I spent a long day last Febryary wandering around the Pima County Air and Space Museum (unclassified part of the famous Davis-Monthan "boneyard" Air Base) taking pictures. Some of the technology and its longevity are amazing.
Similarly, spent several hours on the USS Missouri in Hawaii in 2010. It also had about five generations of electronics between its construction in the 1940s and decommissioning in the late 1980s. Very easy to see where e.g., new radars were patched on. Sometimes the old system was left in place and the new one added alongside, suggesting that the old system had retained value.
Larry, I know the B-52 well. My father worked on the design of the bomb bay before I was born (and that was a long time ago).
You bring up a good point, though, that is germain to the current defense budget discussion. There are other systems, such as the KC-135, that are also very old and still working. I am concerned, though, about the rerirement of a number of fourth generation fighters. These could be updated and used going into the future for a fraction of the cost of new planes. We should have the new planes, but we cannot afford the numbers needed. The older planes, with avionics upgrades, could be flying well into the future. This is not quite the same thing as making a device that, itself, should last 10,000 years.
I think this is a thought-stimulating engineering exercise in terms of evalating durability, accuracy, etc. Two observations;
1) Alan Weis wrote a great book called "The Earth Without Us," describing what would happen to the artifacts of human civilization if we all suddenly disappeared. Geologic, biologic, and meterological forces wipe the slate in a (relatively) short time.
2) I don't want to discourage the project members, but the Stonehenge team is 4,000 years ahead of them in their real-time testing! :)
Maybe I missed it, Rob, but is there any sense of how accurate its timekeeping will be? If it's off just one second per year, it could be inaccurate by two hours and 47 minutes at the end of 10,000 years. If it's off one minute per year, it could be inaccurate by more than a week after 10,000 years.
Naperlou, I would imagine this project must involve both engineering and science. They will certainly need to determine what the materials might go through over 10,000 years. That study, I think, would be more a matter of physics than engineering.
I agree, Elizabeth. The whole point of this project -- and other clock and library projects developed by the Long Now Foundation -- is to get people thinking about the future. Founder Danny Hillis was prompted to create the foundation because he thought people were not thinking enough about the future.
Rob, that's the difference between an engineer and a scientist. I started out in physics (high energy, to be precise). We looked down on the engineers. Frankly, there were no job prospects in High Energy Physics. Even the majority of my professors and graduate students ended up programming. That helped me get a job and I eventually got a Computer Science degree. I also have worked as a Systems Engineer for an aerospace company. What I eventually was that engineering is a creative endeavour. Pure science basically involves understanding what is. Of course, it takes lots of engineering to create the devices used to obtain that understanding.
Compelling project, to be sure, Rob! It's hard to wrap my mind around the idea of a clock that can last 10,000 years. Wonder what problems will arise over even a century or so given the changing conditions that will occur over that time, not to mention the fact that the designers will be loooooong gone at the theoretical end of the clock's life span. Kind of funny, too, that no one involved in the project will ever know if they were successful (ie, if the clock does indeed last 10,000 years). Interesting to ponder, though.
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This year, Design News is getting a head start on the Fourth of July celebration. In honor of our country and its legacy of engineering innovation -- in all of its forms -- we are taking you on an alphabetical tour through all 50 states to showcase interesting engineering breakthroughs and historically significant events.
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