet) impact, watching an actual bullet pass through an apple (the classic shot) would take about 400 years to watch. More is not always better.

    The program has been loosing steam recently, though. Ever since ammo became scarce NASA has to use reloads and that mucks up their results.

  7. Gunpowder/ compressed-air fusion…. haven’t I read that one of the “loopholes” in Mexico’s gun laws is a .177 pellet rifle powered by a .22 blank?

    • With the right targeting system I imagine it would own the sky. I’m surprised Dr. Evil hasn’t concocted a plan to steal it and blackmail the world’s governments for a million dollars.

  8. One of the armed intelligencia(that’s you guys!) needs to come up with a valid well thought out reason why they need to put an opossum in the “dish”… I HATE those things!

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