Which incident of the 20th century is responsible for more analysis, rehashings, and conspiracy theories: the Kennedy assassination or the Roswell incident? Each left in its wake copious details that are difficult to interpret. Decades later, amateur scholars pore over them with a level of attention that is almost molecular.
On June 14, 1947, rancher Mac Brazel found scraps of rubber, paper, tin foil, and sticks in a field north of Roswell, New Mexico. On July 8, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release announcing that military personnel had discovered the remains of a “flying disc.” But later that day: Recall. The debris hadn’t come from a flying saucer, said Eighth Air Force Commanding General Roger Ramey, but from a weather balloon. It wasn’t enough. Over the decades, the story grew to include aliens in the saucer, secret autopsies of the aliens, autopsy witnesses disappearing....
In 1994, Congressman Steven Schiff of New Mexico, after repeated inquiries from his constituents, commissioned a General Accounting Office study to try to hash it all out. The conclusion: The culprit was Project Mogul, a then-secret program in which balloons sent up to 40,000 feet used sonobuoys to listen for evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. The explanation got a boost in 1997 from the book UFO Crash at Roswell: Genesis of a Modern Myth (Smithsonian Institution Press); in it, Mogul scientist Charles Moore lays out detailed weather data he says shows how one balloon could have left the debris.
The Mogul explanation isn’t universally satisfying. Saucerologist David Rudiak claims Moore cooked his meteorology. (Moore, who died in March, would not debate Rudiak’s challenges.) Rudiak also examined a photograph of General Ramey taken the day he issued his saucer denial: Ramey holds a piece of paper, and Rudiak, having blown the picture up, insists the paper bears the words “victims of the wreck.” The GAO counters that a “national level organization” examining the photo found nothing of the kind, and that Roswell is, and always has been, a saucer-free zone.
One Giant Oops for Mankind
In 1999, John Sarkissian, a scientist at the Parkes Radio Observatory in Australia, began hunting for original Apollo 11 recordings of the TV signal beamed from the moon during Neil Armstrong’s historic “step” on July 20, 1969. Sarkissian, who worked as a technical advisor on The Dish, a movie about Parkes’ role in the mission, knew that the ghostly black-and-white film seen by hundreds of millions on that momentous day wasn’t what was transmitted from the moon. Only a handful of people at Parkes and two other tracking stations, Goldstone in California and Honeysuckle Creek in Australia, saw that. The rest of us saw a degraded picture that had been converted to a format commonly used by broadcasters of the day.
So what happened to the original, clear TV pictures? They were recorded on one-inch magnetic tapes and sent to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. But after more than a decade of searching by Sarkissian, Richard Nafzger of Goddard, and half a dozen others at various U.S. and Australian institutions, nobody has been able to put their hands on the tapes.
The most likely conclusion, NASA determined last July, is that it recorded over them in 1981, when a shortage of one-inch magnetic tapes led the space agency to reuse old ones in storage.