NASA is trying to build an antigravity machine. While, most scientists say the idea is ridiculous, NASA officials say it?s worth a try, because a machine that reduces gravity even slightly at spacecraft launch sites could save significant amounts of money on fuel.

Superconductive Components of Columbus, Ohio is scheduled to finish a prototype of the device for NASA this coming May. ?To say this is highly speculative is probably putting it mildly,? admits Ron Koczor, assistant director for science and technology at NASA?s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Despite this, NASA has awarded a $600,000 contract to the company.

Critics say the idea of a ?gravity shield? violates Einstein?s fundamental laws. ?The theory of gravity is fairly well established, and I don?t see it reversing itself,? says Francis Slakey, a professor of physics at Georgetown University. He feels the project is ?wasted money that could have been used to do legitimate space science.?

Koczor says that scientists like Slakey ?don?t seem to be amenable to observing that maybe the laws [of physics] are incomplete. People used to talk about laws of conservation of mass, conservation of energy. Then all of a sudden, Einstein comes along and says those are really parts of the same thing.?

Einstein wrote that gravity is the bending of space-time that inevitably occurs around massive objects such as planets and stars. That means that theoretically, no machine or invention can make it go away.

In 1992, a Finnish scientist, Eugene Podkletnov, claimed to have built a device that produced a gravity-shielding effect. It consisted of a hot, fast-spinning, 12-inch disk of superconducting ceramic, levitating within a magnetic field. Objects above the disk, Podkletnov reported, showed a loss of weight of between about 0.5 percent and 2 percent.In 1996, researchers at Marshall Space Flight Center investigated the machine. ?The fact that it had appeared in a credible scientific journal is what really caught our eye,? Koczor says.

Koczor assembled a team that worked with scientists at the University of Alabama to build a device like the one Podkletnov used. But the researchers were unable to replicate Podkletnov?s results. The university?s Larry Smalley, a physics professor, says NASA simply failed to assemble a competent team of scientists who could give the project a serious chance.

The events ?amused me, stunned me and upset me,? says Smalley. ?It made me feel like they wasted time, a lot of money and a really golden opportunity to do something.? The main university professor involved with the project, Ning Li, has left the school to start a company that also will market a gravity-shield device.

Last year NASA decided to try again. Superconductive Components is in communication with Podkletnov as they attempt to build the antigravity machine.

The project is on or ahead of schedule, says J.R. Gaines, vice president of Superconductive Components. However, he can?t tell whether the device will actually work, since the company?s job is simply to build it to the assigned specifications. ?We don?t necessarily have a technical opinion,? he says, although ?we would certainly love to see this work.?

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