Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum

Tucked away in the suburbs of Philadelphia rests an amazing piece of lost American history.It lies hidden away on the grounds of the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, at one time one of the most technological places in the World. During the time of the cold war this may have been one of the most difficult places to access. The surrounding property housed numerous laboratories focusing on the development of aircraft equipment, advanced navigation systems, aerospace equipment, and submarine detection. But perhaps it's most important work was training future pilots, and eventually astronauts.

In order to train for the strenuous conditions involved with operating a fighter jet, one must be accustomed to numerous changes in gravity forces being applied to the body. The best way to do this is to build a machine capable of producing these anomalies. In 1947 construction began on the largest human centrifuge ever built, and in 1950 operations began. Originally the centrifuge was meant to only train pilots, but by the middle of the 1950's things were quickly and quietly changing.

By the late 1950's America was engulfed in a cold war with Russia. Besides battling in an arms race, the two countries were neck and neck in a space race. At this time the legacy of the centrifuge would change forever.
During a time in the late 1959 a who's who of American citizens could be found at the massive machine. Allen Shepard, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and numerous others all took rides in the famous Mercury 7 gondola. Every astronaut who took part in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs trained right here.

"Sadistic", "dreaded"," diabolical", "torture chamber", "a gruesome merry-go-round", these are just a few ways John Glenn and others have described the centrifuge. Packing 4,000 horsepower and the capabilities of maneuvering your body in disorienting positions, the centrifuge certainly wasn't meant to be played with. While being used to train the astronauts, a few decided they wanted to truly test the magnitude of this vicious machine. In 1958 a Naval reserve officer rode in the gondola for nearly a minute at over 20 Gs. Another rode inside at an astounding 32 Gs for nearly half a minute. As the need for speed geared everyone's adrenaline it wasn't a feasible way into space. In the late 1950's two daring scientists loaded a La-z boy recliner into the gondola and proved that man could survive for more than 24 hours if kept at a steady 2 Gs. Their theory helped to be extremely helpful in being able to accomplish space exploration.

The centrifuge ceased using the Mercury 7 gondola in 1964, and had it placed in the Smithsonian museum. But the facility remained opened, and was a training grounds for many future pilots. In  1996 the base fell victim to closure, and operations were relocated to Maryland. All operations of the centrifuge ended shortly thereafter and the gondola was left to collect dust.

Today the behemoth spinning gondola is still resting in it's home in Warminster. Fortunately the doors are still open. Tours take place regularly at the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum. The place is loaded with past artifacts from the early days of aerospace training. Most of the place looks similar to how it did when in operations. The control panels are nicely intact, and look strangely antiquated compared to today's technology. Of course the spinning gondola is still in place and you can even take a step inside, but don't worry they won't turn it on...even if you try to bribe them! But donations are greatly accepted.

Video look at the Johnsville Centrifuge

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Raven Rock Mountain Complex

If you find yourself traveling the back roads of southern Adams county in Pennsylvania, you may be surprised to learn you are in possibly one of the safest places in the country. But before you find yourself immersed in the tranquility of the area, be sure you keep your eyes peeled or you may end up on the wrong side of an interrogation table.

Stowed away in the mountains of Liberty township, resting six stories underground is a United States Government complex knows as Raven Rock. The facility provides communication services for the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Communications Center. The area is often referred to as Site R, the underground Pentagon or the backup Pentagon, which is exactly what this complex was designed to be.

In 1948 as the cold war with Russia was heating up, plans were developed to build a hidden underground infrastructure.  Things began to boil over in 1949 when the Soviets detonated a nuclear explosive, by 1951 construction began. A 1/2 million cubic yards of granite were hauled away from the mountains in as little as 10 months.  In 1953 buildings A, B, and C opened, followed 10 years later by buildings D, and E. The entire complex consists of 66 buildings and 716 acres. Beneath the mountains, and hidden behind massive steel doors, the compound houses their own power plant and water reservoir. Within the grounds is a subterranean living quarters, fitness center, medical facility, chapel, and even a convenience store. Its believed to hold enough supplies to last 3,000 people approximately 30 days. This massive underground headquarters is meant to act as the defense headquarters in times of war. It's believed former Vice President Cheney frequented the base quite often in the days following 9/11.

 Most of the activities that take place in this massive underground complex are highly classified. In May of 2007 the Federal Register published a Department of Defense policy declaring it unlawful for any person "entering in or on the property...to make any photograph, sketch, picture, drawing, map or geographical representation of the Raven Rock Mountain Complex without first obtaining the necessary permission." Guess I better get going! A couple of guys in black suits are knocking at the door...probably just the Mormons again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

U.S. Government Bunker in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Passing through the parking lot of the Stephen T. Maher training facility in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, nothing seems unusual or out of the ordinary. But hidden in a small hillside near the entrance of the parking lot is a nuclear fallout bunker. This bunker is alleged to hold several months of food, medical supplies, weapons, and communication devices. The bunker is said to be there to protect the Secretary of the Interior and his closest staff members in the event of a nuclear attack. Seeing that the Stephen P. Maher facility is a training grounds for the National Park service, this seems quite plausible. If you find yourself nearby stop by and give the door a rap, don't be surprised if no one answers. If someone does, I'm not sure if you should run or ask if they got room for one more!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nike Missile Base in Granite, Maryland

Many out there may not be aware how much destruction is looming right around them. Littered throughout this nation are hundreds of missile bases. Fortunately for us most of these have been decommissioned since the demise of the cold war, leaving numerous abandoned fields scattered throughout. Most were sold to municipalities, or given back to the government. Some went to private individuals, a few stayed active, and a couple were just forgotten. One is sitting deserted in the municipality of Granite, Maryland. An area once known for? You guessed it...granite! In fact the granite was used to help build the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. By 1920 the quarries were emptying and so was the town. When the threat of nuclear attack came approaching from the Soviet Union, the sleepy town was re-awakened with threats of an apocalypse.

In order to protect the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C. a hub of missile bases were positioned around the metropolitan areas. The rural area of Granite, nestled only 20 miles outside of Baltimore was a prime location for such a base.

The facility was equipped primarily with Nike Hercules nuclear warhead missiles. Citizens at that time were quite aware of the doom and gloom that was lurking in their backyard, what they weren't aware of was the amount of impact these nuclear weapons would have had, if they had to be used. Each of these missiles packed as much as 45 kilotons of mass destruction. Luckily for the citizens of Granite and the rest of the country, none of these behemoth monsters were ever unleashed. The impact felt could have left the neighboring city of Baltimore in dust and crumble.

Lost behind the rusted fence and the dilapidated barbed wire on Herndon road, lies what's left of the Nike missile base of Granite.The No trespassing signs that line the fence, blow hazardously in the wind. Crumbling block buildings dot the landscape, while massive radar towers once imposed the horizon. Underground bunkers have since been welded shut and now the area is used as a training grounds for the Maryland State police.

The former base in Granite is one of the few that's still mainly intact. While most would like to forget this dark past in American history, I feel there's many others who would love a chance to visit a lost missile silo. After all it was our tax money that helped to build all these weapons of devastation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tri-State Monument Port Jervis, New York

Hidden away in the humble town of Port Jervis, New York is a rare place most just pass right over. Tucked away in the rear of the Laurel Grove cemetery, lies the Tri-State monument. A place where you can literally be in 3 states at once. The monument sits under Interstate 84 and is a converging point for the states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The area once served as battle grounds between the states of New Jersey and New York. The two states once battled for the sought after land, where the Delaware river and Neversink river merge together. Maybe they both knew the small borough would someday be named one of the 10 coolest small towns in America.

The current monument that stands is a replacement for an original which decorated the spot as early as 1774. Also nearby is a monument for the merging of Pennsylvania and New York, which technically occurs in the center of the Delaware river. But if you don't wish to slip into your waders and would rather stand in 3 states at once, I'd opt for the photo opportunity on land.