Everything is bigger in Texas, right? That certainly stands true for the Superconducting Super Collider that sits buried underneath Waxahachie, Texas.
In the mid-1980’s, the U.S. Department of Energy began design on what would be the largest particle collider ever built. They planned to make it a staggering 51 miles in length and capable of particle smashing energy levels of 20 TeV per proton. To put this into context, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is capable of only 8 TeV per proton.
In 1987, after four years of lobbying Congress, a $4.4 billion dollar budget was earmarked for the project. By 1993 the cost projection had risen to over $12 billion and the government was put in the position of choosing between funding the International Space Station (ISS) or the super particle collider.
They choose the space station.
On October 21, 1993, the SSC project was officially cancelled. Even though only $2 billion of the initial $4.4 billion budget had been used, there would no way to complete it so it was simply abandoned. What had been a giant construction site one day was suddenly motionless and silent the next. But a large amount of work had already been completed; 14 miles of tunnels and 17 shafts had already been dug and all surface structures were completely built.
After project cancellation, the site was given to Ellis County Texas who struggled to sell the property. Plans for the derelict site have included everything from mushroom farms to data storage. In August 2006 the property was sold to an investment group led by the late J.B. Hunt with the intention of marketing it as a data center. This didn’t pan out and chemical company Magnablend bought the property and facilities in 2012. As of today, however, the entire site still sits abandoned and quiet.
All of the collider equipment has been removed except for some underground generators. Many of the tunnels have been filled with water to preserve them. However, access to the many miles of drowned burrows is still available within the above-ground facilities.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, scientific progress was delayed as we had to wait for the LHC in Switzerland nearly 20 years later. Meanwhile, dark and forgotten, the ambitious SSC continues to sit deep under the sweltering Texas heat as a memorial to one of America’s largest scientific missteps.