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UI's Louis Frank re-submits $60 million small comet proposal to NASA
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa space physicist Louis Frank said
Monday that he plans to continue to seek funding for a mission to further
investigate his revolutionary small comet theory, despite being disappointed
that his $60 million spacecraft proposal wasn't funded by NASA as part
of the agency's Small Explorer Program.
UI researchers received a letter Monday from NASA's Wesley T. Huntress
Jr., associate administrator for space science, stating that the UI project
wasn't selected from among 54 applications. Frank said that he will immediately
resubmit his proposal, called "Cyclops," to NASA for next year's
"Mid-Explorer" spacecraft competition.
"I'm just surprised and disappointed that we and the American public
won't be able to see small ice comets exploding, a phenomenon taking place
hundreds of miles above their heads," he said. "The multiple
high-speed images that would have been
taken of these small, exploding ice comets amount to motion pictures,
similar to those taken of the Mars surface by the Mars Rover. The proposed
project offered both good science and spectacular images for the public,
the press and the scientific community." Frank, 59, said that re-submitting
the proposal next year means that instead of being scheduled for a September
2000 launch, the earliest Cyclops could be in orbit would be 2003 or 2004.
In May, Frank presented researchers at a meeting of the American Geophysical
Union with a series of photographs taken by cameras aboard NASA's Polar
spacecraft as proof of his 11-year-old theory that thousands of 20-to-40-ton
ice comets disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere each day, providing enough
water, over the age of the Earth, to fill the oceans and perhaps plant
the seeds of life.
Frank says that the project is necessary because his small comet theory
has implications for nearly all aspects of human existence.
"The Polar spacecraft images show that we have a large population
of previously undetected objects in the Earth's vicinity," he says.
"This relatively gentle cosmic rain and its possible simple organic
compounds may well have nurtured the development of life on our planet."
"With Cyclops, we'll intercept several small comets with cameras
mounted on a spacecraft in a circular orbit at an altitude of about 600
miles. Our first mission will be to observe the amount of water coming
into the atmosphere and identify several simple organic molecules contained
in the small comets," says Frank, who, along with UI senior researcher
John Sigwarth co-discovered the small comets and designed the cameras aboard
the Polar spacecraft.
Cyclops is named for its large camera eye which continually searches
for the arrival of a small comet's water cloud just above Earth's atmosphere.
Upon detection of the comet-like cloud, two cameras are activated to provide
movies of the objects at different wavelengths.
Frank developed his small comet theory in 1986 after some of the photographs
taken by NASA's Dynamics Explorer 1, a spacecraft designed to take pictures
of the northern lights, contained unexplained dark spots. After eliminating
other explanations, Frank concluded that the spots represented clouds of
water vapor being released high above Earth's atmosphere by the disintegration
of small ice comets. He noted that their small size -- 20-to-30-feet in
diameter -- and faint glow made observation difficult. Not until the 1996
launch of Polar, with its two sensitive visible light cameras and one far-ultraviolet
light camera, was there a chance to photograph the small comets with greater
Co-investigators named in the Cyclops proposal are: Ralph C. Bohlin
of the Space Telescope Science Institute; Charles M. Brown, George R. Carruthers
and Robert R. Meier of the Naval Research Laboratory; Michael R. Combi
and Thomas M. Donohue of the University of Michigan; Paul D. Feldman of
Johns Hopkins University; and Sigwarth of the University of Iowa.