Friday, December 1, 2017

Socorro 'Student Hoax' Tempest in a Pentagon Teapot (or something)


Well, the iconic 1964 reported sighting of a landed object with two occupants by Patrolman Lonnie Zamora in Socorro, New Mexico is certainly back in the news! Veteran UFOlogist Kevin Randle has written a new book about the case, and former Roswell Slides promoter Anthony Bragalia claims to have finally proven his earlier suggestion that Zamora was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by students at the nearby New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT).

Randle's new book is Encounter in the Desert: The Case for Alien Contact at Socorro. I confess I have not yet read it, so I won't comment on it. "Mrherr Zaar" commented on the Facebook group UFO_Pragmatism,
"I submit it does not present a single argument FOR [alien contact] at all. It is ultimately an exercise in explanatory nihilism which merely assumes that if something is unidentified that takes one “very close” to it immediately being extraterrestrial. (p. 249) He does not address any of the obvious problems. Zamora does not report seeing aliens – “Saw two people in white coveralls very close to the object. One of these persons seemed to turn and look straight at my car and seemed startled--seemed to jump quickly somewhat… I don't recall noting any particular shape or possibly any hats, or headgear. These persons appeared normal in shape--but possibly they were small adults or large kids.” http://www.ufocasebook.com/Zamorareport.html Implicitly they are not wearing spacesuits or air supply face masks or protective gear like dozens of other ufo humanoid reports in the early decades. They seem okay with breathing our atmosphere. They don’t seem to be grays or reptoids or insectoids or a more distinctly alien shape."
As noted in my 2012 Blog entry A Socorro Student Hoax Confirmed?,  Bragalia was arguing that the incident was a student hoax perpetrated on Zamora, who the students did not like because he was a buzz-killer for their hijinks. On November 27, Bragalia published his latest piece on the incident (Link and commentary at http://ufocon.blogspot.com/2017/11/anthony-bragalia-insists-socorro-is.html).

The newest wrinkle in Bragalia's tale is this:
This author has found and spoken to an involved perpetrator of the Socorro UFO hoax, a student at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 1964. Using resources and clues obtained over years, the identification was not easy. There were many missed opportunities, embarrassing moments, and awkward calls.

There is also major disappointment over what was not shared and what cannot be shared. I cannot tell you with 100% assurance exactly how the hoax was performed (I was not told, but I will make a good attempt later in this piece). And I am unable, due to the requested anonymity, to tell you the names of involved people. But what I did learn is perhaps equally as important, just as enlightening.

The individual did not reach out to me – I contacted him by phone. Retired and in his 70s, he is a man of accomplishment. Though he never denied being a perpetrator, he also does not want his name associated with the event. How many of us would want to recount our youthful follies to our children? Who amongst us would wish our names on the net, revisiting embarrassing moments during our late teens or early twenties? Where are those of us who will come forward to publicly explain our tricks and lies from college?
And that is where it sits. If we believe that Mr. Perp replied truthfully to Bragalia, and that Bragalia correctly reported it to us, then we have something that resembles a confession. Except that we don't know who is making the supposed "confession," or exactly what he is confessing to. So, Believe it or Not.

In support of his "student hoax" claim, Bragalia provided the following photo, with the caption "The Small Figures in White Coveralls, New Mexico Tech Physics Department in the Mid-1960s." 

Definitely NOT from New Mexico Tech!
However, French skeptic Giles Fernandez pointed out that he had discovered several years earlier that this photo actually shows physics students from UC Davis visiting Intel, and suiting up in special 'clean room' suits, designed to prevent contamination of silicon wafers used in the manufacture of integrated circuits. It has nothing to do with Socorro or NMIMT. When this was pointed out to Bragalia, he blamed the error on his Webmaster, and said that the caption was being changed to "The Small Figures in White Coveralls, Similar to New Mexico Tech Physics Department in the Mid-1960s" (emphasis added). Why tech students in 1964 would be wearing suits similar to those used in contemporary Clean Rooms, designed to filter out the tiniest submicroscopic particles, was not explained. Or maybe he simply meant that the students had white overalls, like plumbers and handymen sometimes wear. How incredible would that be?

Arguments in favor of the "student hoax" explanation
  • The late Stirling Colgate, physicist and former President of NMIMT, said in a letter to Linus Pauling that he knew the Socorro UFO incident to be a student hoax. When questioned by Bragalia about this, Colgate reportedly acknowledged the hoax, but was evasive and refused to give any details or to discuss the matter further. 
  •  Dr. Frank Etscorn, New Mexico Tech administrator and behavioral psychologist, reportedly affirms the event to be a hoax. One of his graduate students reportedly investigated and solved the "mystery" of what happened, and who was involved. Unfortunately, further details are not available.
  • In a long 1965 letter to Dr. J. Allen Hynek (who investigated the Zamora incident in person shortly after it occurred), noted UFO skeptic Dr. Donald Menzel and his co-author Lyle Boyd wrote
    "We come back to the speeding car, which started the whole business. We certainly would like to know more about this. You have made it clear that Zamora was a gruff type, who enjoyed giving out tickets. It seems entirely reasonable that he might have antagonized some of the local teenagers, who devised a hoax to get even. This explanation, I might add, independently occurred to both Lyle and myself. The whole thing could easily have been planned to come off about as it did. The car came into his line of sight from a side road. Which side road? Could it have been from the direction of the flame and roar? Apparently Zamora thought he knew the occupant of the speeding car (Vivian Reynolds?) Was this driver ever found and questioned as to what he heard or saw? Did Zamora have a regular patrol route so that his approximate whereabouts would be known at a given time?
    In other words, we see as the most likely possibility that someone planned the whole business to "get" Zamora."(p. 142 in case documents scanned by Paul Dean).
    One interesting thing that doesn't seem to have been discussed is the existence of an "aircraft graveyard" belonging to NMIMT quite near the site of the incident. The UFO investigative group Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) of Arizona wrote up "Socorro - New Mexico Revisited," published in the UFORA Newsletter, July-August, 1982 (p. 131 in the same scanned documents). They wrote,

    As the investigators were leaving the actual site, they noticed an area approximately 1 3/4 miles away, which gleamed in the sunlight. Extracting binoculars from their vehicle, they viewed what appeared to be an abandoned aircraft junkyard. Later, they discovered that the aircraft were part of the property of a local technical school - New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. This information was obtained from a clerk who works for the City Court system. He warned the researchers not to enter the storage area, because two men were recently convicted of breaking into this property. GSW's team became curious and decided a closer look at the area was warranted. They traveled on a road through the technical school's campus and came upon a barrier.
    Walking some distance away from the road they found a point at which the contents of the storage area could be viewed. To their amazement, the area contained a large variety of both segmented and intact aircraft. There appeared to be some Navy and Marine jet fighters, some Bell "X" aircraft and a nose section of a large ballistic missile.
    GSW determined that the property did indeed belong to NMIMT. They contacted C. B. Moore, professor of atmospherics, and a man who plays a significant role in UFO history quite independent of this, primarily because of his connection with Project Mogul. Moore told them that the junked aircraft were part of the Terminal Effects Program, which began in 1947, with most of the aircraft arriving during the 1950s. Moore replied to GSW that he had investigated the Zamora incident on his own, "and can assure you that there is little probability that it had anything to do with students or the Institute. If we can believe Officer Zamora (and there is no reason except for the strangeness of the observation that we should not), then it appears that he saw a Lunar Landing Module (LEM) but his observation was at least 12 months before the module was first tested here." A very strange comment, indeed!

    I am not suggesting that the aircraft graveyard necessarily played any part in this incident, but it is a damn peculiar thing to discover so close to a possibly aerospace-related incident. Might the scattered aircraft and missile parts have been used to create a hoax saucer? Might the area have afforded hoaxers a place to operate, and to hide?
Arguments against the "student hoax" explanation
  • How did the students make the balloon disappear so quickly?
  • How did the two students in white overalls make themselves disappear, especially since Zamora and Officer Chavez were walking the site of the alleged landing just a few minutes later? This would seem to require something like a magician's disappearing act.
  • Dave Thomas, founder of the skeptical organization New Mexicans for Science and Reason,  is a NMIMT graduate. To look into the possibility of a hoax originating with NMIMT students, he set up an internal website available only to those who are students, employees, or alumni of NMIMT. Its purpose was to allow people to tell what, if anything, they knew about the 1964 Zamora incident. While a few people expressed the opinion that it was a student hoax, there was no specific or useful information obtained from anyone. This strongly suggests that no 'student hoax' existed. 
Thomas has suggested an interesting possibility of what Zamora may have seen. According to documents obtained from the White Sands Missile Range, "on April 24, 1964, there were special tests being conducted at the north end of the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) involving a helicopter used to carry a Lunar Surveyor around for some tests... Surveyor was a three-legged, unmanned probe, which was used to learn about the moon before the Apollo program got there....The Surveyor tests were done with a small Bell helicopter that supported the craft from its side... The tests missions were manned by a helicopter pilot and a Hughes engineer - two persons, in white coveralls." Not only does the time of day of this planned test (morning) not match Zamora's sighting (which occurred just before 6 PM), but this is a long way from Socorro, about 80 miles as the helicopter flies. Still, as Thomas notes, "things don't always go "according to plan," and many tests which have defied completion by morning have been known to somehow get finished up in the afternoon." The possibility of the Surveyor testing cannot be ruled out.


What do I think Zamora saw?
A brand new way to fly in 1963
In 1996, engineer Eugene Robinson of Indiana University suggested that what Zamora saw was an early version of a propane-powered hot air balloon.  This  explanation has been largely ignored by UFOlogists. It was not even mentioned by Randle in his Socorro book. When asked why, he replied that it was a "non-starter." I'm not so sure about that.

The propane hot air balloon is a familiar sight today, but back in the mid 1960s it was quite new, as this article in Popular Mechanics (published just one year before the Socorro incident) shows.
"As of this writing, two of these new balloons have been sold and a third is on order... Raven is coming out with a new, larger model with an old-fashioned wicker basket that can carry two men standing up. Price tag: $5000." 
Popular Mechanics, April 1963.




The propane burners on such a balloon make a loud "woosh," as Zamora described hearing. It seems quite likely he may have seen an experimental two-man propane hot air balloon briefly land, then take off again. In fact, that suggestion seems to best match the details Zamora reported. Might this two-man balloon be what Zamora saw?

Some of Robinson's comments on the incident:
  • The reported flame colors (blue and orange) agree with the propane flame used by hot-air balloons.
  • Zamora never saw the full shape clearly. He lost his glasses before it rose enough.
  • He never saw the platform. It was behind terrain, then he lost his glasses.
  • The dust Zamora saw here could have come from the burner blast.
  • The envelope went straight up as it lifted and centered over the platform.
  • The envelope remained in this position until it had enough lift to raise the platform off the ground.
  • Once the platform lifted off the ground, the wind moved the balloon horizontally.
Given all these conflicting yet plausible explanations, it is difficult to say for sure what Zamora saw. Unless someone can explain convincingly exactly how the supposed "student hoax" was carried out, I will assume that the unexpected landing of a newfangled propane hot-air balloon is the most likely explanation for this classic UFO incident.




Monday, November 6, 2017

Tom DeLonge, Serial Deleter

By now you probably have heard all about rocker Tom DeLonge, formerly of Blink 182, and his long-promised "UFO announcement" on October 11 that turned out to be nothing more than a fund-raising scheme to provide income for him and his colleagues, with whatever money that might be left "invested" in wacky pseudo-scientific research, like a faster-than light spaceship.
Tom DeLonge (from Wikimedia Commons)

Now that a few weeks have passed since that famous announcement, we are getting a clearer picture of DeLonge, and his venture (which has now raised almost $2 million from "investors", who are perhaps better called "suckers.") For one thing, he is a Serial Deleter on social media. Meaning, that he carelessly posts stupid stuff, that he soon has to delete after the embarrassment of having it quickly shot down.




The first such deletion I became aware of was a supposed photo of Bigfoot that DeLonge posted on Instagram in August of 2016, with the comment "taken yesterday by a friend of a friend" (making this a FOAF story, probably the least-credible category of urban folklore). It was quickly pointed out that this was in fact an old picture that had been kicked around on Reddit about a year earlier. DeLonge deleted the supposed Bigfoot photo. Apparently somebody told him this FOAF story, and he did not question it at all.


Then on October 30, almost three weeks after the Grand Announcement, DeLonge posted this illustration to his Facebook page, with the comment "Looks like we may be adding a notable Aerospace Revolutionary to our leadership team at ToTheStars... Stay tuned, and check out"

Here Tom DeLonge is clearly suggesting that Robert Bigelow may be joining his organization. Bigelow is the founder of Bigelow Aerospace, a company making valuable progress in an effort to create inexpensive inflatable space modules. Bigelow is also well-known as a staunch believer in extraterrestrial UFOs. The app Tin Eye quickly confirmed that this illustration does indeed depict a module from Bigelow Aerospace. In less than a day, Delonge deleted the posting.  I suspect that Bigelow called up DeLonge and said something like, "You fool, I didn't say that!"

Most recently, DeLonge posted to Facebook several very fake-looking photos depicting supposed triangle-shaped UFOs (triangle UFOs have been very trendy of late). I especially liked the one that showed a triangle UFO behind a jet aircraft and its contrails. Very quickly the Italian skeptic Scott Brando pointed out that several of these photos were stills from a hoax video posted to YouTube by the hoax-promoting site Secure Team 10. All but one of the "triangle UFO" images were quickly deleted from DeLonge's Facebook page. But when I checked this morning,  there was still this one remaining. Perhaps he overlooked it when deleting the others?


DeLonge also posted this on November 4, but for some reason quickly deleted it. Fortunately Curt Collins saved a screen capture. (From now on, if you see something weird posted by DeLonge, get a screen capture right away, before he has a chance to delete it).

What all this shows is that Tom DeLonge is a very careless guy, who believes practically every crazy UFO story he hears. He impulsively posts flaky photos to Facebook or Instagram, then soon removes them once someone points out that they are known to be hoaxes. Yet he has raised almost $2 million from "investors" in less than a month. I'll bet even Steven Greer hasn't raised that much in the past few years.......

Finally, in this video DeLonge promises that his company To The Stars will construct a spaceship that will generate more energy than it consumes, thereby violating conservation of energy. Before anyone can take DeLonge's claims seriously, he needs to explain exactly how he is planning to do this.







Wednesday, October 11, 2017

At Longe Last - Tom DeLonge's Dramatic UFO Announcement!!


This past February 15, rocker Tom DeLonge, formerly of the band Blink 182, was named the UFO "Researcher of the Year" at the International UFO Congress in Arizona. This award struck many people as unusual, since DeLonge has not actually published any UFO research. However, in his acceptance video, he hinted at his great UFO disclosure announcement that is to come:
 I'm into some serious shit. I'm making really good progress. I can't tell you what I'm about to announce... There's going to be an announcement in like the next sixty-ish days...
DeLonge's promise that it would come in "sixtyish" days stretched out to two-hundred-thirty-sevenish days, but finally on October 10, 2017 he posted his long-awaited announcement to Facebook:
Thank you all for waiting for an announcement that is literally 2 years in the making. I have assembled a team of insiders that I believe can possibly change the world. All are current consultants to the US Gov on National Security Matters, and some literally left days ago from the Department if Defense to join me in this initiative. Fmr. High Ranking Government Officials and Senior Intelligence Officers from CIA, DOD, and also a Chief Engineer (Director of Advanced Programs) from Lockheed Martin’s the Skunk Works have come together aiming to BUILD A REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGY for the world, research the unknown and finally tell the “story of the millennia” through Feature Films. NO ONE GOVERNMENT, INDIVIDUAL OR INSTITUTION should own what can truthfully help the world. We all can own it together. To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science is allowing a group of those who are interested to join us on day one. 
Www.ToTheStarsAcademy.Com
In other words, DeLonge is not announcing anything about UFOs. Instead, he has announced the formation of his new corporation to look into UFOs, and he wants you to fund it. What a truly breathtaking announcement! Here is your chance to give money to the very wealthy Tom DeLonge! Don't miss this opportunity of a lifetime!!!
Countdown to DeLonge's great announcement Broadcast
Participating in DeLonge's exciting dog-and-pony show are:
Chris Mellon: FMR Deputy Asst Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
Jim Semivan: FMR Sr. Intelligence Service, CIA’s Directorate of Operations
Dr. Hal Puthoff: Director of DOD/CIA/DIA Scientific Research Programs
Steve Justice: FMR Advanced Systems Director for Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works”
Luis Elizondo: FMR Director of Programs to Investigate Unidentified Aerial Threats, USG
Something extraordinary is about to be revealed. Former high-level officials and scientists with deep black experience who have always remained in the shadows are now stepping into the light. These insiders have long-standing connections to government agencies which may have programs investigating unidentifed aerial phenomena (UAP). They intend to move into the private sector and to make all declassified information, and any future knowledge, available for all to see.
Is the presence of "government insiders" in a UFO organization unprecedented? Does it promise significant informational breakthroughs? Most UFOlogists today may not aware that back in the 1950s and 60s, NICAP had several former high-ranking CIA officials in its leadership. In 1957, Roscoe Hillenkoetter, the first Director of Central Intelligence (1947-1950) became a member of the board of NICAP. Also in 1957,  Colonel Joseph Bryan III, the founder and head of the Psychological Warfare Staff at the CIA, became member of the NICAP board. Several other former CIA officials also became affiliated with NICAP. Nonetheless, despite all these government insiders, NICAP never obtained or revealed any supposed UFO secrets held by the government.

Nor is this the first time that those with a background in science and technology have been brought together in a UFO research organization. In 1973 with much fanfare, former Air Force Blue Book consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek announced the formation of the Center for UFO Studies. Despite the participation of numerous scientists who were previously part of Hynek's "invisible college," CUFOS ultimately changed nothing in the UFO controversy.

What is unprecedented here is the stated intention to mix UFO "research" with cinema and other forms of entertainment. It is impossible to predict how successful this will be - obviously some UFO and Sci-Fi entertainment has been extremely successful. Just ask Steven Speilberg or George Lucas. But just producing a space or UFO related movie does not in any way guarantee success. Just ask the investors in the independent Sci-Fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Now that Harvey Weinstein has a lot of free time, perhaps he can give some good advice to To The Stars' entertainment division. In the absence of major Hollywood directorial and production talent, their odds do not look good.

For your convenience, DeLonge's website includes a handy button for you to "invest".
But let's look at the fine print. This is a stock offering, and that entails a lot of legal red tape, "Filed pursuant to Rule 253(g)(2), File No. 024-10728."  "OFFERING CIRCULAR DATED SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science Inc. Up to 10,000,000 shares of Class A Common Stock." I have highlighted some of the more humorous lines in this prospectus:
The company is a public benefit corporation founded in 2017 by a former senior Intelligence Officer with the CIA, a distinguished research scientist from the Department of Defense, and an award-winning artist with the goal of creating a dynamic Aerospace, Science and Entertainment consortium. We strive to be a positive vehicle for change by supporting progressive thought through academic research, exotic engineering, and
entertainment media. In the course of the company’s organization it acquired To The Stars, Inc. (“TTS”), an existing business that now comprises the company’s Entertainment Division.....

The company’s Aerospace Division is dedicated to finding revolutionary breakthroughs in propulsion, energy, and communication. We intend to employ lead engineers from major Department of Defense and aerospace companies with the capability to pursue an advanced engineering approach to fundamental aerospace topics ranging from Beamed-Energy Propulsion to warp drive metrics. Our team will seek to develop next-generation
energy and propulsion concepts for spaceflight, as well as new technologies for space communications.

The company’s Science Division will be a theoretical and experimental laboratory, challenging conventional thinking by discovering a new world of physics and consciousness-related possibilities and exploring how to use them to affect the world positively. TTS AAS has access to a global team of research scientists with advanced knowledge to pursue the company’s research projects, including Human Ultra-Experience Database, Engineering Space-Time Metrics, Brain-Computer Interface, and Telepathy....

To date, our revenues have not been sufficient to fund operations. Thus, until we can generate sufficient cash flows to fund operations, we are dependent on raising additional capital through debt and/or equity transactions....

The offering price has been arbitrarily set by the company and the valuation is high.
Valuations for companies at this stage are generally purely speculative, and even more so in our case. We have not generated any revenue from the aerospace and science projects we plan to pursue, nor do we have deals in place yet to do so. Our valuation has not been validated by any independent third party, and may decrease precipitously in the future. It is a question of whether you, the investor, are willing to pay this price for a percentage ownership of a start-up company. You should not invest if you disagree with this valuation.....
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission carefully regulates all proposed stock offerings, and requires that risks to investors be clearly disclosed. To fail to do this is to invite future lawsuits from investors who might suffer losses. I would have to say that To The Stars, Inc. has done a very thorough job of disclosing "risks." If anyone thinks after reading this stock offering (and after watching the video below, in which DeLonge talks about the "pyramids and stuff on Mars"), that To The Stars represents a good investment, I have a bridge for sale I'd like to tell you about.

Dude, where's my Saucer?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Another Nonsensical "Explanation" for the Kecksburg Incident

The so-called "UFO Crash" at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania on December 9, 1965 has become a UFO legend as a 'second Roswell.'  In reality, there is no mystery at all. The supposed "UFO" was simply the Great Lakes Fireball of December 9, 1965, reported by many observers over a wide area and written about by astronomers.


The train of the Great Lakes Fireball, seen across at least six states and Ontario, that started the Kecksburg 'UFO crash' story. Photo taken 9 December 1965 4:43 p.m. E.S.T. by Richard Champine of Royal Oak, Michigan. Location: 2 miles east of Pontiac, Michigan, approx. 45 seconds after event.

That hasn't stopped UFOlogists from proposing elaborate and unlikely alternate explanations, including a "UFO crash." In 2015, MUFON's Pennsylvania state director John Ventre, along with Owen Eichler, "explained" that  the Kecksburg incident was probably caused by a GE Mark 2 capsule from a Program 437 rocket launched from Johnson Island in the Pacific on 7 December 1965. Ventre already had a reputation for making dubious claims and frequently appeared on MUFON's sensation-mongering TV series Hangar 1. That reputation was enhanced by his claim that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 was probably abducted by extraterrestrials.  More recently, Ventre was at the center of a shit-storm in MUFON concerning some apparently racist comments he posted, and was (somewhat reluctantly) given the boot by MUFON's director Jan Harzan.

Canadian researcher Ted Molczan, perhaps the leading civilian expert on satellite orbits, quickly shot this claim down. He wrote that "Ventre and Eichler concluded that the Kecksburg UFO sightings were of a General Electric Mark II re-entry vehicle, launched on a variant of Program 437, called 437AP (Alternate Payload), which replaced the ASAT warhead with a satellite inspector. However, 437AP launches were sub-orbital," and hence could not possibly have orbited the earth for two days before allegedly coming down in Kecksburg. Molczan noted that "they omitted the conclusion of the experts that the flight ended with a destructive impact into the ocean... none of the key claims of Ventre and Eichler withstand scrutiny. The Program 437AP launch in question was sub-orbital and Kecksburg was far beyond the range of the Thor IRBM. That alone is fatal for their theory."
 
Now there is a brand new theory to explain Kecksburg, by Bob Wenzel Gross, a "semi-retired researcher and writer with a forthcoming non-fiction memoir entitled: In Pursuit of Anomalies: How Great Music and Real UFOs Can Save the Human Race. Dr. Gross has worked as a researcher, field investigator, scientist, writer, lecturer, educator, administrator, change agent, turnaround specialist, and professional musician." Published in Frank Warren's UFO Chronicles, Gross' account is very long-winded, and you can mostly ignore Part 1 - it's just Gross showing what a clever guy he is:
On or about June 1, 2016, I declared that the Kecksburg case would be my inaugural attempt at unraveling an established (fifty year old) UFO mystery. I gathered and analyzing new relevant data from the existing literature. Thus, I closed the Kecksburg case, once and for all, by applying scientific methodology to aggressive research. I strongly believe I solved the Kecksburg enigma—beyond the shadow of a doubt. (emphasis added)
Wow, what a guy!!!!


Gross' loopy "explanation" is in the second part, involving the once highly-classified Corona surveillance satellite, the earliest "spy satellite" that would fly over the Soviet Union to take pictures from orbit, then drop its film canisters back to earth for recovery.

Corona surveillance satellites were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California...Corona satellites employed Satellite Recovery Vehicles (SRVs). These recovery vehicles were essentially space capsules with nosecone-like forebodies featuring heatshields made from a type of a composite metal that, to a degree, burned away during reentry. Enclosed within the SRV’s protective heat shielded forebody was perhaps the most valuable part of the SRV. It was a gold-plated capsule designed to be recovered by parachute. ...
A Corona Satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 9, 1965. Due to an anomaly of sorts, its recovery vehicle separated from the satellite earlier than planned. Thus, this Corona recovery vehicle in conjunction with its film bucket is a highly viable candidate for the object that landed in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania on that same date.

The Corona KH-4A series consisted of "Film return with two reentry vehicles and two panoramic cameras."  KH-4A 1027 was launched  at 1:07 PM PST on 9 Dec 1965  from Vandenberg AFB aboard a Thor Agena D rocket. This was 35 minutes before the completely unrelated Great Lakes Fireball was widely seen across the eastern U.S. and Canada at 4:42 PM EST. The rocket was launched almost due south with an 80 degree inclination to the equator, which would allow it to fly over every part of the Soviet Union.

An Air Force JC-130B practices catching a satellite “bucket” with grappling gear and winch at Edwards AFB, Calif., 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gross speculates, based on nothing except his need for the rocket to be in Kecksburg, that
instead of heading south, the rocket system headed for a launch trajectory that would cut a northeasterly path across the United States... In an attempt to regain control of Satellite KH-4A 1027’s orientation, the foreword recovery vehicle (SRV-1) was separated from the spacecraft. The separation was done at some time before the engine burn that would have injected the satellite into orbit. This action was followed by placing the aft recovery vehicle (SRV-2) into a passive mode for the time being. Fortunately, jettisoning SRV-1 resolved the Corona satellite’s attitude problem for the time being.
According to NASA, "Erratic attitude necessitated recovery of this KH-4A (Key Hole 4A) type spacecraft after just two days of operation. All the cameras operated satisfactorily." But a satellite's "attitude" is not the same as its "orbital inclination," as Gross seems to think. The satellite could not control where its cameras were pointing (attitude), although it went into orbit exactly as planned. According to Remote Sensing from Air and Space by Richard C. Olsen (p. 239), KH-4A 1027 suffered a "control gas loss," and thus would not be able to keep its cameras pointed in the desired direction. But this means that the satellite achieved its desired orbit, and the reentry pods remained in orbit for at least two days - long after the sightings near Kecksburg. There is absolutely no evidence that one of its film recovery vehicles separated prematurely, as Gross speculates.

I sent Ted Molczan the links to Gross' articles to get his comments. Molczan consulted a 1966 document about the Corona program from the National Reconnaissance Office, originally classified "top secret," then declassified in 1997. From it he extracted the following information pertaining to mission KH-4A 1027 (emphasis added):
All launch, ascent and injection events occurred as programmed. Both Thor and Agena propulsion and guidance was normal and resulted in the desired orbit. After the Agena yaw around maneuver, the guidance pneumatics failed to switch to low gain. This condition resulted in gas supply depletion by orbit 9 and loss of stability by orbit 15.

Loss of vehicle stability necessitated first mission recovery on orbit 17 and second recovery on orbit 33. Both recoveries were executed using the lifeboat system and aircraft pickup
So, according to these once-secret documents, the Corona mission launched from Vandenberg on 9 December 1965 achieved its "desired orbit" by flying almost due south across the Pacific, and did not go careening wildly across the U.S., dropping its film payload over Kecksburg, as Gross imagines happened.

From that same NRO document:
MISSION 1027-1 RECOVERY SYSTEM

Recovery was enabled in the lifeboat mode on pass 16 [redaction] and executed on pass 17 on December 10, 1965. All events monitored occurred within their prescribed tolerances. Lifeboat gas pressure indicated an adequate supply for a second lifeboat recovery attempt.

Predicted Impact 22° 00'N, 152° 01'W

Actual Impact    22° 22'N, 151° 50'W

The condition of the air recovered capsule was normal.

MISSION 1027-2 RECOVERY SYSTEM

Recovery was enabled and executed in the lifeboat mode on pass 33. The capsule was air recovered on 11 December 1965, All events monitored occurred within the prescribed tolerances. See Table 5-1.

Predicted Impact  24° OO'N, 147° 03'W
Actual Impact     23° 3l'N, 146° 30'W

The condition of the recovered capsule was normal.

So, according to once-secret records, both of the film reentry capsules were recovered normally, over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Neither one fell into the woods near Kecksburg, Pennsylvania before the satellite achieved orbit. Molczan commented,
Gross and Ventre/Eichler claimed to find non-UFO explanations for Kecksburg, but failed because they relied on the methods of ufology, which tend to be unreliable.

The biggest error that both made was to ignore the scientific and journalistic evidence that the event was due to a meteoric fireball that disintegrated near Detroit, and accept the unsubstantiated claims that surfaced decades later, which are the foundation of the modern Kecksburg myth. That doomed them to try to fit a theory to what almost certainly is false data.... Gross attempted to solve some of the same problems as Ventre/Eichler. He tried to get a Corona SRV to Kecksburg by claiming that one launched that day went spectacularly off course, despite the contrary historical record. He needed a radiation danger, so he claimed one existed, without providing any evidence.

Gross and Ventre/Eichler have nicely demonstrated that the methods of ufology do not work, even when investigating non-ET solutions.
The launch in question did indeed contain an experiment:
Nuclear emulsion experiment, NSSDC ID: 1965-102A-01
Mission Name: KH-4A 1027
Principal Investigator: Mr. Robert C. Filz, Principal Investigator, Phillips Laboratory (nee USAF Geophysics Lab, nee Cambridge Labs)

Gross suggests, based on nothing more than his own misunderstanding of the term "nuclear emulsion," that there was something terribly dangerous about this Corona mission:
 It is reasonable to think that one of the SRVs had a potent nuclear experiment packed on board.

Documentation about this nuclear experiment has been lacking by design. However, it is clear that this experiment was intended to study Earth’s magnetosphere. The experiment was developed by the Phillips Laboratory in conjunction with the US Air Force. The experiment was enclosed inside a recovery capsule. Thus, the experiment would have been stowed carefully inside the film bucket of one of the satellite’s two SRV’s. For practicality and functionality, the front recovery vehicle (SRV-1) probably contained the nuclear test.

The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) has not yet supplied sufficient details about the true nature of this nuclear emulsion experiment. From the onset, disinformation has been an integral part of the Corona program.. based on continual research, I can confidently surmise that the magnetosphere study may have encompassed at least three possible sorts of nuclear trials. I ranked these proposed experiments by danger levels. The danger levels take into account both physical and political safety considerations.

A rather low-danger-level nuclear experiment may have involved a cosmic ray study to detect radioactively charged particles trapped in an emulsion by energy generated through cosmic radiation. The radiation would interact with the emulsion. Such emulsions are made of gelatin and silver salt molecules that act when charged particles pass through. The molecules are excited by the passage for a period of time and can be converted to metallic silver. A satisfactory approach to this kind of test involves exposing the emulsion to high cosmic radiation long enough to capture particles (Stratopedia 2017).

A moderate-danger-level nuclear experiment may have involved studying organisms’ sensitivity to radiation in microgravity. As a result, such experiments may have involved placing by-products of nuclear fission in the recovery capsule along with a living animal. In this case, the animal may have been a primate (Popular Mechanics 2010).

An extremely high-danger-level nuclear experiment may have involved atmospheric tests of a nuclear explosive device. In the 1960s, the United States wanted to find out what happened when nuclear weapons are detonated in space. Regardless of the potentially great danger related to physical damage, the political damage associated with testing any nuclear device in space would have been astronomical.
Gross leaps from the first "low danger nuclear experiment" which is more or less correct (it should be described as a "no-danger cosmic ray experiment") to his speculations about an "extremely high-danger-level nuclear experiment" involving "a nuclear explosive device," which is totally absurd.

What is a "nuclear emulsion"? It sounds dangerous, but in fact it's not. According to the on-line Encyclopedia Brittanica
Nuclear photographic emulsion, also called Nuclear Emulsion, radiation detector generally in the form of a glass plate thinly coated with a transparent medium containing a silver halide compound. Passage of charged subatomic particles is recorded in the emulsion in the same way that ordinary black and white photographic film records a picture.
In other words, it's just a specially coated photographic plate, designed to detect radioactive particles. A "nuclear emulsion" is not itself radioactive! But Gross needs to stir up nuclear hysteria to justify a supposed military efforts to seal off the area and recover the supposedly hazardous "nuclear experiment."

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for Gross to tell us "How Great Music and Real UFOs Can Save the Human Race." (From what?)



Robert Young's article debunking the Kecksburg claim was published as far back as the Spring, 1991 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer magazine (Vol. 15 no. 3): "Old-Solved Mysteries: The Kecksburg Incident." An updated version of "Old-Solved Mysteries" begins on p. 177 of the book The UFO Invasion, edited by Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell. (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1997). So the solution is well-known and has been for over twenty-five years, although many UFOlogists have determined to simply ignore it, and claim that a UFO crashed.

Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 61 No. 4, pp. 184-190.

In this article, the astronomers actually calculated the orbit around the sun of the meteor responsible for the Great Lakes Fireball before it entered the earth's atmosphere.

The green dot shows the location og Kecksburg, PA.

The people of Kecksburg have erected this monument to the supposed acorn-shaped space capsule that allegedly crashed nearby

We will let Zippy the Pinhead have the last word on Kecksburg:









Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Skeptic on "UFO Classified"


On September 8, 2017 I appeared on the internet radio show UFO Classified on KCOR radio, hosted by Erica Luke. KCOR specializes in the "paranormal" and other far-out stuff. I first met Erica at the MUFON Symposium in 2015, and spoke with her again at the UFO Congress in February of this year. She was formerly MUFON's State Director for Utah, and even received a "Certificate of Appreciation" for "outstanding service to the Mutual UFO Network." However, she has since left MUFON and has formed an organization called Unexplained Utah, which includes "paranormal research" and cryptozoology, as well as UFOs.

Erica Lukes, with Ted Roe of NARCAP, at the 2017 UFO Congress.

On the internet radio show, we spoke for two hours about many things, including the Phoenix Lights, and the reasons to disbelieve former governor Fife Symington's hastily made-up yarn about seeing them, too. We also discussed the alleged anomalous lights that have reportedly been seen at Hessdalen in Norway for at least 34 years (think, "Brown Mountain Lights" or "Marfa Lights"). Erica is heading off to Hessdalen next week, to participate in a "science camp" where people come each year to camp out and look at lights in the sky, but ultimately learn nothing about them. She has said she will be bringing, in addition to various cameras, an "infra-red thermal scanner" and a "Tri-field meter." (think, "Ghost Hunters.") What's missing, I told her, are "binoculars,"or "a spotting scope on a tripod," or indeed any optical aid of any kind. They don't need no stinkin' binoculars or optical aid at Hessdalen - they study the lights by measuring their electromagnetic and spectroscopic properties!  But, hey, best wishes to Erica for what I'm sure will be a fun trip. I can't wait to hear what she has to say when she gets back.


You can listen to the recording of the show here: http://kcorradio.com/KCOR/Podcasts/UFO-Classified/2017/September/Robert-Sheaffer-Bad-UFOs-Critical-Thinking-About-UFO-Claims-UFO-Classified-Hosted-By-Erica-Lukes-KCOR-Digital-Radio-Netowrk.mp3

  






Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Shadow Chasing


I recently got back from a more than two thousand mile trip, from San Diego up to Rexburg, Idaho, near Idaho Falls. The reason, of course, was to observe the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. It was the first time I'd actually seen a total eclipse. Way back when I was a student at Northwestern, my buddy and I took a Greyhound bus from Chicago to the Florida panhandle, near Tallahassee, to see the total solar eclipse of March 7, 1970. We got there with a few hours to spare, and found a park where lots of telescopes had been set up. Unfortunately, it was cloudy. We saw the shadow approaching on the clouds, we saw it get dark. We saw the edge of the shadow, we saw it get light again. And then we got back on the bus for the two day trip home.

As everyone knew, for this eclipse hotel rooms and campgrounds anywhere near the path of totality were long sold out. A few rooms, the kind that would normally go for about $75, were offered at $400, $600, or more. We ended up sleeping in our cars, as planned, for just one night. We found a nice temporary eclipse campsite set up on private land, with porta-potties (the most important concern!). We looked at the map in Fred Espenak's Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. As best we could tell, we were sitting right on top the eclipse's center line. One fellow consulted some high-precision NASA eclipse map, then his GPS, and announced we were one-quarter mile south of the exact center. He proposed to walk up there to observe the eclipse right on the center line. I replied that this was close enough for me. The duration of the total phase would be 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
 
And closer....
Rexburg, Idaho: totality is getting close...











Ta-da!!!! The solar corona is clearly visible. The star Regulus is seen near the bottom, at left.

And this time, the weather in Idaho was just perfect on eclipse day. I set up an Orion SkyScanner 100mm Dobsonian scope with a Thousand Oaks solar filter, which gave crisp images of the partially eclipsed sun. The solar filter comes off during totality, and I saw extremely fine detail in the solar corona. I had the impression I was seeing some sort of bizarre neon display, such was the color and texture of the corona. The star Regulus was conspicuous, twinkling rapidly. Then I moved over to the Canon 20d DSLR camera, and snapped these photos using a 200mm zoom lens.

Solar prominences are visible at the top just as totality is ending, and we see the "Diamond ring".

So far as I am aware, nobody reported seeing any UFOs during totality, unlike the major total solar eclipse in Mexico City in 1991 (see chapter 21 of my book UFO Sightings). As soon as totality had ended (third contact), I heard vehicles starting and quickly driving off. They were trying to beat the expected heavy traffic. We stayed until the eclipse had actually ended; very few others did that. We could see highway US 20 from our campsite, and the southbound direction, toward Idaho Falls, quickly became congested, traffic practically at a standstill. It remained that way for about two hours. When we saw that traffic was moving again, we got on the road, but encountered more congestion on the way to Idaho Falls, where we stopped to eat dinner. 

Idaho Falls

After taking a little tour of the park by the falls, we got on I-15 heading south. The closest hotel reservation I could get at a normal price for that evening was in Tremonton, Utah, just south of the Idaho state line. The drive from Idaho Falls normally takes about two hours. That evening, it took six.

Actually, Tremonton, Utah was the site of a classic UFO film. On July 2, 1952, a  Navy Warrant Officer named Delbert C. Newhouse got a 16mm Kodachrome film of "About a dozen shiny disk like objects" that were "milling around the sky in a rough formation."  Project Blue Book reached no definite conclusion about it.  “All they had to say was, ‘We don’t know what they are but they aren’t aircraft or balloons, and we don’t think they are birds.'   William K. Hartmann concluded in the Condon Report (case 49) that 

The visual observations and film are not satisfactorily explained in terms of aircraft, radar chaff, or insects, or balloons though the films alone are consistent with birds. Observations of birds near Tremonton indicate that the objects are birds, and the case cannot be said to establish the existence of extraordinary aircraft. 
I didn't see any flocks of birds around Tremonton, but I suspect Dr. Hartmann is correct, although many UFOlogists today would disagree.


 Eclipse watchers: Brent Beckett, Shawn Carlson, Keña Castañeda, and Yours Truly.











Tuesday, August 1, 2017

MUFON Unravels

A few years ago, MUFON - the largest UFO group in the U.S., and probably the world - seemed to be riding high. Its motto is, "The scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of humanity."  Its TV show Hangar 1 on the "History" Channel was attracting attention and new members, in spite of being soundly denounced for its sensationalism by practically every serious student of UFOlogy. Today, MUFON has hit a very rough patch, and seems to be skidding out of control.
This year's problems began with a big controversy over John Ventre, MUFON's Pennsylvania State Director. Ventre already had a reputation for not being the sharpest blade in the drawer, for example suggesting that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared because it was abducted by extraterrestrials. In May Ventre posted some racist comments on social media, and when challenged on them, he did not back down. He instead went on a bizarre rant about how UFOs are actually "demonic" and claimed that the people who came out against his racist rant were in fact a conspiracy of atheists and ancient astronaut theorists who have been deceived into worshiping demons. At first MUFON director Jan Harzan disavowed all responsibility or concern for Ventre's postings on social media, despite the general consternation about them. Finally, Harzan wrote,
After discussion with MUFON Leadership it has been determined that it is in the best interest of both MUFON and Mr. Ventre that he be removed as State Director of Pennsylvania. This is effective immediately. MUFON does not condone racial discrimination in any form and has always provided equal opportunity to all regardless of race, religion, sex, age or national origin and will proudly continue to do so.
Ramtha, a  35,000 Year old Lemurian Warrior, is a MUFON Insider.
But Ventre still apparently remains as a member of MUFON's Inner Circle, another MUFON absurdity that has received absolutely no attention until just now.
The Inner Circle status is attained with a donation of $5,000 or more.  Whether you have had a UFO sighting or are just interested in UFOs, you are welcome to join. With your donation comes all of the perks and benefits offered by the title.

Inner Circle members provide advisory guidance to MUFON and are included in annual conference calls, attend private functions during the Symposium, and afforded reserved seating at MUFON events, and much more!

So that's it: all it takes to become a member of MUFON's Inner Circle is to contribute at least $5,000 a year. In addition to Harzan and Ventre, J. Z. Knight - famous for her supposed "channeling" of a  35,000 year old warrior from Lemuria named "Ramtha" - is also a member of MUFON's Inner Circle, and presumably provides "advisory guidance" to the organization. Knight has been accused of unleashing  "drunken racist homophobic rants" to her large following.

Another bone of contention was the blatantly unscientific and irrational content announced for MUFON's 2017 Symposium in Las Vegas, the "Case for a Secret Space Program." In the weeks leading up to the Symposium, rumors were flying about a supposed "disclosure announcement" that was supposed to occur in conjunction with the Symposium. Of course, nothing of the kind occurred.


Among the speakers was Bill Tompkins, who claims to have designed giant secret space ships that we have launched to defend against hostile Reptoid aliens; Corey Goode and Andrew Basiago, who claim to have been teleported to Mars; and Michael Salla who spoke about Nazi saucer bases in Antarctica. No halfway rational person could possibly take any of this seriously. Richard Dolan posted to Facebook a long and very diplomatic apologia for appearing on the same panel and stage with such obvious crackpots:
I want to make this point as clear as I can. My opinions (and yours, for that matter) don’t mean very much. What matters is the evidence that can be brought forward for these stories. I hold it as possible that there is something in these accounts that is true. After all, I believe that radical technology is being withheld from us. I believe the ARV [Alien Reproduction Vehicle] story and more. But if a story gives me no chance to confirm or deny its basic claims, then it’s essentially useless to me as a researcher.
(Yet Dolan had no reservations about participating in Jaime Maussan's absurd extravaganza promoting the Roswell Slides in 2015.)

This is from the website of Michael Salla, one of the speakers at this year's MUFON Symposium.
Rich Hoffman was MUFON's State Director for Alabama and Assistant Director for Mississippi. He has been a member of MUFON since the organization began in 1969. Without making any public statements, he resigned from those positions, as well as his staff-level position as MUFON's Director of Strategic Projects. When I asked him for his reasons, he cited the blatantly unscientific nature of this year's Symposium, and his concern that MUFON keeps moving farther away from genuine scientific investigations. MUFON should be concentrating on investigating fewer but better cases, he suggested, instead of casting a bigger net to drag in larger numbers of sightings of lights in the sky and other low-grade cases. Hoffman has a "real job" working for a defense contractor, and while he sometimes finds it difficult to justify his leadership position in an organization that investigates UFOs, he found it impossible to defend belonging to an organization suggesting that there is a "secret space program," and that people are being teleported to Mars.

James Clarkson, MUFON's Washington State Director,  wrote "With Regret - Why I Must Leave MUFON Completely." He cited MUFON's unwillingness to deal decisively with John Ventre's racist rant, the absurdity of having J.Z. Knight as a "MUFON Insider," and
long-term burnout and a growing sense that MUFON as a serious UFO investigative organization no longer exists. I suspect that I am not the only State Director suffering from a deep malaise while watching MUFON become an income-generating enterprise. The triggering event for me was the lack of an immediate dismissal of John Ventre from his State Directorship after his racist outburst on Facebook, or at least an immediate statement that Ventre’s comments were not acceptable coming from a leader of MUFON.
Robert Powell, MUFON's Director of "Scientific Research," while making no public statement, suddenly notified MUFON of his resignation just as this year's farcical Symposium was about to begin.  Powell's most recent major case was the promotion of an infrared video taken from an aircraft in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico in 2013. It now appears quite likely that the airborne objects caught on the IR video were hot air wedding lanterns. However, Powell and his colleagues dispute this identification.

Researcher Nick Redfern was labeled a "hater" by Harzan for objecting to Ventre's rant; Redfern then severed all ties with MUFON. Following all this, UFO researcher and filmmaker Paul Kimball wrote on his blog of the "complete implosion of MUFON."

When Harzan was interviewed on Kevin Randle's podcast,  he spoke of the need to balance the needs of the organization with fidelity to sources and scientific accuracy. In other words, MUFON's membership doesn't want to hear caveats and uncertainties - they want exciting stories about aliens, and they will drift away if they don't get them.

Actually, MUFON's problems go back quite a bit farther.  There is the matter concerning John Carpenter, a licensed clinical social worker who was MUFON's chief investigator of "UFO abductees,"performing hypnotic regressions of supposed abductees. The deal apparently involved Carpenter giving or "selling" his files on "abductees" he had hypnotized to multimillionaire investor Robert Bigelow in the late 1990s, files that were supposed to remain confidential. This generated much controversy when it was revealed. In 2008 and 2009,  Bigelow gave MUFON  about $345,000 to finance its "Star Team," intended to be a rapid-response team to travel to UFO "hotspots" as sightings break out, and hopefully capture UFOs in the act.  (Apparently Bigelow thought that information in MUFON's files would be helpful in his venture Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow "told Coast to Coast years ago that he hoped to imitate UFO propulsion systems in his own spacecraft.")  The deal quickly turned sour, although neither party has said much publicly about just what happened.  Researcher Norio Hayakawa has compiled a "look at the organization," questioning just what has become of all that (and other) money.

It is difficult to predict what the future holds for MUFON. Harzan is a businessman, and will do what he must to increase revenues. I suspect that we will see a lot more "retail UFOlogy" (bread and circuses for the crowd), and less "serious investigation" - of which there has been precious little of late.