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Release: Immediate

UI's Louis Frank re-submits $60 million small comet proposal to NASA

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa space physicist Louis Frank said Monday that he plans to continue to seek funding for a mission to further investigate his revolutionary small comet theory, despite being disappointed that his $60 million spacecraft proposal wasn't funded by NASA as part of the agency's Small Explorer Program.

UI researchers received a letter Monday from NASA's Wesley T. Huntress Jr., associate administrator for space science, stating that the UI project wasn't selected from among 54 applications. Frank said that he will immediately resubmit his proposal, called "Cyclops," to NASA for next year's "Mid-Explorer" spacecraft competition.

"I'm just surprised and disappointed that we and the American public won't be able to see small ice comets exploding, a phenomenon taking place hundreds of miles above their heads," he said. "The multiple high-speed images that would have been

taken of these small, exploding ice comets amount to motion pictures, similar to those taken of the Mars surface by the Mars Rover. The proposed project offered both good science and spectacular images for the public, the press and the scientific community." Frank, 59, said that re-submitting the proposal next year means that instead of being scheduled for a September 2000 launch, the earliest Cyclops could be in orbit would be 2003 or 2004.

In May, Frank presented researchers at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union with a series of photographs taken by cameras aboard NASA's Polar spacecraft as proof of his 11-year-old theory that thousands of 20-to-40-ton ice comets disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere each day, providing enough water, over the age of the Earth, to fill the oceans and perhaps plant the seeds of life.

Frank says that the project is necessary because his small comet theory has implications for nearly all aspects of human existence.

"The Polar spacecraft images show that we have a large population of previously undetected objects in the Earth's vicinity," he says. "This relatively gentle cosmic rain and its possible simple organic compounds may well have nurtured the development of life on our planet."

"With Cyclops, we'll intercept several small comets with cameras mounted on a spacecraft in a circular orbit at an altitude of about 600 miles. Our first mission will be to observe the amount of water coming into the atmosphere and identify several simple organic molecules contained in the small comets," says Frank, who, along with UI senior researcher John Sigwarth co-discovered the small comets and designed the cameras aboard the Polar spacecraft.

Cyclops is named for its large camera eye which continually searches for the arrival of a small comet's water cloud just above Earth's atmosphere. Upon detection of the comet-like cloud, two cameras are activated to provide movies of the objects at different wavelengths.

Frank developed his small comet theory in 1986 after some of the photographs taken by NASA's Dynamics Explorer 1, a spacecraft designed to take pictures of the northern lights, contained unexplained dark spots. After eliminating other explanations, Frank concluded that the spots represented clouds of water vapor being released high above Earth's atmosphere by the disintegration of small ice comets. He noted that their small size -- 20-to-30-feet in diameter -- and faint glow made observation difficult. Not until the 1996 launch of Polar, with its two sensitive visible light cameras and one far-ultraviolet light camera, was there a chance to photograph the small comets with greater resolution.

Co-investigators named in the Cyclops proposal are: Ralph C. Bohlin of the Space Telescope Science Institute; Charles M. Brown, George R. Carruthers and Robert R. Meier of the Naval Research Laboratory; Michael R. Combi and Thomas M. Donohue of the University of Michigan; Paul D. Feldman of Johns Hopkins University; and Sigwarth of the University of Iowa.