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Arecibo’s suspended instrument platform has collapsed onto dish

The suspended 900-ton instrument panel of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed early today, crashing down onto the radio telescope’s dish.

[Ramon Lugo, director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida] says no one was near the dish when the platform fell. But he did not have all the details on how the structure came down. He believes it was because of a failure of one of the remaining cables connecting the platform to one of three support towers. These cables were carrying extra stress following the two previous failures. And since the Thanksgiving holiday, Lugo says, wires were breaking in these remaining cables at a rate of about one a day. He says he told NSF the structure only had a week or two remaining before it would collapse.

They plan on figuring out exactly what caused the collapse, but that is only to facilitate the planned decommissioning and removal of the telescope.

To me, this is another indicator of the arriving dark age. Earlier American generations would not only have never allowed this facility to fall into such disrepair, they would have never considered dismantling it. Instead, they would be planning how to make it bigger and better. Not today.

Conscious Choice cover

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


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  • Joe

    I would hope that someone sees the value in that location and builds a modern version – Arecibo II. As it stands China has once again passed us in a technology field. We need to get our act together. Social ills can start to be solved by giving people a goal. Here is one. Make it part of a broader education and science minded society and then take the brakes off.

  • Milt

    As suggested, a bellwether of what may be a new dark age.

    As an aside, I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Alan F. Kay, who helped to develop the original scalar feed at Arecibo Observatory, and I can only imagine, were he here now, what his take on present developments might be. Afterward, he went on — unlike Al Gore — to actually take part in developing the Internet.

    Later in his long career, he devoted his resources to establishing a new form of legitimate, science-based public polling that — had it been adopted in Washington — might have led to some very different outcomes.

    As I have often observed, I was fortunate to have gown up in the first Space Age, and retired into the beginning of the second one, but now I am not so sure how all of this is going to come out. The loss of the Arecibo facility is simply incomprehensible to me, and it makes me feel very old and out of touch with the modern world.

    Rest in peace, Arecibo and Dr. Kay.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The Big Guy has probably been paid by China to make sure Arecibo II never happens.

  • LocalFluff

    I don’t see how it is a no brainer to put a new radio receiver/radar transmitter on top of that great dish. One with more sensitivity and power.

  • LocalFluff

    Add or remove a “not” in my mistyped first sentence above.

  • David

    Part of the problem is that the agencies and organizations that operate installations like this and are chronically short of funding, are also the same agencies and organizations that are all-in on leftist causes and have politicized themselves to the point that an opposing congress won’t fund them beyond minimal levels. And when the shoe turns, and you get a congress that is willing to throw a bit more money at them (and even then, it will be pocket change in government terms), the money is specifically directed to outreach programs and the like, not maintenance of the basic science facilities and staff.

  • David: I suggest you change your nickname to David E, or use your full name, if you are willing. Right now it is impossible for readers to distinguish your comments from the another commenter who is decidedly a Democratic partisan.

  • MDN

    What I’d like to know is why the instrument platform wasn’t set down onto a platform in the middle of the dish vs leaving it hanging? Surely there must have been some structure for doing so. Looking at images on line I see several posts/towers in the center of the dish presumably for this purpose.

    If this is possible, then the operating bureaucracy was criminally negligent imho. If this was not possible, then that strikes me as negligence in design as this course of events is perfectly predictable and cable maintenance/replacement must have been a design criteria. Either way I’d like to know which.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Hypothesis: contractor given contract to decommission installation, beginning by lowering receiver assembly, is unable to find crew, or afford crew, willing to work around / under receiver assembly. Accident accidentally is allowed to happen, accidentally solving dilemma. Scrapping can now begin.

  • Col Beausabre

    MDN – Several possible contractors looked into the job and walked away saying it was too dangerous

    “After the break on November 6, engineers inspected the rest of the cables and discovered new breaks as well as slippage from some of the sockets on the towers. Multiple engineering companies reviewed the damage. They determined that the telescope could collapse because it is “in danger of catastrophic failure” and the cables are weaker than expected.

    Even if engineers could safely fix all the damage and add cables to support the telescope, it would likely have stability issues in the future.

    Joe – “I would hope that someone sees the value in that location and builds a modern version”

    But not at Arecibo. As Bob Zee has repeatedly pointed out, Earth telescopes are obsolete. The place to build telescopes is in orbit or, in the case of radio astronomy, on the far side of the moon. Here’s a mission for a lunar colony and a goal for our country to strive for, And by the way, build and operate it through a private foundation, Mount Palomar was built without a penny of government funds, there’s no reason we can’t build the Zimmerman observatory the same way, Let’s get the kickstarter campaign rolling!

    The latest review revealed that damage to the telescope could not be stabilized without risking staff and the construction team. This led to the NSF making the decision to decommission the telescope after 57 years.”

  • pzatchok

    I am just taking a WA Guess here but I bet it would take about a billion dollars to build a new better one there and then it would need a billion dollar endowment just to pay for maintenance.

    Those are possible numbers to reach.

    The real question is will a new unit be able to do the needed research to advance science?

    A remote operated lunar facility would cost way more than expected at this time. We can not even build a new space station in Leo let alone on the gritty hazardous Moon.

  • wayne

    OTD in Space – Nov. 15, 2018:
    Green Bank’s 300-Foot Telescope Collapses

  • Steve

    This is what you get by being 27 Trillion dollars in debt. Expect more of the same.

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