Close Calls

Message 4050:  Mon Nov 23 1987 1:00am
From: Zaphod, Galactic Prez (spcman@ucscb)
Subject: Close calls...

      Hmmmmmm let's see.   There was the time when my brother and I were 
rather young and we got hold of some .22's.  I held one of mine in some pliers 
over a candle just to see what would happen.  Got quite a welt in my leg from
the casing when it went off.  Meanwhile upstairs my brother hit one with a 
hammer.... took a chunk out of his shoulder.  Of course we learned a lesson
from that...
      Then there was the time my brother got hold of some phosphorus and
decided he wanted to change it into some other form (yellow to red or 
something; I forget).  So he mixed it with somethingorother and put it in a
test tube and held it over a flame... <insert loud noise here>... we got some
nice bits of glass in our faces from that one.
     Then there was the "rocket fuel" I created... sulfur and sodium chlorate.
Yes I know chlorates are somewhat dangerous, but the ingredients had the virtue
of being available at hardware stores (the latter in a form I don't suppose I
should inform you of).  Took a piece of steel conduit, pinched one end into a
nozzle, filled it up and packed it tight, then bent the other end over and 
hammered it down.  Not a wise thing to do although it didn't go off then; I 
figured out later that what I had done by hammering it was loosen up the powder
at that end, thus increasing its burn rate.  So we stuffed a fuse in it, took
it down to the park and aimed it out over the ocean, lit it and took off (not
taking any chances you know!).  But it just sat there and fizzled, so we went
over to watch it close up.  We watched for a bit; then my friend saw the flame
suddenly lengthen and ducked.  I wasn't so lucky; I found myself lying on the
ground a few feet away.  Regained consciousness just in time to hear the echo
off the pier a half mile or so away (round trip = 7 seconds).  I didn't think
I had been injured until we got back inside in the light (it was nighttime) and
my brother and friend gave me horrified looks... turned out I had been hit in
the left eye by a piece of fuel or earth or something and a vessel of some sort
had broken... the whole white part of my eye was blood red.  Got me some weird
looks at school the next day (this was in 9th grade).  It was even worse when
it started to heal... at one point my eye was half red and half white.
     But the friend who ducked eventually got his.  He put an electrical
igniter in a fairly powerful noisemaking device to have some fun with it, then
decided to wait and put it in a drawer in one of those chests with all the
little plastic drawers.  As it happened, he apparently left the leads hanging
out, and (also as it happened) had some nicads for his RC char in the drawer
below.  So one day he goes to get the nicads, opens the drawer, and...
surprise!  That's his account of it anyway; I'm not sure I believe him... he
may have been doing something even more stupid.  But, I saw the net result...
the chest reduced to plastic powder and sheet metal.  The doctor pulled some
decent sized bits of plastic out of his hand and arm.
     Then there was my worst event.  I had learned my lesson about rockets, 
right?  Of course!  But, my friend (a different one) made these really nice 
engines... pipe sections filled with about a half pound of ammonium perchlorate
and polyurethane fuel; quite similar to the stuff used in the Space Shuttle's 
solid rocket boosters.  He insisted on igniting them electrically so that 
combustion could begin at the top, because that's the way it's done for the 
SRB's, even though I told him that it didn't make any difference in an engine
that small.  So he put igniters in them, and we went out to the beach to launch
them (skyrocket style, attached to bamboo sticks).  I had my trusty ignition
system, tested a hundred times and never failed, so it was my responsibility to
hook up  the cable to the leads that were hanging out of the rocket.  Of course
I had a safety precaution: even though the ignition system is certainly not 
supposed to put current through the ignitor as soon as it is hooked up, just 
for safety's sake I always hook the cable up to the rocket, then go around to
the other side of a sand dune and plug the other end into the ignition system.
But, as luck would have it, I forgot that time and plugged it in before 
connecting the other end to the rocket.  And of course my luck held; the
ignition system chose that moment to fail (but hey! there wouldn't have been
any point in failing before because this was the first time I had hooked it up
to something really dangerous!) and set the thing off while I was standing next
to it with my hands inches away from the nozzle.  And finally, the thing didn't
just launch, it blew up with considerable force.
     I found myself standing(!) a few feet away with plenty of blood leaking 
out.  Oddly enough, my two friends (the one who made the rocket and the one
mentioned previously) and my brother, who were standing a few feet away, 
escaped unscathed.  My youngest brother was there too, but he was watching from
a distant sand dune... I guess HE has learned from our previous escapades!  The
doc in the emergency room took lotsa little bits of metal out of my hands, 
sewed up my tendons, etc.  He kept making suspicious comments about the nature
of my injury, but I told him that I was working on an engine (hah hah) and the
exhaust system (nozzle? yuk yuk) blew up.  I ended up with $1000 in medical
bills and discovered from my father that I had a $2000 deductible on my insur-
ance.  Fun fun.
     I also ended up with a massive bruise on my leg, right underneath my
pocket.  I figured that a piece of metal had hit me flat on, thus avoiding
penetration.  But as I walked out of the dispensary with my codeine, I noticed 
bits of stuff falling down my pant leg.  I pulled my keyring out of my pocket
and found that my keys and pocketknife had been reduced to mangled metal! Well,
better them than my leg which they apparently protected... I keep them around
for good luck.
     We figured out later that there had been some moisture in the ammonium
perchlorate, which had caused the formation of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles, 
effectively turning the fuel into polyurethane FOAM.  As some of you will
realize, that increased the burn rate "considerably".
     Also, after the splint was taken off of one of my fingers, I saw a bump
which turned out to be a 1/2 inch square chunk of engine casing that the 
doctor had missed when sewing me up.  Of course by the time the splint was off
the wound had healed so there it stays... as the doctor told me, "Hey... 
people walk around with bullets in them for their entire lives... don't worry
about it!".
     Now don't you wish YOU had played around with this stuff?
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