Congress voted Monday to cut federal funding for the superconducting monkey collider, a controversial experiment which has cost taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion a year since its creation in 1983.
The collider, which was to be built within a 45-mile-long circular tunnel, would accelerate monkeys to near-light speeds before smashing them together. Scientists insist the collider is an important step toward understanding the universe, because no one can yet say for certain what kind of noises monkeys would make if collided at those high speeds.
"It could be a thump, a splat, or maybe even a sound that hasn't yet been heard by human ears," said project head Dr. Eric Reed Friday, in an impassioned plea to Congress. "How are we supposed to understand things like the atom or the nature of gravity if we don't even know what colliding monkeys sound like?"
But Congress, under heavy pressure from the powerful monkey rights lobby, decided that money being spent on the monkey collider would be put to better use in other areas of government. Now, with funding cut off, the future of our nation's monkey collision program looks bleak.
Congress began funding the monkey collider in 1983, after Reed convinced lawmakers that the U.S. was lagging behind the Soviet Union in monkey-colliding technology. Funds were quickly allocated so that Reed could spend a week procuring monkeys on Florida's beautiful Captiva Island. Though Reed returned with a great tan and a beautiful young fiancee, he reported that there were no monkeys to be found on the sunny Gulf Coast island. Congress funded subsequent trips to the Cayman Islands, Bora Bora and Cancun, but these searches also yielded negative results.
Two years passed without a single monkey being procured, and Congress was close to cutting the project's funding. It was then that Reed got the idea to utilize monkeys already being bred in captivity. The Congressional Subcommittee for Scientific Investigation was enthralled by the idea of watching caged monkeys copulate, and increased funding by 40 percent.
With a steady supply of monkeys ensured, construction of the monkey collider began on a scenic Colorado site. Despite environmental pressure, a mountain was levelled to facilitate construction of the seven-mile-wide complex. Huge underground tunnels were dug, at a cost of billions of dollars and 17 lives. Money left over was used to build resort homes, spas and video arcades for Reed, his colleagues and several Congressmen.
Construction of the collider's acceleration mechanism was delayed for years, as scientists couldn't decide how to get the monkeys up to smashing speed. Last month, it was finally decided that the collider would employ a system in which the monkeys run through the tunnels chasing holographic projections of bananas. "Monkeys love bananas," Reed said, "and they're willing to run extremely fast to get them."
But now it seems the acceleration mechanism may never be built. With the monkey collider placed on indefinite hold, the huge research facility in Colorado lies dormant.
To keep the space from going to waste, Congress Monday voted to convert the empty underground tunnel into a federally funded drag-racing track. The track is expected to create hundreds of jobs in the form of pit crews and concessions workers, and will allow President Clinton to impress important foreign dignitaries with America's wheelie technology.
Despite this promising alternate plan, most involved with the monkey collider project feel the sudden cuts in funding are inexcusable. "It is a travesty of science," Reed said. "I remember the joy I felt in college when I would launch monkeys at one another with big rubber bands, and this project would have been even more enlightening."