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Technology

Whatever Happened to Antigravity Research?

By Alex StoneApril 27, 2006 5:00 AM

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Not long ago, it seemed antigravity research might go mainstream. Starting in the late 1980s, University of Alabama researcher Ning Li published several papers on the subject, and in 1992 grad student Evgeny Podkletnov reported "gravity reduction" in his lab at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland. Even NASA explored building an antigravity engine. Then Podkletnov withdrew his claims, NASA ditched the concept, and antigravity went the way of the water-powered auto.

But the idea won't die. Last November a Russian physicist received a U.S. patent for an antigravity craft, and then the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics gave an award to two German scientists for inventing a hyperdrive motor capable of Star Trek speeds. These proposed devices, like their predecessors, aim to cancel gravity by wrapping an object in superconducting coils to generate a magnetic field so strong that it warps space. Experiments have failed to back this theory.

Sandia National Laboratories is mulling a new antigravity test using the lab's Z accelerator machine, which generates powerful magnetic pulses. Neville Marzwell, who worked on the NASA team 10 years ago, considers antigravity theory "pretty far-fetched." Even if it is right, he notes, a hyperdrive spacecraft would most likely require a sustained magnetic field hundreds of thousands of times stronger than Earth's, far beyond the reach of existing technology. And even if such a field could be generated, Marzwell says, "you don't know what will happen to you and me."

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