WHY GO UP BEFORE YOU GO DOWN?
When I was very young, people who could afford it sent their children
to Germany to obtain a thorough education in medicine or the sciences.
Later youth went to Harvard and Princeton, then in more modern times to
MIT (Massachusett Institute of Technology). These then leading-edge
institutions always seemed to be where the action was. Now it's Osaka,
Nogoya or Tokyo. Why? Consider this development as one where more can
possibly accomplished for a lot less.
In the United States, the U.S.S.R. or even in Europe, space agencies
require some method of achieving "weightlessness", to measure, test,
experiment with and calculate what long terms under this condition will
create. Some aspects of weightlessness have been simulated by taking an
airplane into a steep climb and then dropping the plane in a free-fall
for 20 seconds. In many cases that's all that was needed but to do it
repeatedly ( it depends on the skill of the pilot and it doesn't always
work). You also want to be able to create weighlessness at low cost.
Nobody had as yet found a way.
The Japanese have decided that you don't have to go up to go down.
They will be digging two shafts in the earth. The deepest, at 720
metres, will be located on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan...
in an abandoned coal mine. A much smaller version providing 100 metres
of free-fall will be built west of Tokyo.
Next year you can start booking to throw anything, weighing up to one
ton, down the shaft for a nominal fee of about C$7,000. That's
considered cheap. The test drop will also be repeatable, providing 10
seconds of microgravity on an almost continous basis. Capsules
containing experiments will free-fall for 500 metres, then be slowed
down by compressed air during the next 200 metres until a mechanical
brake stops the capsule 20 metres from the bottom. Shock-absorbing
material provide's a fail-safe landing if something goes wrong.
Known as the Japan Microgravity Centre this US$10 million facility is
a creation of MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) who
will provide the world's highest "drop centre" which they hope to make
pay by selling "drop-time" to companies working on exotic chemical
formulations that could not be carried out successfully under normal
gravitational conditions. The same applies to "new materials" that
require this type of testing. A more scientific "laboratory" allows
experiments to be carried out without the interference of flight crew
members, or uncomfortable conditions on board the NASA plane, apparently
a problem for some scientists (the NASA plane is not called the Vomit
Comet for nothing). In 1990 four Japanese companies were forced to hire
NASA in the U.S. to test their concoctions at an unrevealed cost.
Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
1-3-1, Kasumigaseki Chiyoda-ku,
Tokyo 100, Japan.
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