Friday, March 03, 2006

X-Files, 1920s Style

British astronomer Percival Lowell, pretty much the Carl Sagan of the Nineteenth Century, believed that Mars sustained intelligent life. Although he had no proof, most people went along with him, figuring that the eventual meeting between Terrans and Martians was only a matter of time.

Because Lowell thought extraterrestrial life was no laughing matter, neither did a lot of other people at the turn of the Twentieth Century. So, not surprisingly, official United States investigation of UFOs and extraterrestrial life began some decades before Roswell.

Astronomers realized that sometime during August 1923, the orbits of Earth and Mars would get as close as they possibly could, an event that wouldn’t be repeated for another eighty years. If they were to communicate with the red planet, they felt that then would be their best shot. As time grew near, scientists from all over the world began gearing up to record what they felt would be the historical event of the Twentieth Century. They weren’t the only curious people, though. Just about everyone waited in anticipation. It was headline news in every major paper. The op-ed section of virtually all American dailies featured running commentary about what first contact would mean to human civilization.

The peak of Earth/Mars proximity would occur on Saturday, August 23, 1923. After much lobbying before a sceptical panel of top US Navy and US Army brass, Amherst College astronomy professor Dr. David Todd finally convinced the armed forces to order a day of radio silence so that he could make official contact with the Martians. Assisting Todd were the Army Signal Corp, and Francis Jenkins, inventor of the “radio camera.” An important precursor to modern day television, this device translated radio signals into images and captured them on film. Tests with the machine showed that it worked perfectly, and at the time, everyone stipulated its accuracy, reliability and relevance.

When the moment came, Todd sent out a wave of signals, aimed directly at the red planet. After an interval of about five minutes a number of different radio signals came back. They were busy decoding when a voice, apparently from Mars, came over the transmission. From its pitch, they assumed it was both male and human, but none of them could recognize the language. Jenkins managed to shoot about thirty feet of film as the radio signals started. He then developed it as the US Army and the US Navy looked on. The final print: myriad human faces in profile.

It would seem that the project hit its mark. The radio signals came from Mars. Since the signals received were different from those issued, it could not have been a reflection of the US Army’s own radio equipment. Also, the armed forces insisted that they had kept their word, and maintained radio silence.

Yup, by all accounts, the project seemed to have been the roaring success of the roaring ‘20s. But that’s not the story that most people would get right away. A reporter from The New York Times was on hand, and he covered the event fully. You can find all the details of the above story from the same place I got them: in that paper’s August 27 issue, printed some four days later. Why didn’t The Times print the findings on the 24th? The public had received a lot of hype about the event. Undoubtedly they were waiting with baited breath to find out what happened. Why wait four days to report something of this importance?

The Times did, however publish a related story on the 24th. They knew that Marconi had seen a copy of the radio signal, and was excited because the signals seemed to come from Mars. Yet he could see no mathematical intelligence in them. Marconi didn’t know, however, that Jenkins had recorded them on his radio camera, and that the signals seemed to be an analog feed of a thirty-foot long image. As such, it wouldn’t necessarily be constrained to a simple algorithm.

What’s most striking in this particular series of events is that the US government seemed to be quite open to sharing information with the public vis-a-vis research on intelligent extraterrestrial life unless it were disquietingly clear that it was a probability, not merely a possibility. The Army confiscated all notes and recordings of the experiment. In later years, Army people confirmed the New York Times story. More important, they considered the results to be valid. The strategy of secrecy and deception in dealing with extraterrestrial life seems to have been established at this point.

So what would be the true reason for a cover-up of Roswell? More provocative question: was Roswell really a cover-up?

As difficult as this is for ufologists to admit, everything they know came either directly or indirectly from a faction of the US Government. After all, where would they be without the likes of J. Allen Hynek (NASA), Gordon Cooper (USAF), Jesse Marcel (USA), John Lear (defense contractor, Learjet heir), Dale Hartig (DIS), Project Disclosure (representing personnel from numerous branches of the US Armed Forces and intelligence services) or Phillip Corso (NSC)?

Answer: completely in the dark, grasping at air. At the same time, other factions within the same military/intelligence nexus endeavored to cover up any knowledge it might have on the subject.

In other words, one part of officialdom tells us “They’re here.” Another part tells us “You’re nuts if you believe that.”

Would you buy a used car from either side?


Blogger Johnny said...

Excellent posting.
More fuel for the 23 Enigma too: "The peak of Earth/Mars proximity would occur on Saturday, August 23, 1923." (and of course, august being the 8th month--8 is 2 to the 3rd power.

1:58 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

Wow. I didn't even notice.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

Saturday is 6th day 2x3

4:11 PM  

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