Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Journalists take a whirl in the spinner

Journalists take a whirl in the spinner

March 10, 1970: The spinner, a four-man artificial gravity testing device at the North American Rockwell Space Division plant in Downey, swings through a 150-foot circle at four revolutions per minute.

Los Angeles Times aerospace reporter Marvin Miles wrote in a March 12, 1970, article:

Remember when you whirled around and around as a youngster, then fell down on the grass in sheer dizziness?

You can get the same effect today just by turning your head quickly in a spinning car that swings through 150-foot circles in Downey.

The largest rotational device in the United States, the $500,000 facility was developed to study artificial gravity as it will be induced in America’s future space station.

By whirling such a station — or a segment of it — four to six revolutions per minute, centrifugal action will build a gravity force three-tenths to seventh-tenths that of earth’s natural gravity….

But artificial gravity has a catch to it by the name of coriolis effect, the same type of rotational effect exerted by Earth to cause water to always to spiral down the drain in the same direction in a given hemisphere.

The movement of a man — or a mass — in a rotating environment produces such an effect.

And because the 40-foot, four-man car on the big Downey spinner is only 75 feet from its rotational hub (compared with the radius of Earth) its coriolis hits with a dizzying punch at the slightest motion. …

In a half-hour test for the press Wednesday, Times photographer Larry Sharkey and I found coriolis belted us with instant confusion, like revelers too long at the bar, once the car was up to speed 4 R.P.M.

It upset the balance mechanism in our inner ears, sent disruptive messages to the brain, tricked our eyesight, stumbled our walk and threatened to embarrass us with sudden, uncontrollable nausea.

Fortunately we had been warned of this startling reaction, “somewhat like three martinis taken in a gulp” and told that it could be offset by holding the head very still and looking lengthwise to the motion of the car or at 90 degrees to this motion.

The prescription worked and there was no illness on the test run, although there were several blanched and perspiring faces among newsmen aboard the spinning car — unnoticeably — as high as 21 degrees as it turned.

Miles later reported in a Nov. 6, 1970, article that Rockwell successfully completed a week-long test of the Downey spinner.

For the top blurred photo, Times staff photographer Larry Sharkey used a long exposure with his camera probably sitting on a tripod. That photo and the one below were published in the L.A. Times with the March 12, 1970, article.

March 10, 1970: The spinner at the North American Rockwell Space Division plant in Downey. Credit: Larry Sharkey / Los Angeles Times

1 Comment

  1. September 26, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Lots of interesting space related projects happened there in Downey's Rockwell facility. I was there for a tour in the mid-1970's and saw a life size mockup of the space shuttle. We had gathered there to learn about the design of the ceramic tiles that were installed on the shuttle to protect it from the heat upon re-entry. The space industry had an immense economic effect on Southern California, and of course, the city of Downey.


Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »