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Explosives and Rocket-Making: 1960 and Today

Autumn 1960

My 15-year-old friends and I were deeply into rocket-making and explosives. Girls were much more complicated, but very interesting as well.

We experimented (with rockets) daily — before, during, and after school and on the weekends.

Most experiments were duds. But my friend Herb and I made some breakthroughs.

Breakthrough #1

The first breakthrough was to discover that a very powerful rocket fuel could be made by adding certain light medal powders to our gunpowder mixture. From this point on, we could shoot our homemade rockets hundreds of feet into the air.

Where did we get our chemicals? Five places, principally:

1) pharmacies

2) doctors and dentists offices (we just asked)

3) factories where our dads worked

4) the high school chemical room (yeah, we were little thieves)

5) the Stansi Scientific Company of Chicago (I posed as a mail-order PhD)

Breakthrough #2

Now that we had mastered basic rocket science, our goals became (a) to aim our rockets, and (b) to tip our rockets with explosives. The Soviets, after all, weren’t shy about all this.

The aiming part didn’t require a breakthrough. Just some fiddling with with fins and exhaust apertures.

The breakthrough came in the area of contact explosives — explosives that go boom on mere contact.

Herb and I pored over chemistry texts at the local library (funded by Andrew Carnegie) and learned the chemical structures and recipes for various contact explosives.

We made, for example, a certain harmless purple liquid and drenched a piece of notebook paper in it. We placed a piece of juicy candy on the paper and ever so gently fanned it dry. Presently, a large fly buzzed down to snack on the candy. BOOM!

Truth is, I should not be writing this. I should have died in the Fall of 1960. It is only by the Grace of God that I survived, and others around me survived, that time period.

Some other guys I knew weren’t so lucky. They blew off hands or parts of hands.

Parting Shot

I have to wonder about the Detroit underwear bomber. Here’s why.

A guy with my knowledge could get past airport security carrying what would appear to be a box of cereal and a plastic bag full of powdered milk.

And I guarantee you the consequences would be devastating.

Is al qaeda that stupid?

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