A Grand Achievement
For those who missed it, earlier this month PopMechanics did a bang-up piece on the attempt to push the land speed record up to 1,000 mph. The story focuses mostly on the British team Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC) and project director Richard Noble, though credit is given to the other teams around the world that are trying to break the mark: the North American Eagle team, retrofitting a land-based adaptation of an F-104 Starfighter military jet; the late billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett’s crew, which is looking for a new owner after finishing work on Craig Breedlove’s 1997 LSR car; and Australian Rosco McGlashan’s Aussie Invader 5R rocket-powered car.
The glory that would result from actually achieving this mind-blowing goal does not come cheap; Noble’s Bloodhound team needs an estimated $16.3 million to construct and test the car in the next few years. The team, smartly, is trying to defray costs by appealing to the UK government about the project’s educational benefits. Noble notes that the engineering feats that create land-speed records are far more transparent than, say, defense projects or Formula One racing. The article mentions the possible correlation between large-scale engineering and science projects and the number of Ph.D.s awarded during the projects’ time frame — something called the Apollo effect, which saw the number of U.S. Ph.D.s awarded jump from 12,000 to 30,000 during the Apollo program years, and drop off when the program ended.
In any case, it’s a fascinating read. It’s sort of like how we can go to the moon, but know very little about the bottom of our oceans. After all, we’re land-based creatures, and yet we leapfrogged to moon exploration and the bottom of the ocean — thanks, Discovery Earth! — without, perhaps, truly pushing the limits of what we can do out in the desert. Noble and the Bloodhound team, among a few others, are trying to change that.