Quote of the day—John D. Clark

If your propellants flow into the chamber and ignite immediately, you’re in business. But if they flow in, collect in a puddle, and then ignite, you have an explosion which generally demolishes the engine and its immediate surroundings. The accepted euphemism for this sequence of events is a “hard start.”

John D. Clark
1972
I G N I T I O N !: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants
[As I told Barb after she asked me why I was laughing, “The research of rocket propellants was a risky business. Sometimes the author doesn’t treat the subject entirely seriously.”—Joe]

13 thoughts on “Quote of the day—John D. Clark

  1. I need to find a copy of that – I like the reference to CITF being hypergolic with a number of substances, including test engineers!

  2. Hard copies are selling for four figures but PDF files are available. Wonder if there is anyone left to authorize a reprint. This is one of the funniest chemistry books I’ve ever read.

  3. I found this book via Derek Lowe’s blog “In the pipeline” which has a wonderful category “Things I won’t work with”. Lowe is a research chemist (pharma, I think). He writes wonderfully entertainingly about colleagues who work on nasty things. Stuff like chlorine trifluoride: http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2008/02/26/sand_wont_save_you_this_time — where he refers to the book “Ignition” because that substance was investigated as a hypergolic rocket propellant and is discussed at some length in that book. He also mentions an accident from that research, involving a spill of a ton (!!!) of the stuff. From “Ignition” he cites that comment about test engineers:

    It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively.

    Not all of Lowe’s articles are about unstable compounds, though a fair number are. Another one, even nastier than ClF3, is O2F2, often “evocatively” rendered as FOOF. A non-explosive example is selenophenol (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2012/05/15/things_i_wont_work_with_selenophenol) in which he nicely covers the way some old time chemists would investigate the smell of the things they were making. Yikes.

  4. Look, at my age, my propellants don’t always flow into the chamber and ignite immediately.

    • Thanks. I’m nearly finished with it.

      Lots of good stuff in there. Another quote: ‘…the engine is likely to undergo what the British, with precision, call “catastrophic self-disassembly.”’

      He discusses at length the search for new fuels and oxidizers of various categories. One of the weirdest mentioned is butyl mercaptan — better known to former organic chemistry students as “the active ingredient of skunks”. Then for the other extreme, he mentions attempts to use lemon oil as a fuel.

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