The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva is 27km long. It’s an incredible machine capable of releasing 14 TeV (tera-electronvolts) of energy, which gave the Europeans the lead in experimental physics. But back in the early 80s, there was going to be another beast that could have obliterated the LHC’s record figures right here in the USA: the Desertron.
Desertron. What an awesome name. Officially — and for the boring types — it was known as the Superconducting Super Collider, a whooping 87km of tunnels capable of producing a collision energy of 40 TeV. This titanic complex was going to be operative in Waxahachie, Texas, south of Dallas.
Conceived in 1983, the Desertron project started in 1987, when Congress approved $US4.4 billion for the project, which was going to be directed by University of Texas at Austin’s physicist Roy Schwitters.
Construction began in 1991 but Desertron was cancelled only two years later in favour of another major endeavor: the International Space Station. Some argue that the ISS wasn’t as good for science as Desertron. The idea of the ISS was born after the end of the Cold War and, rather than being a tool for scientific supremacy, it represented a new era of international cooperation in a world that needed to be free of the risk of nuclear apocalypse. But more than the political symbol of a new world, the ISS was also designed to turn part of the former Soviet Union’s military industrial complex into an era of peaceful international space collaboration.
The project soon went over budget, with the cost estimation reaching $US14 billion when it was cancelled in 1993. At that time, $US2 billion had been spent already, distributed between buildings, hardware and the construction of 23.5km of tunnels.