Russian scientist Eugene Podkletnov claimed in 1996 that he and colleagues at Tampere University in Finland had created a device that seemed to shield the pull of gravity, causing objects held above the device to weigh about 2 percent less than normal.
Podkletnov's claims, leaked prior to their scheduled publication in a respected British scientific journal, created an immediated sensation. But then, for reasons not fully explained, he withdrew his research from publication, leaving many to wonder if his claims were groundless.
Scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama reportedly took an immediate interest in Podkletnov's work. But after trying to duplicate his alleged experiments without success, they decided recently that the only thing to do was to bring in Podkletnov himself.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, NASA officials arrived in Columbus, Ohio with Podkletnov on May 7, specifically to talk antigravity with researchers at a company called Superconductive Components.
"Ten years ago, physicists would have said this stuff is Star Trek -- impossible to do," said NASA's Ron Koczor, associate director of the Space Science Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center. "But if Eugene's work can be duplicated independently, this will change totally how the world does business."
Though Podkletnov said his device only reduced gravity by 2 percent, that would be a huge accomplishment, experts agree. Albert Einstein reportedly believed but could not prove that it should be possible to create physical shielding to block gravity waves. If it can be done, even a little, it might radically change the way airplanes and rockets fly, the way heavy objects are moved, and much more.
But, so far, no other scientist has been able to replicate Podkletnov's results, and Podkletnov himself says he doesn't know why his experiment worked.
"This is an entirely new field of knowledge," he said. "We can't understand everything. This is physics, chemistry, ceramic technology, electrical engineering and more."
At the heart of Podkletnov's experiment was a 12-inch superconductive ceramic disk, spinning rapidly inside a container of liquid nitrogen. He said all objects placed above the spinning disk showed a small drop in weight.
So NASA approached Superconductive Components in Columbus, awarding the company a $70,000 grant in February to replicate one of Podkletnov's ceramic disks.
If experiments with that first disk are promising, much larger grants could follow, according to James Gaines, vice president and general manager of Superconductive Components.
"When his idea first hit the Internet, hundreds of people were trying to duplicate it," Gaines said. "Now, it's winnowed down to the strong-hearted people with a lot of money."
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