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October 28, 1994
"We have had to focus a lot of our time on helping [the physicists] let go of the idea that they can stay in high energy physics and getting them to focus on transferable skills ... It's really a shock to the system."
Marie Snidow, SSC Outplacement Councilor
"The loss of a job is a traumatic experience for anybody. The loss of a career is devastating. I spent 15 years doing physics ... my investment and my career went out the window."
Kate Morgan, Former SSC Physicist now employed by Citicorp, Dallas
February 1, 1995
"Once upon a time, science did have a voice in determining [national science] policy, but that was long ago. ... what science needs more than anything else are vibrant spokespersons who can communicate with the public and with the policymakers. Otherwise I dread the coming debacle that seems to be brewing in our nation's capital."
Prof. Leon Lederman, Illinois Institute of Technology, Former Director of Fermilab, Nobel Laureate
This novel is a work of "hard" science fiction, that sub-species of the science fiction genre in which the protagonists are often working scientists, careful attention is paid to the scientific accuracy of technical details, and scientific problem solving is an important plot element. Hard SF inherently has special problems because the reader may be easily mislead into believing that fictional "rubber" science needed as extrapolation for the plot structure is real and factual, or that real scientific facts used to give the work verisimilitude are fictional.
The present novel also has another problem, because it uses a fictional plot woven with as much plausibility as possible through the recent real but unlikely history of the initiation and cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider project by the United States Congress. In this Afterword I want try to sort out the factual from the fictional science and politics of the work, because I think this may be of considerable interest to the readers of this book. However, the novel stands as a work of fiction without any follow-up explanations.
I would also like to state here that I had no personal stake in the SSC, aside from being in the midst of writing a novel about it when the project was definitively canceled in October, 1993. The kind of physics research I do at the CERN laboratory in Geneva using relativistic heavy ions was never planned for the SSC and might have been added to the physics research program there only at considerable additional expense and delay. Therefore, I consider myself to be an informed but unbiased observer of the history of the doomed project.
(a) "Bubble universes" and inflationary cosmology -- The idea of isolated bubble universes, as used in this novel, comes from a variant of the current standard model of cosmology, the Big Bang model with inflation (or rapid exponential expansion) at the early stages. Bubble universes are not required by inflationary cosmology, but they are a logical consequence of the scenario which describes the initial universe as a volume of space that is super-saturated with energy. A localized phase transition is initiated in this space by some irregularity, perhaps a magnetic monopole, and the bubble of altered space begins to expand. This process is rather like a bubble of steam forming around a grain of dust in liquid water heated above its boiling point. The result is that an expanding bubble-universe forms, inside which is normal space while outside is the energy-saturated space of the initial universe. The walls of the bubble are expanding with an exponential growth rate, driven by the energy liberated in the space phase transition at the interface. This is what we call the Big Bang.
In this scenario there is no reason why this should happened only once, at a single nucleation point. Therefore, a multiplicity of bubble universes have been postulated, all forming independently within the same overall cosmos. Each is a closed universe, essentially a black hole that is expanding because of an excess of kinetic energy, and each such bubble universe is completely isolated from all the others.
Connections and communication between one such bubble universe and another would only be possible if there was a wormhole connection, the scenario used in this novel, or if two universes made contact by a collision. There are theoretical papers in the physics literature which discuss what happens when one bubble universe collides with another. You wouldn't want to live in such a universe, and fortunately we don't. We know this from the COBE-measured uniformity in all directions of the 2.7° K microwave background radiation from the Big Bang.
(b) Einstein-Rosen bridges and wormhole physics -- In 1916 Einstein first introduced his general theory of relativity, a theory which to this day remains the standard model for gravitation. Twenty years later, he and his long-time collaborator Nathan Rosen published a paper in Physical Review 48, 73 (1935) showing that implicit in the general relativity formalism is a curved-space structure that can join two distant regions of space-time through a tunnel-like curved spatial shortcut. The purpose of the paper of Einstein and Rosen was not to promote faster-than-light or inter-universe travel, but to attempt to explain fundamental particles like electrons as space-tunnels threaded by electric lines of force. Their electron-model subsequently proved invalid when it was realized that the smallest possible mass-energy of such a curved-space topology is that of a Planck mass, far larger than the mass-energy of an electron.
The Einstein-Rosen work was disturbing to many physicists of the time because such a "tunnel" through space-time, which came to be known in the late 1930s and 40s as an "Einstein-Rosen bridge," could in principle allow the transmission of information faster than the speed of light in violation of one of the key postulates of special relativity known as "Einsteinian causality."
In 1962 John A. Wheeler and Robert W. Fuller discovered that the Einstein-Rosen bridge space-time structure, which Wheeler re-christened as a "wormhole," was dynamically unstable in field-free space. They showed in a paper published in Physical Review 128 , 919 (1962) that if such a wormhole somehow opened, it would close up again before even a single photon could be transmitted through it, thereby preserving Einsteinian causality.
In 1989 Kip Thorne and his graduate student Mike Morris showed that an Einstein-Rosen bridge, by now called a wormhole in the literature, could be stabilized by a region of space containing a negative mass-energy. They suggested that an "advanced civilization" capable of manipulating planet-scale quantities of mass-energy might use the Casimir effect to produce such a region of negative mass energy and, starting with vacuum fluctuations, might create stable wormholes. Later work by Matt Visser suggested the use of cosmic strings of negative string tension, also solutions of Einstein's equations, as an alternative mechanism for stabilizing wormholes.
In the present novel the techniques used by the Makers and other alien races to produce stable wormholes are never completely described, but they clearly involve vast quantities of energy and the use of Planck-scale physics that is presently unknown to us.
(c) High energy physics -- The high energy physics portrayed in the first half of this novel is a fictionalized account of a very real activity. This branch of experimental physics research is carried out by very large experimental groups, often a thousand or more physicists working together on a single very large and expensive experiment that, as it is being built, pushes the cutting edge of technology. About 12% of physicists involved in basic physics research in the USA work in this field, which is supported by about 50% of the non-NASA and non-DOD basic research funding, a fact that generates some resentment in other sub-fields of physics. The large experiment collaborations are typically lead by one "spokesperson", a physicist possessing unusual leadership skills which are sometimes accompanied by idiosyncratic personality quirks.
The leading high energy physics experiments of the 1990s are being performed at the LEP electron-positron collider at CERN near Geneva and at the Fermilab proton-antiproton collider near Chicago. LEP has four large experiments, ALEPH, DELPHI, L3 and OPAL, which have mainly focused on precise determination of the masses and widths of the Z0 and W± bosons, the mediating particles of the weak interaction. Fermilab has mounted two large collider experiments, CDF and D0, both of which recently reported the discovery of the top quark with the unexpectedly large mass of about 180 GeV. CDF has also recently reported preliminary evidence suggesting that quarks may have sub-structure, may be composites made of even smaller and more fundamental particles.
The next generation of accelerators for high energy physics was supposed to have been the LHC at CERN and the SSC at Waxahachie. The detectors for the LHC will be ATLAS and CMS, used to study proton-proton collisions, and ALICE, used to study heavy ion collisions. The two SSC detectors were to have been SDC, a detector using a large solenoidal magnet, and GEM, a detector designed for gamma rays, electrons and muons. The fictional LEM detector in this novel bears some resemblance to GEM, but its leadership does not. The cancellation of the SSC project has, of course, ended all work on SDC and GEM.
A handful of the physicists formerly working on the SSC and its detectors have successfully made the transition to CERN and are working on the LHC facility or the ATLAS or CMS detectors, but many others, particularly the younger physicists who had staked their careers on the future of the SSC, have been forced out of physics research altogether. Many are now working in the computer industry or on Wall Street. The cancellation of the SSC project has dealt a devastating blow to the future of high energy physics in the USA. Regrettably, in this real world there is no Iris Foundation to provide an alternative.
The LHC (and the SSC, if it had been built) will produce small regions of space that contain the concentrations of energy comparable to that of the early stages of the Big Bang. However, there is no reason to think that the regions of ultra-high energy density created in the collisions will generate "signals" or will provide a medium for the creation of wormholes or alien contact. These ideas were added to further the plot of the present novel.
(d) Time vortices and timelike loops -- One of issues raised by the Thorne-Morris work on wormholes centers on the possibility of producing a "time hole," a wormhole that connects two regions of space-time across a timelike interval. Here the word "interval" means x2 + y2 + z2 - (ct)2, where x, y, and z are the distances in space (in meters), t is the time interval (in seconds) and c is the velocity of light (in meters per second). A positive interval is dominated by the space contribution and is said to be "spacelike," a zero interval balances space and time along a speed-of-light trajectory and is said to be "lightlike," and a negative interval is dominated by the time contribution and is said to be "timelike." The sign of an interval is not changed by relativistic transformations from one inertial reference frame to another, so a timelike interval in one frame is timelike in all frames.
A transversable wormhole spanning a timelike interval is, in effect, a time machine. The Thorne-Morris work demonstrated how any wormhole might be converted into a time-hole. This, for the first time, has led to serious consideration of the physics of time machines and time travel in mainstream physics literature. One consequence of this consideration, first pointed out by Stephen Hawking, is that a vacuum fluctuation instability occurs when the ends of a developing time-hole first begin to span a timelike interval. Practitioners of quantum field theory have severe problems in dealing with paths through space-time for which the net path interval is zero (time equals space). Hawking has speculated that if a wormhole entered this domain, the vacuum fluctuations at such a "Cauchy horizon" would build up and destroy the wormhole. He has suggested that "nature abhors a time machine" and will frustrate all attempts to create one.
In the present novel I have used a variant of the idea that nature abhors a time machine to destroy, not the time machine, but the entire section of space-time history spanned by the time machine or "time vortex" in the universe in which it is created. The universe is destroyed and must re-evolve along a different path of history that does not contain a time vortex or a timelike loop. This approach, as far as I know, is new in science fiction as a solution to the paradoxes created by time travel.
(e) The interpretations of quantum mechanics -- In this novel, the interpretation of quantum mechanics advocated by Iris is actually the transactional interpretation, which I originated about a decade ago and published in the July 1986 issue of the physics journal Reviews of Modern Physics .. The transactional interpretation is a non-fictional alternative to the better know Copenhagen interpretation of Bohr and Heisenberg and the "many-worlds" interpretation of Everett and Wheeler. In 1995 the transactional interpretation was featured in John Gribbin's widely read popular science book Schrödinger's Kittens.
Briefly, the transactional interpretation associates the psi-star complex conjugates of quantum wave functions which appear everywhere in the quantum formalism with "advanced waves" which travel backwards in time to "confirm" each incipient quantum transaction with a quantum handshake spanning space-time. This idea is based on Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory published in 1945. The transactional approach resolves the interpretational problems of non-locality and wave function collapse implicit in the quantum formalism, explains some of the arbitrary-seeming features of quantum mechanics, and offers a number of other advantages over its rivals. It resolves all of the quantum mechanics paradoxes that have been troubling the field of quantum physics for six decades.
In the present novel the transactional interpretation is used as a way of justifying and providing a mechanism for the universe-destroying actions of the timelike loop created by the Makers. It also serves another more philosophical purpose, demonstrating by example that the transactional interpretation is not rigorously deterministic and that the evolution of the universe from future possibility to present reality need not advance along a flat spacelike surface as the future crystallizes into the present.
Readers who are interested in learning more about the transactional interpretation and have access to WorldWideWeb can find a hypertext version of my Reviews of Modern Physics paper on the transactional interpretation at: http://www.npl.washington.edu/tiqm/TI_toc.html .
(f) The Fermi paradox and the Kirkwood zones -- The "Fermi paradox" is the name given to the conflict between our expectation that life, even intelligent life, should be very common in the universe and the manifest absence of any evidence of intelligent life except on this planet. Supposedly, during the Manhattan Project in the 1940s there was a lunchtime discussion at Los Alamos on the high probability that intelligent life must have independently evolved elsewhere in the universe, after which Enrico Fermi looked around the table, spread his hands, and asked "But where are they?"
There is a broad literature attempting to answer Fermi's question, but it remains unresolved. The "Drake equation," a probability product of all the individual probabilities for conditions needed to produce intelligent life, usually leads to the conclusion that there should be many other intelligent species even within our own galactic neighborhood, yet radio astronomers have yet to detect either radio emissions that might be a deliberate attempt at communication from another species or accidental radio emissions of a high technology civilization. With the exception of Earth, our universe seems strangely empty of intelligent life.
The solution to the Fermi paradox used in this novel was first presented in one of my "Alternate View" columns in Analog magazine which was published in the January, 1986 issue. It is based on two seemingly unrelated ideas, the notion of punctuated equilibrium in evolution as derived from the analysis of the fossil records by paleontologists, and the existence of the Kirkwood zones in the asteroid belt of the solar system.
Charles Darwin had envisioned evolution as a smooth continuous process in which species progress through natural selection. The fossil record, however, seems to tell a somewhat different story. It shows that species sometimes rapidly evolve to fill available ecological niches, then show little evolutionary progress for tens of millions of years, until there is a break in the fossil record in which everything is changed. Some species disappear while others again rapidly evolve to fill newly vacated niches, and the process repeats. The cause of these "punctuation marks" in the erratic course of evolution is not well established, but it is suspected that they are the result of large-scale natural disasters that disrupt the environment, cause massive die-off of some species, and give others the opportunity to evolve to occupy the vacated niches in the newly emerging ecology.
A dramatic example of this punctuated equilibrium process is the Cretaceous catastrophe that occurred some sixty-five million years ago. It is now fairly well established through the pioneering work of physicist Luis Alvarez and his co-workers that a large iridium-rich carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, probably an asteroid, struck the earth in the vicinity of what is now the Yucatan Peninsula, depositing a great quantity of dust in the upper atmosphere and killing off the dinosaurs and many other plant and animal species. The Cretaceous catastrophe provided mammals with the opportunity to evolve, to occupy ecological niches formerly occupied by reptiles, and to achieve their present dominance in life on earth.
The second idea comes from the existence of the Kirkwood zones in the asteroid belt of our solar system. Among the band of orbits that comprise the asteroid belt which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, there are empty bands of orbits at certain distances from the Sun in which no asteroids are found, even though many asteroids populate nearby orbits. When the science of chaos came to prominence about a decade ago, it was realized that the Kirkwood zones are regions in which asteroid orbits become chaotic due the cumulative perturbations of the planet Jupiter. The effects of Jupiter's gravitation builds up because its orbital period is in an integer ratio to that of a Kirkwood asteroid so that, for example, Jupiter is in the same place on every third asteroid orbit.
If an asteroid should wander into a Kirkwood zone due to some random interaction with its neighbors, this perturbation soon propels the asteroid out of its Kirkwood zone orbit, with a fairly high probability that it will be deflected into a new orbit that transits the inner solar system. Thus, the solar system has a built-in launch mechanism for providing a supply of large rocks that can collide with Earth. It has been estimated that from this mechanism alone a large asteroid might collide with the earth as often as every twenty million years, a rate that is consistent with the fossil record of "punctuations."
We can combine these two ideas to obtain the variant view of an evolution process which is "pumped" by intermittent asteroid collisions, alternating between times of catastrophic species die-off and rapid change and periods of stable environmental conditions during which species equilibrium is reestablished. Clearly in this scenario there is some optimum rate for the pumping. If the pump runs too fast, the process is too wasteful of life and there is not enough time for equilibrium to be re-established before the next catastrophe. If the pump runs too slowly, the species may become too deeply embedded in their ecologies to respond well to change, and in any case the rate of evolution will be slowed.
My hypothesis in the present novel, based a bit on the anthropic principle, is that the evolution pump rate in our solar system by a fortunate and improbable accident is near the optimum, and that this has caused intelligence to evolve on Earth more rapidly than it has elsewhere in our galaxy and our universe. We are therefore early arrivals on the scene. We do not receive the radio signals or emissions of other intelligent species because there are none.
This lonely solution to the Fermi paradox, I should add, is not well known or widely accepted in the SETI community, nor to my knowledge has it even been discussed in reviews of the subject, (perhaps because so far it has been published only in my column in Analog magazine).
(g) Telepresence and virtual reality -- My column in the November 1990 issue of Analog on virtual reality (VR) was one of the first popular accounts of this emerging technology, but since that time VR has been the subject of so much media hype that it should not require any explanation here. On the other hand the related technology of telepresence, as used in the present novel, has not received much media attention. Telepresence was the subject of my July 1990 Analog column. I believe that in the long run, telepresence will have a much greater impact on our lives than VR.
While no high energy physics laboratory has yet invested in telepresence in the way described in this novel, I am confident that this development is inevitable. A precursor, video conferencing over the Internet, is already widely used in the field. The basic point here is that machine pattern recognition is intrinsically very difficult but human pattern recognition is easy; robotic manipulation of arms and bodies is difficult but human control of "robot" arms and bodies is easy; computer generation of a VR environment is difficult but "real" reality is already here to be used, locally or remotely. It's just a matter of getting the cost of suitable remote units down to a reasonable level and paying for the bandwidth needed to use them.
I teach physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, and I do physics research at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. I look forward to the time when I can use telepresence to do both things on the same day.
(h) Intelligence enhancement -- The development of the drug synaptine in the novel is pure make-believe. The objections of Francis Crick to the name used for neural networks is real, but I somewhat distorted his arguments for my own purposes.
There has been a group within the mega-vitamin and life-extension movement that has been experimenting with various over-the-counter and prescription drugs as a way of boosting intelligence. There is already an emerging folklore centering on which drugs, vitamins, and dietary supplements do and don't work in achieving the goals of boosted intelligence and memory improvement.
I am confident that in the next decade or so developments in molecular biology and protein synthesis will produce real and effective intelligence-enhancing drugs, with or without the unpleasant side-effects described in the novel. When this happens, the impact on theoretical physics will be somewhat like the impact of metabolic steroids on athletic records. It is quite true, as Roger observed, that even a small gain in human intelligence will go a very long way when one is working at the cutting edge of a field which uses intelligence as its principal tool. And the impact on society in general will also be very profound. The present world desperately needs more intelligence and needs to have the available intelligence used more effectively.
(i) Reading and Writing DNA -- In studying the history of technology, one finds that the first use of an emerging technology is to make tools to use that technology better. Lathes and milling machines are used to make better lathes and milling machines. Electronic circuits are used to make oscilloscopes and voltmeters for making better electronic circuits. This should be no different with genetic engineering and nanotechnology.
In this novel, the fully mature biotechnology of the Makers has given individuals the fully realized capabilities for decoding, simulating, and interpreting DNA, RNA and nanomachines, and for synthesizing DNA, RNA and nanomachines for their own purposes. This seems to me to be an inevitable long-term product of this technology.
The "fountain of youth" enzyme that restores the end-segments of DNA strands and allows them to continue to participate in cell division processes is real. The DNA end-segments that may be acting as count-down timers to limit cell division are called "telomeres" and the enzyme that restores them is called "telomerace". Intensive research now in progress focuses on this enzyme and its real biological effects. I hope they get it sorted out soon. I could use some.
(j) Reynald Toroids, Axions, and Space Drives -- The Reynald toroid is a strictly fictional solution to the frustrating problem of energy storage. In principle, magnetic fields are an excellent way of storing energy since the energy storage increases as the square of the field strength. A 10 Tesla magnetic field has the same energy density as gasoline (and converts to electrical energy much more cleanly and efficiently). However, we are presently limited to relatively small magnetic fields by the limited mechanical strengths and low electrical conductivity of presently available materials.
The Reynald toroid is supposed to be made of a "magic" alloy that supports a closed loop of magnetic flux in its interior and simultaneously grows in mechanical strength to sustain it. I wish I knew how to make one.
The axion is a could-be particle which is a side-effect of a theory that explains the CP violation in the decays of K0 mesons. If axions exist at all, they would have been produced in large numbers in the early Big Bang. Therefore, invisible axions might be the source of "cold dark matter" that seems to form most of the mass present in our universe. It was shown theoretically in 1983 by Sikivie from symmetry arguments that axions could be converted to photons in a strong magnetic or electric field. However, experiments attempting to convert axions to detectable microwave photons using this effect have so far failed.
The hypothesis in the present novel is that (a) axions exist and are the principal source of dark matter, (b) that they can be converted to unspecified speed-of-light particles (not photons) using the intense fields present in Reynald toroids, and (c) that the momentum kick from the conversion permits their detection and also has potential use as a "space drive". All of these hypotheses are physically possible, but none is supported by any presently available evidence.
(a) Presidential appointments -- Dan Quayle's selection as George Bush's running mate at the 1988 Republican Convention was a great surprise at the time and has never been adequately explained. The choice appears to have been an impulsive act on Bush's part, which in the long run seriously damaged his presidency.
Professor John Deutsch of the MIT Department of Chemistry, former Director of the Office of Energy Research at the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) and present Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was mentioned as a top candidate for Bush's Secretary of Energy in early 1989 before Admiral James D. Watkins was selected. Had Deutsch been appointed Energy Secretary, the SSC project would have been handled very differently by the DOE and might never have been brought to the point of cancellation.
Professor D. Alan Bromley of Yale University was named Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy by Bush in mid-1989, but not until a number of industrial scientists had turned down the job because of its relatively low salary. Bromley proved to be perhaps the most effective Science Advisor in the history of that office. In early 1992 he came very close to succeeding in arranging a Japanese contribution of $1 billion to the SSC, but, according to his own memoirs, was frustrated in this attempt by Sam Skinner, at the time when Skinner was briefly Bush's Chief of Staff. Skinner deleted discussion of the SSC contribution from the agenda of Bush's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa in January, 1992. If there had been a second Bush Administration, Bromley would undoubtedly have been more effective than his successor, Dr. John H. Gibbons, in justifying the SSC to the 1993 Congress.
(b) DOE Oversight of the SSC project -- The U. S. Department of Energy and its predecessors, the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) have had a long history of successful management and oversight of large and expensive construction projects designed and built by physicists: nuclear research reactors, plasma physics machines, and nuclear and high energy particle accelerators. The DOE had developed excellent oversight procedures for physics construction project management that have struck a careful balance between responsible oversight, good physics, and good technical decisions.
However, when the SSC came along during the Reagan Administration, it was such a large and politically visible project that the upper DOE management panicked and abandoned the lessons of its own history. The DOE was still reeling from the cancellation of its previous big accelerator project, the Isabelle collider at Brookhaven, which had been halted before completion because a poor superconducting magnet design had delayed the project and because physicists at CERN had already discovered the Z and W weak-force bosons, the principal physics goal that Isabelle had been designed to accomplish.
The DOE management under Reagan decided that the SSC project needed to be watched much more carefully than previous DOE physics construction projects and insisted on much more direct DOE control. The freedom and prerogatives of the SSC laboratory director were therefore severely restricted, with much more direct DOE oversight and participation inserted in the chain of decision making processes. From the start of the SSC project, a morass of new bureaucracy, paperwork, and micromanagement was created. The SSC designers and builders, most with years of experience from other DOE construction projects, found the new procedures obstructive and offensive.
Then with the Bush Administration, Admiral James D. Watkins became Secretary of Energy. This appointment had very unfortunate consequences for the SSC project. Watkins' desire for personal control caused him to increase the bureaucracy and paperwork associated with SSC oversight by another order of magnitude. He also extensively revised the SSC management structure, installing people that he trusted in key positions while displacing physicists and experienced accelerator builders from the decision chains.
This reorganization was very detrimental to the SSC project. According to an article in Physics Today, Congress developed "a sense that the project was not being handled well. In fact, the physicists at the SSC had been cut out of the administrative loop by a management group brought in by Watkins. This created a perplexing paradox: SSC and Universities Research Association (URA, the contracting organization responsible for management of Brookhaven and Fermilab as well as the SSC) leaders criticized the DOE for too much oversight and authority, but (Clinton's Energy Secretary Hazel) O'Leary told Congress that the Department had exercised too little oversight and authority." Roy Schwitters, SSC Director, characterized the DOE's massive oversight efforts in an interview with the New York Times as "the revenge of the C students."
The safety Tiger Teams described in the novel were one of Watkins' most controversial and morale-destroying innovations. The "Siciliano memo" scenario of the novel bears some resemblance to events involving one Joseph Cipriano, the head of the SSC Program Office in Dallas, who was ordered by Watkins to report directly to him. Cipriano's office grew to sixty permanent staffers, with forty more staff on temporary assignment from elsewhere in the DOE. O'Leary, when she took over from Watkins, did indeed assign yet another thirty DOE staff to Cipriano's office for SSC oversight in the year before the project was terminated.
The existence of Cipriano's secret memos to Watkins, apparently highly critical of many aspects of the SSC project, became known to Congress in 1991, and they became a bone of contention between the DOE and Congressman Howard Wolpe, an SSC opponent and Chairman of House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations. The DOE at first denied that the memoranda existed and then attempted to claim "Executive Privilege" to avoid producing them. Finally, in response to great pressure, the DOE permitted Wolpe's subcommittee staff members to come to Watkins' office to read the Cipriano memos but would not allow copies of them to be made.
In 1993, in the aftermath of the 280-150 House vote to kill the SSC, another Cipriano memo surfaced, this time the draft of a letter to Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. A group called "Project on Government Oversight" somehow obtained the document directly from the word processor in Cipriano's own office and delivered it to the Washington Post. According to Physics Today, the letter suggested that the immediate removal of SSC Director Roy Schwitters "may be the only way to keep the lab from falling apart before the Senate vote." It claimed that morale at the SSC lab was low and that "confidence in the existing management is practically nonexistent and costs and schedule trends are worsening at an alarming rate." Cipriano reportedly suggested putting the project on hold for a year to resolve the management problems and to provide time for the preparation of "reduced scope or phased implementation alternatives" for the SSC's construction. Cipriano proposed that the SSC's 1994 budget be cut from $640 million to $400 million to honor existing contracts but not to start new ones. The memo appears to have been a last-ditch attempt to preserve the DOE bureaucracy associated with the SSC by sacrificing the physics goals of the project.
(c) The SSC cost escalation -- When Reagan announced the approval of the SSC project in 1987, the cost widely quoted in the news media was $4.4 billion. This was a cost quoted in 1988 dollars which did not include inflation and did not include the cost of the detectors needed to actually do physics experiments with the machine. Later in 1987 the DOE provided a revised cost estimate including a modest allowance for inflation and an added $0.5 billion for detectors, bringing the total to about $5.3 billion. Even at the time, it was admitted that the inflation rate and detector cost used were rather low. In early 1989 under the new Bush Administration, the SSC cost estimate rose to $5.9 billion when a more realistic inflation rate was used. This disingenuous cost concealment by the DOE, which had been a successful tactic for smaller DOE construction projects in the past, proved disastrous for a project with the visibility of the SSC. It gave the impression, even in its beginning stages, that the cost of the SSC project was out of control.
After intense design work on the SSC project was begun the previous preliminary design of the superconducting magnets with 4 centimeter apertures, done by the Central Design Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, was carefully reexamined. This process was carried out in the highly conservative justify-every-step-with-a-paper-trail bureaucratic environment that had been created by Admiral Watkins. After some agonizing the SSC design team led by Dr. Helen Edwards, previously of Fermilab, decided that to be sure the design would work it would be necessary to increase the dipole magnet aperture from 4 to 5 centimeters. This decision was reviewed by a group of outside accelerator experts. Although there was a minority within the review group that argued for holding to the 4 cm apertures, the majority consensus of the review confirmed the decision to change to 5 cm apertures as a conservative choice that would assure successful operation of the machine.
The Drell Panel, a separate group composed mainly of theoretical physicists, considered the option of reducing the operating energy and scaling back the physics goals of the project in order to hold to the old budget. They rejected this option as unacceptable. The 5 cm magnet design change raised the price of the SSC from $5.9 billion to a hotly debated new cost that stabilized at about $8.6 billion.
When the Clinton Administration replaced the Bush Administration, an early budget-tightening decision was made to stretch out the SSC construction schedule, moving the date of completion from 1999 to 2003. This decision had the effect of increasing the overall cost of the project while reducing its yearly cost. The result was that the total SSC cost rose by about $2 billion, from $8.6 billion to over $10 billion. Later in 1993, a month before the SSC was terminated, the DOE's Baseline Validation Report advocated another increase in the safety and contingency margins, moving the completion date to 2004 and increasing the cost to $11.5 billion.
The media coverage of the SSC project dealt only superficially with these increasing cost figures. It created the impression of another out-of-control government project with a cost that had almost tripled since its start and might double again before the project was finished.
I can see four separate reasons for the rising SSC cost: (1) the initial deliberate "lowball" attempt by the DOE under the Reagan Administration to conceal the true cost of the SSC project by ignoring or minimizing inflation and leaving out the approximately $1 billion cost of the detector systems that the accelerator would need; (2) the 1989 redesign of the accelerator, motivated in part by the more conservative SSC management attitude that had its seeds in the escalation of DOE oversight under Admiral Watkins; (3) the decision by the Clinton Administration to delay completion of the project by four years; and (4) loss of confidence in the SSC project by several budget review groups as a result of the previous increases and the evidence of management problems, which caused them to repeatedly add more and more contingencies and safety factors to the estimated cost of the project.
(d) Foreign contributions to the SSC -- Arranging foreign contributions to a large physics project like the SSC is reminiscent of the fairy tale of the Little Red Hen: no one wants to do the work of growing the wheat, milling the flour, and baking the bread, but everyone is eager to eat it. Physicists from every country will want to use the forefront facility once it is completed, but no national government wants to help pay for constructing a big facility in another country. In the case of the SSC, this problem was further complicated by the schizophrenic view asserted in Congress and elsewhere that (a) there had to be major foreign contributions but (b) the cutting-edge technological spin-offs from the SSC should only benefit US industrial firms, not foreign ones. Many members of Congress nevertheless viewed foreign participation in the SSC as a key issue. They took the failure of such contributions to appear as a deal-breaking breach of the agreement between Congress and the DOE.
The memoirs of former Presidential Science and Technology Advisor D. Alan Bromley, as mentioned above, describe his failed attempt to arrange a meeting in late 1991 or early 1992 between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa, during which Bush was to directly ask Miyazawa for a billion dollar Japanese contribution to the SSC. The request was deleted from Bush's agenda, never made, and as a result the SSC project suffered an ultimately fatal blow.
(e) SSC Rhetoric in Congress -- The rising SSC costs and increasing opposition to the SSC produced a tendency towards hyperbole among the supporters of the project, as can be seen from some of the quotations used in the section breaks of this novel. This rhetoric, modeled on similar tactics used by NASA but executed here less effectively, produced a backlash which damaged the credibility of the project and focused Congressional attention on its potential technological spin-offs (or lack thereof) rather than on the intrinsic scientific and intellectual merit of the project.
The sad thing is that many of the outrageous assertions made by the desperate SSC supporters contain a kernel of truth, and phrased more carefully would, in many cases, become accurate statements of the technological benefits that our culture has derived from past support of basic research in science. It is acknowledged in the physics community that active researchers do not spend enough time communicating the excitement and accomplishments of their field to the public in general and the U.S. Congress in particular. Here, however, we see an example of the down-side of such communication when it is provided under pressure.
The exaggerated and counter-productive claims made on the floor of Congress were the carefully phrased statements of scientist SSC advocates, after they had been modified, dumbed-down, filtered, and hyped by receptive and well-meaning congressional staff and Members of Congress. Descriptions of the accomplishments of basic research in science in general became the accomplishments of high energy physics. Statements of how high energy physics had aided in the development of the computer industry, for example, were transmuted into claims that the field had single-handedly invented and developed the computer. And so on. The lesson here is that one-shot communication under the time pressure and the information vacuum that are characteristic of a hot Congressional debate can be ineffective and even dangerous.
(f) Congressional opposition and the SSC votes -- The opposition to the SSC in Congress was surprisingly slow to develop. Even in 1991, after the official DOE cost of the project had moved from the initially announced $4.4 billion to $8.6 billion, an attempt to kill the project in the House was voted down by a margin of 251 to 165. However, the worsening US economy, the freshman Congressmen swept in with Clinton, and the rising emphasis in Congress on balanced budgets and cost cutting, particularly after the 1992 election, resulted in House votes to kill the project of 232 to 181 in 1992 and 280 to 150 in 1993.
The lukewarm support of the SSC by the Clinton Administration in 1993 and the decision to stretch out and escalate the cost of the project also became large factors in its demise. Science Advisor John Gibbons failed to provide the support for the project that his predecessor, Alan Bromley, had. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary proclaimed during her confirmation hearings that she was "not passionate" about the SSC. By September, 1993 when her passions finally became somewhat aroused, she only took ineffective steps to re-shuffle the major SSC contractors and increase the already bloated DOE oversight of the project. Neither President Clinton nor Vice President Gore was willing to make broad personal appeals, as George Bush had, on behalf of the SSC to House Members before the two critical votes in June and October.
Despite unfavorable votes in the House, the SSC was saved by a maneuver of the House Leadership in 1992 and was almost saved again in 1993 by the same maneuver. When the House and Senate differ in their legislation, a Joint Conference Committee composed of members of both bodies is appointed to resolve the differences. In both 1992 and 1993 House Speaker Tom Foley appointed as House representatives on the Conference Committee only Members who were SSC supporters. Consequently, in both 1992 and 1993 the Conference Committee agreed to the Senate version of the legislation which included continuation of the SSC project. However, any Conference Committee action must be ratified by the House as a whole. In 1993 a floor fight led by Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) rejected the Conference Committee report by a vote of 282 to 143. At this point the SSC supporters conceded defeat, and the project officially died.
Opposition in Congress came from several sources: (1) fiscal conservatives like Boehlert and Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas) who appeared to understand the scientific value of the project but felt that on balance the nation could not afford the expense at this time, (2) "sore losers" of the competition for choosing the SSC site, who felt that the decision to place the project in Texas was politically motivated and were resentful of the power in Congress of the Texas delegation; and (3) scalp-hunters who would soon face tough re-election campaigns and who wanted a large and conspicuous government project which they could say they had killed. The latter group included many of the 114 freshman members of the House who had been swept in with Clinton, about 70% of whom voted to kill the SSC.
Freshman Congressman Jon Matthews (D - Oregon) and his staff assistant Joe Ramsey are fictional. Senator Bumpers and Congressmen Boehlert, Slattery, Eckart, and Wolpe are real.
(g) Who killed the SSC? -- There is plenty of blame to go around. Here is my list of the seven top contributors to the demise of the project, in roughly chronological order:
(1) The Central Design Group led by Prof. Maury Tigner of Cornell and based at LBL in the 1980s, for producing an initial SSC design in 1986 that turned out to be marginal, leading to the eventual redesign that increased the project cost by $2.7 billion.
(2) President Ronald Reagan and members of his administration, for allowing the DOE to misrepresent the cost of the project in 1987 by minimizing the effects of inflation and by omitting the $1 billion cost of the detectors needed for the project.
(3) President George Bush and members of his administration, for appointing Admiral Watkins as Energy Secretary and for failing to formally request Japanese participation in the project when he had the opportunity.
(4) Admiral James D. Watkins, for crippling the SSC project with a human wave of DOE bureaucrats and Navy-oriented managers that slowed and hampered every aspect of the project, increased its estimated cost, and destroyed Congressional confidence in the project's management.
(5) Dr. Roy Schwitters, SSC Director, for permitting the expenditure of DOE funds on office amenities (paintings and decorative plants) and morale-boosting gatherings like Christmas parties. The fraction of SSC funds involved was very small and amounted to only a few dollars per employee, but its impact in Congress was quite large and helped to create the impression of poor management which led to the project's termination.
(6) President Bill Clinton and members of his administration, for appointing Hazel O'Leary as Energy Secretary, for deciding to stretch out the time scale of the project by four years and thereby adding $2 to 4 billion to its estimated cost, and for "benign neglect" instead of support for the project in Congress.
(7) The United States Congress, for its failure of will in seeing the project through to completion after initial approval, for failing to understand the scientific purpose and value of the SSC project, for debating entirely the wrong issues in deciding its fate, and for consistently failing to develop any long term science policy for the nation that can be depended on from one year to the next.
(h) Where did the SSC money go? -- The cancellation of the SSC project produced a billion dollar windfall in 1993 that could be diverted to other projects in the general category of Energy and Water. There is some evidence that at least some of the SSC funds went to such porkbarrel projects rather than to an actual reduction in the federal budget, but it is very difficult to track the windfall or to establish a correspondence with other projects in the slippery interior of the pork barrel.
The Tombigbee Waterway mentioned in the novel is a real ongoing federal porkbarrel project being carried out by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alabama and Mississippi, but its connection with the SSC cancellation is purely fictional (if rather plausible).
(i) The aftermath of the SSC killing -- It is perhaps worth noting that the described scalp-hunting strategy of certain Congressmen did not, in most cases, facilitate their re-election. For example, in my own Washington State none of the five members of the House who voted to kill the SSC in 1993 (Cantwell, Inslee, Kreidler, Swift, and Unsoeld) was re-elected in 1994, and Speaker Tom Foley, a key SSC supporter, was also defeated. The "Curse of the SSC" in the novel, for whatever reasons, seems to have been a real phenomenon. Of the four co-sponsors of the 1992 SSC cancellation amendment in the House who were at the center of SSC opposition, only Sherwood Boehlert was re-elected while Dennis Eckart (D - Ohio), Jim Slattery (D - Kansas), and Howard Wolpe (D - Michigan) were all defeated in 1994. Overall, of those Members of the House who voted to kill the SSC on June 15, 1993, about a quarter of them either lost or did not run in the 1994 election. On the other hand, of those who voted to continue the SSC, six-sevenths were re-elected and returned to office. No comparable pattern is apparent in votes on the Space Station during the same period.
The some two thousand people, physicists, engineers, and support staff that were directly or indirectly employed at the SSC laboratory all lost their jobs. The carefully assembled pool of accelerator construction expertise brought to a focus in Waxahachie has been dissipated and lost. The high energy physics community in the USA remains in a state of disarray. The field has been badly wounded by the SSC decision. There is an ongoing effort within the DOE and the US high energy physics community to join the physics effort at the CERN LHC project. However, any large scale participation in the CERN accelerator must be negotiated at the federal level by the DOE and must include substantial contributions to CERN.
At this writing (December 1995), the DOE itself has been under attack by the new Republican-dominated 104th Congress, and for a time its continued existence was in doubt. Moreover, a Congressional Committee recently deleted from the DOE budget the $6 million intended as a first step in joining the LHC project at CERN. This will make such negotiations difficult.
The US accelerator designers have not been completely discouraged by the cancellation of the SSC project. Recently a new international effort has begun that would leapfrog over the old synchrotron technology of the SSC and LHC to initiate a new project, a linear collider, which would be able to reach effective collision energies even higher than those which would have been accessible with the SSC.
We live in interesting times.