Tag Archives: project west ford

TWSB: It’s Like Trying to Find a Needle in an Ionosphere

So raise your hand if you knew that in 1963, MIT launched 480,000,000 copper needles into space with the purpose of creating an artificial ionosphere.

‘Cause I sure as hell didn’t.

Wiki: “At the height of the Cold War, all international communications were either sent through undersea cables or bounced off the natural ionosphere. The United States Military was concerned that the Soviets might cut those cables, forcing the unpredictable ionosphere to be the only means of communication with overseas forces.”

And the US Military is not the US Military unless they take DRASTIC MEASURES! So up went the millions of needles. Welcome to Project West Ford.

And what makes it even better is that THEY SCREWED IT UP THE FIRST TIME SO THEY HAD TO DO IT AGAIN. “After a failed first attempt launched on October 21, 1961 (the needles failed to disperse), the project was eventually successful with the May 9, 1963 launch.”

Worldwide criticism? Yup. “British radio astronomers, together with optical astronomers and the Royal Astronomical Society, protested this action. The Soviet newspaper Pravda also joined the protests under the headline “U.S.A. Dirties Space.””

But some good did come of it: all the protesting eventually resulted in a provision about consultation in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

As of 2008, there were still clumps of needles out there. The needles occasionally re-enter, just as they have been since the start of the whole thing.