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This Week in MIT History

By Shantonu Sen

This week in 1978, the J. B. Carr Tennis Bubble was destroyed after a strong blizzard caused a rip in the bubble to propagate across the entire covering.

Early on the morning of January 25, Physical Plant personnel decided to lower the indoor lighting system in anticipation of having to deflate the bubble. Heavy snow and high winds had caused “dimpling” on the western side of the bubble, which was combatted by turning on an extra blower to keep up air pressure inside the facility.

While clearing away some of the snow, one of the Physical Plant workers noticed a small tear in the fabric of the bubble, which quickly spread because of a combination of the stress of the high winds and the internal pressure of the bubble.

Because of the severity of the collapse, the covering was not reparable. The damages to the bubble were estimated to cost $60,000-$75,000, and it was not re-opened until September 8 of that year.

The new roof was made of vinyl-covered nylon, and was cable-constrained in order to relieve much of the stress on the fabric.