Science: Sun Gun

Science: Sun Gun
The scene was Allied press headquarters in Paris on a rainy summer day.
Facing the half-dozing correspondents, Lieut. Colonel John A. Keck,
onetime Pittsburgh engineer and now chief of Allied technical
intelligence on German weapons, began quietly: “This will make Buck
Rogers seem as if he lived in the Gay '90s.” He proceeded to unfold the
improbable story of what German scientists were up to when V-E day
interrupted them. At a research center in Hillersleben a group of them were solemnly
laying plans for a “space station” 5,100 miles up, from which a “sun
gun” would have the whole earth at its mercy. Assuming that at that
height a floating structure would be beyond the pull of the earth's
gravity, they proposed to build a platform for launching rockets into
interstellar space and for harnessing the sun's heat. By use of a huge
reflector, like a burning mirror, they calculated that enough heat
could be focused on a chosen area to make an ocean boil or to burn up a
city in a flash. Their sun gun could also be used, they pointed out, to
produce steam and electric power at global receiving stations. German physicists had already figured out the sun gun's necessary size
and composition . Presumably they also
had ideas about how the space station might be kept under control and be supplied
with air for its inhabitants. Unperturbed by Allied officers' skeptical
crossexamination, the Germans coolly announced they were certain the
thing could be done within 50 or 100 years. In a learned editorial the science-minded New York Times painstakingly
picked flaws in the sun-gun idea, concluded austerely: “There is reason
… to believe that the rocket experts were merely dreaming over their
ersatz beer.” But what the Germans had already done was amazing
enough.*Lieut. Colonel Keck'revealed a long list of discovered Nazi
contraptions. Items: J A V-2 rocket which could be fired into the air from a submarine
submerged 300 feet under water. A 32-inch railroad cannon, probably the biggest gun ever made , which fired an 8-ton shell. An antiaircraft rocket capable of exploding within ten yards of a
target ten miles in the air.† An infrared telescope sight enabling snipers to see targets at night.
A rocket with a range of 1,200-1,800 miles.
Through a spy system, Allied officers got reports during the war by
German scientific work, but there were still surprises. The scientists
talked freely and most thought that Hitler had lost the war to
diverting too much effort to “screwball'' weapons. Lieut. Colonel Keck
and his staff, all hardheaded engineers, considered the Germans'
experiments, even the sun gun, no laughing matter. Said Keck soberly:
“We were impressed with their practical engineering minds and their
distaste for the fantastic.”