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U.S. scientist wants millennium missile fireworks

July 4, 1998
Web posted at: 10:38 p.m. EDT (0238 GMT)
CNN's Rusty Dornin reports
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SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- In order to mark the millennium with a big-bang fireworks of the special kind, U.S. nuclear missile expert Dave Caulkins has proposed to take de-activated intercontinental ballistic missiles for a fireworks show in space.

As far as rocket science goes, Caulkins knows what he is talking about, since he once worked on the U.S. nuclear Minuteman Missile Program.

"I thought to myself, 'What can you do with these things besides kill millions of people?'" Caulkins told CNN.

"It occurred to me, hey, we can entertain millions of people, because I can have all these things inside the missile that will burn up when it enters the atmosphere," he added.

The missiles -- to be taken from the ICBM arsenal to be dismantled under international disarmament treaties -- could be launched by the military, according to Caulkins.

The missiles could be fired over the ocean, and the stages would fall into the sea when the rocket reentered the atmosphere, Caulkins says.

The resulting fireworks display would be visible for nearly 100 miles.

The idea may seem unusual, to say the least. But it is far from a crazed project.

"It seems like a reasonable thing to do. We've got all the equipment that you need," said Jonathan Knight of the New Scientist magazine.

But Milt Grissom of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told CNN that while the United States has the ICBMs and the necessary launch pads, it would cost a lot to do it safely. If something goes wrong, the missile would have to be blown up.

"That kind of monitoring system is very expensive, and you just don't willy-nilly fire a missile like that without the proper range control, which is very expensive," Grissom said.

Caulkins believes that each launch might cost about half a million dollars, which is not much more than a big city's fireworks display.

"The harder problem (than costs) is convincing people that they should do it," he said.

Correspondent Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.

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