To the Editors:
The article “Rocket Science and Russian Spies” (November–December 2008) reminded me of a humorous incident from the days after Sputnik, the furor over the Russian “first” and the frantic efforts to catch America up. I worked at Midwest Research Institute on a subcontract from Callery Chemical Co. to find ways to make boron hydrides into potential high-energy fuels. Our project was top secret. Security agents inspected frequently.
The famous aerospace artist Chesley Bonestell had painted a beautiful rocket with green exhaust. (Remember Analytical Chemistry 101 and identifying elements by the flame color? Well, boron emitted bright green light.) The Callery team decided the painting would be a great project logo and acquired copies for the labs. A visiting security inspector had a fit, claiming the decorations might tip off a Russian spy that we were onto boron hydride fuels! All copies were confiscated and destroyed.
Richard A. Carpenter