The Space Race, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to be the first to pioneer the stars, provided an arena in which astronauts were like gladiators, with democracy pitted against communism.
Ancient prophecy warned of a war in heaven, and the Space Race could very well have been the heavens’ Cold War as each group strove to prove its superiority. The world watched with keen eagerness as a hypothetical scorecard was created to list the feats accomplished in zero gravity.
In 1955, Cold War anxiety continued to mount. Many people around the world thought that a nuclear Pearl Harbor loomed on the horizon. The space programs were in full tilt. The eye in the sky was now a reality. People thought of the hardware floating above them and began to feel the paranoia of being watched by an invisible enemy.
One of the more peculiar projects introduced to the space program was Project A119. In 2000, a body of work dating back the late 1950’s was released from a library at Kirtland Air Force Base, It was titled, "A Study of Lunar Research Flights". The reports revealed that the United States of America had been interested in setting off a nuclear detonation on the dark side of the moon.
Leonard Reiffel, the physicist who fronted the project, produced eight reports on the plan’s feasability between May 1958 and January 1959. According to the reports, the motivation for such a project was threefold: scientific, military, and political.
The scientific purpose of the project dealt with the environmental impact of a nuclear explosion on the moon’s surface. The military was interested in placing arms in space, and the political goal was to send a message of threat by example to our Soviet counterparts.
The project leaders needed to ascertain the likely extent of the environmental disturbances, such as biological or radiological contamination, that might occur if a bomb were detonated on the surface of the moon. The major obstacle in their path was public opinion. The public was not to know about the project until the political climate could be properly manipulated. But, eventually, the project was scrapped when they could not come up with a way to either obtain public approval or carry the test out in secret.
The reports revealed in 2000 had theorized, however, that while the impact of the test would be very low, it would definitely put a blemish on the face of the man in the moon.
So many of these projects seem like good ideas to those who propose them, but turn out to be foolish and expensive when they attempt to put them into practice.
Sometimes big boys love to play with big toys and they love to do silly things with them.
Using history as our guide, we see that the space program, while ostensibly created for purely scientific purposes, has always shown evidence of being a political and military tool as well. In the early years of the space program, those in power seemed to feel that the all–seeing eye from the firmament would have an advantage in intelligence operations.
President Eisenhower proposed to Soviet Premier Khrushchev that each country allow the other to conduct air and space surveillance over the other country, and that the images be given to the United Nations. This was known as the "Open Skies" program.
This proposal would lessen the fear of a surprise attack. Although highly regarded by the European community, Open Skies was rejected by the Soviets.
The Air Force had to cancel a planned classified satellite system, but resurrected it as as the super–secret Corona reconnaissance satellite program. It was organized under the new Keyhole security protocols, the most secret security orders in American history.
The project was conceived to take pictures in space of the Soviet Bloc countries and de–orbit the photographic film for processing and exploitation.
During Project Corona, the United States had accomplished a number of firsts in the space program. One of those firsts was the midair capture of a vehicle returning from outer space.
From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Air Force pilots used C–130’s to capture space vehicles and hundreds have safely been brought back to earth. The number of successful captures has been classified to this day. There is also speculation that heavy payloads were dropped from high altitudes and recovered by military transports as early as the1950’s.
You would think that something as tedious as space vehicle retrieval in the 20th century would be far more routine in the 21st century with advances in technology.
On September 8th, 2004, all eyes were focused on the Western Desert of Utah as Genesis, NASA’s solar–wind sample capsule, returned from Space.
Project Genesis was the first U.S. sample return mission since the 1972 Apollo mission. This was the retrieval mission that would set the course for other such missions already scheduled for years to come.
A fireball sighting was reported near Bend Oregon. It was a dot of light far brighter than Venus, moving across the morning sky. Oregon was having a rare clear day and observers were getting an eyeful.
Moving at 25,000 mph, it got brighter as it moved across eastern Oregon into Southwestern Idaho. People in Elko, Nevada, were able to see it as it roared across the sky to its destination in Western Utah.
It was at that point that a set of parachutes was to open, slowing its descent, and helicopter pilots were to snag the capsule in midair in the same way that Corona capsules were retrieved decades earlier.
Unfortunately, it did not happen the way it was planned.
The capsule’s parachutes did not open.
The $250 million dollar project and its precious cargo whizzed past the helicopter pilots at about 150 miles per hour.
The capsule’s wobbling arc ended in a crash into the soft salt flats 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. The salt flats were probably not soft enough for the 55 hexagonal fragile wafers that were used to gather up particles from the sun. Scientists had been worried that if the capsule crashed, the samples would be contaminated.
An example of precision engineering was now a heap of twisted metal buried in a desolate area near the Dugway Proving Grounds, a military facility that specializes in biological and chemical warfare.
Scientists are still hopeful that there may be something to retrieve and of course public relations people are busily trying to find that silver lining.
Genesis is only the beginning.
Ground Zero listeners and some scientists are now seeing the potential threat of an "Andromeda Strain" –like scenario that may play out in 2006 when Project Stardust returns to earth in the same location and retrieved in the same manner as Genesis was supposed to be.
As predicted in previously written Ground Zero articles, missions like Genesis are too risky and could have the potential of contaminating the earth with possibly infectious organisms from space.
In the book "The Andromeda Strain" by Michael Crichton, a sample retrieval satellite is sent into space to collect micro–organisms for study. A malfunction occurs and the retrieval capsule crash lands in a desolate area of Arizona.
Concerned citizens from a nearby town find the capsule and try to figure out where it came from. Two military officers are sent to retrieve the satellite. When the officers arrive in the town, it appears to be abandoned.
The officers are later heard on the radio screaming and gasping for breath. The capsule’s protective shielding has been breached and an alien bacteria is released into the air.
The new alien bacteria clots their blood within three seconds of entering their lungs.
The book was written at a time when there were serious concerns about astronauts being contaminated with space viruses when they traveled to and from the moon.
It was eventually decided that there was no reason to quarantine the astronauts.
When Apollo 12 retrieved parts of the Surveyor 3, which landed on the moon in April of 1967, bacteria was found in the probe. It had survived the launch and managed to stay alive on the airless surface of the moon.
The bacteria was Streptococcus mitis. It is a bacterium that is normally found in the nose and throat.
When someone suggests that perhaps a microbial lifeform could survive extreme conditions or mutate, it is usually laughed at because it seems that many people believe that conditions for life anywhere, including space, are narrow and rigid.
We are told that in order to find life on a planet, it has to be so many miles away from a sun, there has to be a certain temperature for life to exist, there must be water, and the air has to have certain components to keep the organisms alive.
We have been told this countless times, and yet the Surveyor 3 story is buried somewhere in the dust of the Sea of Storms. An Apollo astronaut, Pete Conrad, even says that the story somehow got lost in the high fiving and rock collecting on the moon. Some peoople may even think that the story is as far fetched as the moon landing itself!
Anaerobic life that lives beneath the earth’s crust can survive without oxygen. In fact, it is estimated that bacterial life forms that live inside the earth are far greater than the mass of life above the crust.
If this type of life can exist here on the earth under extreme conditions, then logic dictates that extraterrestrial microbes almost certainly exist and it is imperative that we understand that not only could there be microbial life that is harmless, but microbial life that can infect us.
What is the definition of an alien?
Is it something that does not belong in the environment where it is found?
While one dictionary defines the word "alien" as meaning "differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility," we have long used the term to denote something invasive, something that enters a host and eventually takes over like a malignant tumor.
Could it be that our various diseases were delivered here from space?
Chandra Wickramasinghe and the late Fred Hoyle, both renowned astronomers at Cardiff University, pioneered the modern theory of panspermia. They have generated controversy with their ideas about viruses and bacteria hitching rides on comets, the solar winds and meteors.
One of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s more controversial claims is that influenza outbreaks are often caused by newly arriving viruses from space. They also noticed flu outbreaks and how the worst epidemics occur during the eleven–year cycle of sunspot activity.
The Genesis mission was to bring back from space charged particles of solar wind. The probe was supposed to be grabbed from the air to prevent the capsule from breaking open. Instead, the capsule crashed to earth in an area near a biocontainment facility in Utah.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that the landing site was no coincidence.
Dugway Proving Ground, in the west Desert of Utah, has been considered by some to be the new improved Area 51. While that older and better known facility continues to operate, Dugway seems more than appropriate for projects like Genesis and Stardust, with its secret locale and its airstrip that can be used as an emergency landing place for vehicles like the space shuttle. This facility was to have been a test landing location for the X–33 advanced spacecraft. However, that program was over budgeted, over scheduled and was eventually killed.
Dugway is equipped to perform chemical and biological survivability testing of defense material, test environmental characterization and remediation technology, act as the Department of Defense Joint Chemical and Biological Defense contact point in support of commanders in chief during wartime, provide support to chemical and biological weapons conventions, and operate and maintain an installation to support test missions.
The area is off limits to civilians. It also has restricted airspace. Any unauthorized aircraft that flies near to or over the area will be shot down.
Dugway Proving Grounds will be the site of the 2006 re–entry and landing of the Stardust Mission. Stardust is a comet sample return mission. The probe will collect interstellar dust, particularly comet dust from Comet P/Wild 2, and return to Earth to drop off the sample return capsule.
The dangers that face us with these sample return missions stem from the possibility that extraterrestrial microbial or viral life forms and viruses could be captured, and, in a worst–case scenario, be accidentally unleashed in accidents similar to that of the failed Genesis project.
Scientists overseeing Stardust say that the collection of the dust in aerogel collectors will guarantee sterlization of the particles. This will prevent any life form from getting through.
At least not any life form that we know of.
As I watch the wobbling arc and eventual crash of the Genesis probe and remember the reassurances of NASA that the mission would be routine, as I read about panspermia and the theories of Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe or about Apollo 12 and Pete Conrad talking about bacteria surviving the hostile conditions of the moon, and I remember the fictional invasion of the Andromeda strain space influenza, I realize one important thing.
My plans to visit Utah in January of 2006 will be seriously reconsidered.