The mother of all firework displays

THE millennium celebrations will go with a real bang, if Dave Caulkins has his way. Caulkins, a computer network manager based in Los Altos, California, has devised a plan to use obsolete Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to launch artificial meteors. They should create stunning pyrotechnic displays up to 20 kilometres across, he says. Caulkins outlines his plans to provide a spectacular swansong for missiles like the US Minuteman or Russian SS-18 in the Journal of Pyrotechnics (issue 7, p 26). It makes more sense to use these Cold War relics for entertainment rather than break them up for scrap, he argues. As the missiles returned to Earth, they would release their cargo of thousands of artificial meteors, each weighing between 10 and 100 grams. The meteors would burn up in the atmosphere, with different colours depending on the chemicals with which they had been doped—sodium for yellow, strontium for red, and so on. Unless carefully managed, the displays could be over in a few seconds. “It all happens pretty damn fast,” says Caulkins. One way around this would be to launch several waves of meteors, with those in the first wave shaped to create sonic booms. The noise would alert spectators to the display. Caulkins is hoping to enlist help from disarmament organisations, contacts in the Russian space programme and the US Millennium Commission, set up to help Americans prepare for the millennium. However, he admits that he hasn’t yet worked out a solution to what is likely to be the most serious objection to his proposal:
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