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Intelligent Machines

Mission: De-Mining

Removing land mines has always been tough. Now it’s rocket science. Engineers at Thiokol Propulsion, in cooperation with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, have developed a flare that uses surplus rocket fuel to disable mines safely. The flare is placed next to an uncovered mine and detonated from a distance. The flare burns through the mine’s casing and consumes the explosives within it, disabling it or minimizing the force of its detonation. The flare is much less hazardous than current techniques, such as deactivating the mine by hand or deliberately detonating it. Each flare uses about 100 grams of surplus propellant intended for the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters that could otherwise not be reused. An initial batch of 700 flares was made late last year, according to Thiokol program manager Carol Campbell; those flares are being tested in Kosovo and Jordan.

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