Missing ‘Big Bang’ Antarctic Telescope Found

by Nancy Atkinson on June 1, 2012

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University of Minnesota faculty and students pose in front of a telescope that, for a nerve-wracking couple of days, went missing aboard a truck while it was being delivered to the NASA-run Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. The picture was taken in 2009 at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. (Courtesy Shaul Hanany, University of Minnesota)

Astronomers and students from the University of Minnesota hoping to search for radiation left over from the Big Bang instead spent the past few days looking for their telescope – a 6,000 lb (2729 kg) behemoth of a science experiment. Just how does a telescope that big go missing? You could ask the truck driver who was supposed to deliver it to a NASA facility in Palestine, Texas, but he’s not talking and police in Texas won’t press charges against him. But the good news is that the missing telescope has been found – sitting at a truck wash — after a frantic cross-country search.

The telescope is a high-tech irreplaceable piece of equipment that is 22 ft high 15 ft wide (6.5 X 4.5 meters). It is designed to detect radiation from the Big Bang and it took fifteen people 8 years to build. The telescope will be shipped to Antarctica, where it will be attached to a giant balloon in December and sent 110,000 feet (33,500 meters) into the atmosphere.

Last Friday, a Minnesota trucking company sent off one of their trucks with telescope inside. But by Monday there was no word from the trucker and the scientists started to panic when the truck didn’t show up at the NASA facility. Calls to the trucker went unanswered. The owner of the trucking company sent his son to Dallas to search for the truck and the driver. Their only clue was a credit card charge at a Dallas truck stop.

The son found the driver, asleep in the cab of the truck, but the trailer, with the precious cargo inside, was nowhere to be seen.

The driver said he left the trailer at a hotel parking lot, but when the searchers arrived, it wasn’t there. More searching, and the trucker clammed up and wouldn’t provide any more clues or reasons for why he didn’t deliver his cargo.

Finally another employee of the trucking company found the trailer sitting at a truck wash in Dallas.

“If they would not have found that particular trailer at that time, maybe half a day or a day later someone would have stolen it and taken it for metal or just for scrap,” said physics professor Shaul Hanany, the project’s lead researcher.

NASA unpacked the crate Thursday morning and said the telescope was unharmed and is in great shape.

The owner of the trucking company said sometimes they do have trouble with drivers, but he has never had anything like this happen, especially with such a unique instrument. He wondered, why couldn’t the driver be hauling a load of potato chips instead of something that will solve the mysteries of the Universe?

The driver has been fired, and the telescope will head to Antarctica as planned.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

gopher652003 June 1, 2012 at 12:59 AM

… I’m surprised they didn’t have GPS trackers in the cab and trailer, just in case. Isn’t that standard operating procedure for a lot of shipping companies now? A lot of theft in the shipping industry, unfortunately.

Kevin Frushour June 1, 2012 at 8:28 AM

Especially with a cargo like this!

Stou Sandalski June 1, 2012 at 6:27 AM

8 years to build? I would have followed the truck the whole way

MeyerKaty June 2, 2012 at 5:27 PM

my classmate’s mom made $ 18460 l ast week. s he is ge tting p aid o n the l aptop a nd mo ved in a $ 571 600 house. A ll sh e did w as g et lu cky an d fo llow the t ips ma de cl ear o n th is si te ===>> ?????? http://getitmust.blogspot.com/m

ClarkTommy63 June 3, 2012 at 7:29 PM

my roomate’s ex-wife got paid $15158 the prior week. she is making an income on th e laptop and got a $584800 home. All she did was get fortunate and set to work the advice shown on this web site ===>> ?????? http://enternet-Job.blogspot.com

D W June 1, 2012 at 9:33 AM

When the SOHO satellite was ready to launch it was followed all the way to the launch site by representatives of the insurance company.

A trip not without incident.. (tractor tyres turn out to be good shock absorbers)

Skipdallas1 June 1, 2012 at 12:41 PM

Something very odd about the actions of that truck driver. Almost like he was involved in the theft of the trailer. (inside job). I wonder if he even knew what he was hauling.

ritwiksundar June 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM

he wouldn’t sleep in a nearby cab if he’s involved .poor driver has become a scapegoat

Merryb June 1, 2012 at 6:30 PM

are you kidding? Poor Driver? He lost his trailer. He was not in contact with the company for days. He did not perform his job to the requirements and so got fired. who cares if he was involved or not in some scheme to steal it. And I know every driver has a manifest that details the packages he is delivering from years of receiving freight. Please!!!

Ken Lord June 1, 2012 at 9:20 PM

It’s almost as if ritwiksundar is the driver defending himself :)

The cargo is irrelevant, he had a duty and either failed with utter incompetence or had criminal intentions. Potato chips or gold bars, he failed his company and the company’s client.

I wonder if the police at least confirmed if he had a valid driver’s license.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 1, 2012 at 2:35 PM

It’s the American half-ass work ethic!

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 1, 2012 at 2:35 PM

It’s the American half-ass work ethic!

Skipdallas1 June 1, 2012 at 5:01 PM

If you think the average American worker is like Homer Simpson, then you know little about the true American work ethic. “The Simpson’s” is a satirical absurd animated comedy. Funny as hell, but not a very accurate slice of America.

mike davey June 4, 2012 at 11:18 PM

Are you trying to tell us that the average American worker isn’t a jaundiced beer guzzling lazy two haired moron who once had a job as an astronaut?

Huh. Go figure.

In Rod We Trust!

mike davey June 4, 2012 at 11:18 PM

Are you trying to tell us that the average American worker isn’t a jaundiced beer guzzling lazy two haired moron who once had a job as an astronaut?

Huh. Go figure.

In Rod We Trust!

Skipdallas1 June 5, 2012 at 1:07 PM

Yes, as funny as that would be, we are are not a collection of Homers! :-)

ritwiksundar June 1, 2012 at 2:05 PM

why would they fire poor driver ??had he been told what he was hauling ?? poor fellow was tired and was asleep in a cab, why blame him ??its business as usual for him .. had he known about this bigbang contraption he wouldn’t have been sloppy

ritwiksundar June 1, 2012 at 2:05 PM

why would they fire poor driver ??had he been told what he was hauling ?? poor fellow was tired and was asleep in a cab, why blame him ??its business as usual for him .. had he known about this bigbang contraption he wouldn’t have been sloppy

Marvin June 1, 2012 at 3:14 PM

The driver was probably drunk or on drugs. He didn’t even know where he had left the trailer, which in and of itself may have been reason to fire him.My Son is an experienced truck driver. His first truck he drove he had to pick up at a truck stop after the driver was fired. That driver was drunk and backed into another parked truck when he arrived. The truck he hit was full of explosives (no explosion thank God). The truck had to be scrubbed clean of all the bear bottles and cans and the smell was awful!

anthonydewar420 June 1, 2012 at 5:55 PM

Maybe because he was required to unload cargo at a predetermined destination and he decided to leave it at a truck wash and drive away for days. YOU SERIOUSLY DO NOT BLAME HIM?!?!

anthonydewar420 June 1, 2012 at 5:55 PM

Maybe because he was required to unload cargo at a predetermined destination and he decided to leave it at a truck wash and drive away for days. YOU SERIOUSLY DO NOT BLAME HIM?!?!

krenshala June 1, 2012 at 6:14 PM

My guess is its a combination of both — failed to deliver in a timely manner, and “lost” the trailer he was responsible for. Either by itself would probably be enough, depending on the cargo. The two together tells me that at best he’s incompetent, and at worst may have been attempting to profit from theft.

Torbjörn Larsson June 1, 2012 at 4:05 PM

Usually I would have chipped in here, but I see my work is done already.

[/goes away to satisfy a sudden craving for potato chips, which all come out at the wash.]

ToSeek June 8, 2012 at 2:50 AM

I was told by a fellow Goddard employee that they had a driver in charge of a truck delivering a multimillion-dollar satellite from Goddard to the launch site at Vandenburg. Somewhere along the way, he and the truck went missing. After some investigating, they found that he’d visited his ex-wife, they’d gotten into a fight, she’d called the police, and he was sitting in jail. Ever since then NASA has had trackers in all of their trucks.

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