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Writer Says British Astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell Was Not Brainwashed By Soviets Despite Rampant Rumors

January 31, 2013
Image Credit: The University of Manchester

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

A writer for the magazine Physics World, a publication of the Institute of Physics, says that late British astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell was not “brainwashed” by the Soviets, despite rampant rumors to the contrary.

Attempting to clear this legend up once and for all, Richard Corfield wrote in this month’s edition of the international monthly magazine about how rumors of Lovell’s brainwashing are, in-fact, just rumors.

As the story goes, Lovell visited Soviet Russia in 1963 during the height of the Cold War. During his trip, he took an unexpected tour of the Soviet Union’s new radio-telescope and space-tracking facility.

Once Lovell returned to Moscow, he was reportedly quizzed on his plans to build a larger telescope at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. At this time, this was the only telescope facility that was capable of tracking the Soviet Union´s nuclear-tipped rockets.

According to the tale, the Soviets offered to allow Lovell to remain in the USSR and build the facility there in exchange for money. However, Lovell declined the offer and returned to the UK instead.

Upon his return to England, Lovell fell ill and wrote in a 2008 memorandum that his life had “suddenly turned to dust and ashes.” After his recovery, Lovell said that the Ministry of Defense believed the illness might have been caused by a Soviet attempt to remove his memory of the recruitment offer.

Lovell was a firm believer in the transnational collaboration of scientific endeavors. He had written about this convictions during the Cold War period in a diary that the University of Manchester first made available to the public following his death last year.

In an email interview with redOrbit, Corfield said that the best evidence that Lovell was not brainwashed is the fact that there was no mention of it in his 1963 diary of the trip. He pointed out that he was only told of it later when he was debriefed.

“The tenor of the contemporary 1963 diary is uniformly positive with the only anomaly the offer of the Soviets to fund him which he immediately rejected,” Corfield said in the email. “It should also be pointed out that the 1963 diary records the Moscow discussion — of the possibility of Lovell (and family) moving to USSR — as being rather less direct than is suggested in later recollections (i.e. the 2008 account.)”

Corfield also mentioned that Lovell’s son, Bryan, told him that physical exhaustion is a plausible reason for the extraordinary astronomer’s temporary setback in the summer of 1963.

“And then on top of that — what does ‘Brainwashed’ mean? His memory was removed? It clearly wasn’t,” Corfield told redOrbit.

When asked what contributions Bernard Lovell would still be making to science if he were still alive today, Corfield said: “We can only guess what a 21st century Bernard Lovell would work on.”

“His son, Bryan, suggested to me that he might go back to the late 1930s and would tackle cosmic rays again,” he said.

However, just like other great achievers in their field of study who have passed, we could only speculate and dream what Lovell would be looking at today. We can rest easy, though, in the hope that another, young version of Lovell is out there right now gazing through their telescope about to embark on new discoveries.


Source: Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online