"All sorts of efforts were being made, during the late 50's, to increase propellant densities, and I was responsible (not purposely, but from being taken seriously when I didn't expect to be) for one of the strangest. Phil Pomerantz, of BuWeps, wanted me to try dimethyl mercury, Hg(CH3)2, as a fuel. I suggested that it might be somewhat toxic and a bit dangerous to synthesize and handle, but he assured me that it was (a) very easy to put together, and (b) as harmless as mother's milk. I was dubious, but told him that I'd see what I could do. I looked the stuff up, and discovered that, indeed, the synthesis was easy, but that it was extremely toxic, and a long way from harmless.
As I had suffered from mercury poisoning on two previous occasions and didn't care to take a chance on doing it again, I thought that it would be an excellent idea to have somebody else make the compound for me. So I phoned Rochester, and asked my contact man at Eastman-Kodak if they would make a hundred pounds of dimethyl mercury
and ship it to NARTS.
I heard a horrified gasp, and then a tightly controlled voice (I could hear the grinding of teeth beneath the words) informed me that if they were silly enough to synthesize that much dimethyl mercury, they would, in the process fog every square inch of photographic film in Rochester, and that, thank you just the same, Eastman was not interested. The receiver came down with a crash, and I sat back to consider the matter. An agonizing reappraisal seemed to be indicated."
Wow - a rocket fuel that would almost certainly kill everyone within 200 yards of a launch site. Great idea!
People used to do all kinds of shit that we'd freak out about today and, mostly, they were just fine.
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