Space Station


Flying Saucers!

The latest International Space Station News is encouraging, but what about those flying saucers in China?
Astronauts Lauded for Super Mission

AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) MAY 29, 2000 — Gliding through the darkness, space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts returned to Earth on Monday amid high praise for their successful overhaul of the international space station.

The seven crew members were back only moments when the accolades began rolling in.

"Just a super mission,'' congratulated Mission Control.

Atlantis landed in the predawn hours, making only the 14th touchdown in darkness in space shuttle history. The crosswind was well within safety limits, despite NASA's earlier concerns.

"I know it's bad hours for the arrival, but we are certainly glad to be back home,'' said shuttle commander James Halsell Jr.

The space station was soaring over the North Atlantic when Atlantis touched down on the floodlighted runway. All four newly installed batteries were working fine aboard the space station and providing full electrical power, and the other repaired equipment was in good shape, too.

The space shuttle fared less well.

Atlantis came back with scratches and dents on its wings, the apparent result of ice that broke off the chilled external fuel tank during liftoff on May 19. The damage to the thermal tiles on the underside of the wings was noticed when NASA reviewed video of the launch.

Halsell said the scrapes turned out to be "nothing extraordinary,'' even though Mission Control had him take special precautions in preparing for the ride down through the atmosphere.

Besides replacing bad batteries on the space station, the six Americans and one Russian furnished the 1 1/2 -year-old complex with a new antenna, construction crane, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fans. They also boosted the complex into an orbit more than 230 miles high, 30 miles higher than before, and proved that with proper ventilation, it's a safe place to work. Previous visitors had been sickened by stale air.

Halsell said it was sometimes stressful trying to squeeze everything into the six days that the spacecraft were docked. But he was pleased "to achieve what I think is a resounding success and something of a resurgence for the international space station program.''

Now it's up to the Russians.

Their long-delayed service module is supposed to lift off from Kazakstan aboard an unmanned Proton rocket in July. Part propulsion tug and part crew quarters, the module is more than two years late because of Russia's money crunch and rocket failures.

Because two Proton launches ended in explosions last year, NASA wants to wait until a few more rockets fly before committing to the all-important service module flight.

Although the service module looks ready, "until it goes up, we won't know,'' said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. NASA is working on modules that could take its place, just in case.

The service module must be attached to the space station before crews can move in and NASA's prized lab module can link up.

Cosmonaut Yuri Usachev and astronauts Susan Helms and James Voss said the repair mission provided great training for their five-month space station stint next year.

"It was motivational for us to be there as well,'' Voss said.

That's good, because the three will be back in training in just two short weeks.

"I'm going to probably need about a year to get ready for a bigger, better station,'' Helms said. "I'm anxious to go back as soon as I can, but I also need to go back prepared.''

Atlantis, meanwhile, will be readied for NASA's next space station visit, in September.

Russian Space Module Set for July

Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) MAY 31, 2000 - A critical Russian-built segment of the International Space Station has passed all tests in plenty of time for its July launch, the Russian space agency said Wednesday.

Launch of the Zvezda (Star) module, which is intended to house the station's crew, has been delayed for more than two years.

First, the government was short of funds to build it. Then, Proton booster rockets, the model that will carry Zvezda into orbit, crashed in launches twice last year.

Now, officials say, those problems have been resolved.

"The Zvezda module has undergone all tests twice without a hitch,'' Russian Air and Space Agency spokesman Konstantin Kreidenko said.

Kreidenko said the module's launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan is tentatively set for July 12. Before then, Russia will carry out several more launches of the Proton booster rocket, he said. Several Proton launches have been carried out successfully this year.

The station's first components were launched in November and December 1998, and U.S. space shuttle crews have visited. But the first permanent crew must wait until after Zvezda is in orbit.

The postponement of Zvezda's launch has caused costly delays in the entire 16-nation station project, vexing NASA. The U.S. space agency had invited Russia into the station program in 1993 in hopes of saving time and money, but Russian delays are estimated to have cost NASA as much as $3 billion.

Russia has also irritated NASA by keeping its aging Mir space station aloft. U.S. officials want Russia to dump Mir and concentrate its strained resources on the new station.

The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth this week after a repair mission to the international space station. The crew replaced four depleted batteries and did other essential work to resuscitate the craft, which was not designed to fly so long without a crew.

Kreidenko said the first permanent crew is likely to blast off for the station in October.

Even before going into space, Zvezda has already been given bad marks from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. The GAO warned in March that the station crews will face increased risk and noise because of Russia's failure to meet NASA safety standards. It also said that the module doesn't offer strong enough protection against collisions with space junk and its equipment will fail if the cabin pressure its lost, jeopardizing the entire station.

NASA said it knows about the problems and promised they would be resolved in orbit.

What The Little Green Men Say About Scientists

By Robert Matthews

(Telegraph -UK) January 28, 1999 - SO now we know: the reason aliens do not exist is because they get zapped by gamma rays before they have the chance to arrive here on Earth.

That, in a nutshell, is what an American astrophysicist was claiming last week in the latest attempt to bring a modicum of science to the otherwise lamentable level of debate over the reality, or otherwise, of UFOs.

According to Dr James Annis of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Illinois, the reason aliens have not got here yet is that our galaxy has only recently given space-faring life the chance to thrive.

Until just a few hundred million years ago, says Dr Annis, our galaxy was being regularly zapped by so-called gamma-ray bursters: collisions between dead stars and black holes that release vast quantities of sterilising radiation. Only now are these collisions rare enough for alien life to emerge and travel decent distances from their home planet.

Dr Annis hopes that his theory, described last week in New Scientist, will resolve one of the most famous arguments over the existence of alien life, known as the Fermi Paradox. Named after the Italian Nobel-Prizewinning physicist Enrico Fermi who purportedly came up with it in the Fifties, it boils down to the question: if aliens do exist, where are they?

It is a question that draws significance from two facts about our galaxy: it is very old - 10 billion years or thereabouts - and about 100,000 light-years across. Thus even if aliens only manage to travel through space at one-thousandth the speed of light, they could still have got across the galaxy in around 100 million years - far less than the age of the universe. So where are they?

Apparently Fermi took this as proof that aliens do not exist. Now Dr Annis claims to have found a loophole in this logic: aliens may well exist - but only recently have they been granted enough time between gamma ray bursts to get anywhere.

Yet you do not have to be a Nobel Prizewinner to see that Fermi's proof-by-absence always had more holes in it than a ton of Gruyere. For a start, it presumes that all aliens would insist on declaring their presence the moment they arrive. What if they do not? Certainly one can see why both benign and malevolent aliens might want to keep a low profile. And of course, believers in UFOs can resolve Fermi's Paradox very simply: aliens are here already.

All of which makes one ponder the greatest mystery in this whole debate: just why is the standard of argument over aliens so dismally poor? It is not that scientists are afraid to tackle bizarre questions. Ask why, say, giants cannot exist, or the Loch Ness monster is imaginary, and you can expect to receive perfectly sound, scientific arguments.

The distinguished British geneticist J. B. S Haldane sorted out the former in an essay entitled On Being the Right Size written in the Twenties. He pointed out that a creature 10 times the height of a human - the size of Giant Pope or Giant Pagan in Pilgrim's Progress, for example - would have, pro rata, 1,000 times the weight. This colossal load would, in turn, generate crushing pressures 10 times higher than those borne by human leg-bones. "As the human thighbone breaks under about 10 times the human weight," Haldane observed, "Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step."

As for the Loch Ness monster, the key problem is that it is not sufficient to have just one Loch Ness monster: there has to be a viable breeding colony. The lack of sufficient food in the loch - and the sheer paucity of sightings - all count heavily against the reality of Nessie.

Admittedly, these are not knock-out arguments: perhaps giants evolved tougher bones for their legs, and maybe Nessie is the last of a long-living breed of dinosaurs. But by the dismal standards of "Ufology", they have all the authority of a Euclidean proof.

If anyone does know of a knock-out argument why aliens cannot have visited the Earth, I would be most glad to hear it. I ask not out of any desire to have my own belief in the reality of UFOs vindicated (as it happens, I have no views either way), but merely out of frustration at the large slabs of tripe wheeled out by scientists whenever the question arises.

As things stand, I find it hard to avoid concluding that scientists are keener to save face among their peers than to give the issue of alien visitations the consideration it deserves.

China Sees UFOs And Calls It Science, Not Superstition

Associated Press Writer

PUSALU VILLAGE, China (AP) January 2000 - Poor farmers in Beijing's barren hills saw it: an object swathed in colored light arcing heavenward that some say must have been a UFO.

They're not alone. People in 12 other Chinese cities reported possible UFO sightings last month. UFO researchers, meanwhile, were busy looking into claims of an alien abduction in Beijing.

At the beginning of the new millennium, China is astir with sightings of otherworldly visitors. Such sightings are treated with unexpected seriousness in this country usually straightjacketed by its communist rulers.

China has a bimonthly magazine -- circulation 400,000 -- devoted to UFO research. The conservative state-run media report UFO sightings. UFO buffs claim support from eminent scientists and liaisons with the secretive military, giving their work a scientific sheen of respectability.

"Some of these sightings are real, some are fake and with others its unclear," said Shen Shituan, a real rocket scientist, president of Beijing Aerospace University and honorary director of the China UFO Research Association. "All these phenomena are worth researching."

Research into UFOs will help spur new forms of high-speed travel, unlimited sources of energy and faster-growing crops, claims Sun Shili, president of the government-approved UFO Research Association (membership 50,000).

A foreign trade expert and a Spanish translator for Mao Tse-tung, Sun saw a UFO nearly 30 years ago while at a labor camp for ideologically suspect officials.

"It was extremely bright and not very big," said Sun. "At that time, I had no knowledge of UFOs. I thought it was a probe sent by the Soviet revisionists."

For thousands of years, Chinese have looked to the skies for portents of change on Earth. While China is passing through its first millennium using the West's Gregorian calendar, the traditional lunar calendar is ushering in the Year of the Dragon, regarded as time of tumultuous change.

"All of that sort of millennial fear and trepidation fits in so nicely with Chinese cosmology -- and also the Hollywood propaganda that everybody's been lapping up," said Geremie Barme, a Chinese culture watcher at Australia National University.

In Pusalu, a patch of struggling corn and bean farms 30 miles from Beijing, villagers believe cosmic forces were at play on Dec. 11. As they tell it, an object the size of a person shimmering with golden light moved slowly up into the sky from the surrounding arid mountains.

"It was so beautiful, sort of yellow," villager Wang Cunqiao said. "It was like someone flying up to heaven."

What "it" was remains a topic of debate. Many villagers are fervent Buddhists. But local leaders want to play down any religious overtones, fearing that government censure may spoil plans to attract tourism to Pusalu.

"Some say it was caused by an earthquake. Some say it was a UFO. Some say it was a ray of Buddha. I'm telling everyone to call it an auspicious sign," said Chen Jianwen, village secretary for the officially atheistic Communist Party.

State media ignored religious interpretations and labeled the celestial events in Pusalu, Beijing, Shanghai and 10 other Chinese cities in December as possible UFOs. But UFO researchers have largely dismissed the sightings as airplane trails catching the low sun.

"If the military didn't chase it, it's because they knew it wasn't a UFO. They were probably testing a new aircraft," said Chen Yanchun, a shipping company executive who helps manage the China UFO Research Resource Center.

Operating from a dingy three-room flat in a Beijing apartment block, the Resource Center keeps a version of China's X-Files: 140 dictionary-sized boxes of fading newspaper clippings and eyewitness accounts of sightings. The collection has, among others items, accounts that the military scrambled planes in 1998 in an unsuccessful pursuit of a UFO.

Chen said the center has had 500 reported UFO sightings in 1999, but after investigation confirmed cases will likely number 200 or so. He's currently checking on a worker's claims that aliens entered his Beijing home in early December and, with his wife and child present, spirited him 165 miles east and back in a few hours.

"The increase in flying saucer incidents is natural," said Chen, a former Aerospace Ministry researcher with a Ph.D. in aerodynamics. He cited more manmade aerospace activity and radio signals from Earth penetrating farther into space.

Sun has another theory: He believes aliens may find China attractive for the same reason foreign investors and tourists do.

"It's very possible that relatively rapid development attracts investigations by flying saucers, and here in China we're becoming more developed," he said. "Generally, well-developed areas like the United States have reported more sightings."

X-Files Version Of History Is Backed By CIA Report

By Michael Smith

(TELEGRAPH - UK) August 17, 1999 - The CIA has released a secret history of its investigations into UFO sightings, revealing that there was more truth in the popular television series The X-Files than is often believed.

The highly critical report describes often bitter debates between real-life X-Files investigators who believed that "the truth is out there" and their sceptical bosses. It records tales of bumbling undercover agents whose activities fuelled a widespread belief that the government was covering up what the agency described as "extra-terrestrial visitations by intelligent beings".

The problem was eventually passed to the agency's physics and electronics division where in true X-Files style just one analyst investigated UFO phenomena. But the Fifties equivalent of Fox Mulder was constantly undermined by his boss, described by the CIA history as "a non-believer in UFOs", who tried but failed to declare the project "inactive".

While the CIA investigations eventually concluded that all the sightings could be explained, the report concludes that "misguided" attempts to keep them secret led to widespread belief of a government cover-up.

The report, written by Gerald K Haines, the official CIA historian, was commissioned by the then CIA director James Woolsey in 1993 in the wake of renewed claims of a CIA-led cover-up. It calls for the first time on documents that the agency hid from UFO enthusiasts who obtained thousands of more mundane files under the Freedom of Information Act. The report, completed in 1997, has been released at the request of the British academic journal Intelligence and National Security and is published in its summer issue this month.

US intelligence began investigating UFO sightings in 1947 when a pilot claimed to have seen nine discs travelling at more than 1,000 mph in Washington state. The claim was backed up by additional sightings including reports from military and civilian pilots and air traffic controllers.

The first investigation, Operation Saucer, was carried out by US air intelligence which initially feared that the objects might be Soviet bombers. But some officers became convinced that UFOs existed and in a top-secret report concluded many of the sightings were "interplanetary". Air force chiefs had the report rewritten to conclude that "although visits from outer space are deemed possible, they are believed to be very unlikely".

The CIA initially dismissed the investigations as "midsummer madness". But an agency committee decided they could be used by Moscow either to create mass hysteria or to overload the air warning system, making it unable to distinguish between UFOs and Soviet bombers.

In 1955, claims by two elderly sisters to have had contact with UFOs attracted widespread publicity. A CIA agent describing himself as an air force officer spoke to them and reported that he appeared to have stumbled upon a scene from Arsenic and Old Lace. Analysis of a "code" which the women believed aliens were using to make contact with them while they listened to their favourite radio programme was morse code from a US radio station.

But when UFO enthusiasts heard of the "air force" officer's visit they became immediately suspicious that he was a member of the CIA trying to cover up the affair. One enthusiast pursued the CIA conspiracy theory and was visited by another CIA officer, who claimed to be in the air force and even wore an air force uniform. The ruse failed, making the conspiracy theorists even more suspicious.

The refusal to release 57 documents on the investigation in the Seventies, to protect sources, also fuelled the cover-up theory, Haines concluded.

Close Encounters of The Aural Kind

by Richard Dorment

(TELEGRAPH - UK) May 31,2000 - SHHHH. Everybody be quiet. Come closer, lower the lights. Summer may almost be upon us, but in a disused chapel in west London the temperature has dropped, the wind is up, darkness is coming on. Listen. Up in the attic. Can you hear that low murmur of unseen voices? It's time for one of Uncle Richard's tales of the supernatural.

To see Witness, the new installation created by Susan Hiller for Artangel, you step out of the busy market on the Golborne Road and into the scruffy ground-floor room of the dismal chapel. A table and some chairs, a visitors book, exhibition information on the bulletin board: for an exhibition of contemporary art, everything looks normal. It's only when you stumble up a spiral staircase to an attic room running the whole length of the building that you begin to feel that something extraordinary is about to happen.

And it does. As your eyes adjust to the dark at the top of the stairs, what you see is the spectacle of 600 circular microphones suspended by wires from the chapel's rafters, each crackling with the muffled sound of people speaking in half a dozen different languages. Overhead, spotlights beam down on this susurrating forest of sound.

As visitors push their way through the room, shadows on the floor and walls gently move. The room seems to tilt. High up on the walls at either end, three small, circular windows covered in semi-transparent sheets of blue plastic become disembodied blue lights, suspended in space against the blackest of nights.

Remember when Tatsuo Miyajima transformed the Queen's House in Greenwich with thousands of blinking LEDs, or when Robert Wilson paid tribute to HG Wells with his fantastic installation in the Clink Street Vaults on Bankside? Not since then has an artist worked with an architectural space as effectively and as imaginatively as Hiller does here.

What now happens is even more extraordinary. By placing each microphone to your ear, you hear a man, a woman or a child talking. Each is telling the story of their own experience with extraterrestrial beings. Sometimes they simply report the sighting of a UFO, at other times a close encounter with an alien. Several of these people claim to have been abducted by a spaceship, or subjected to medical experiments. The time, place and date of each testimony is noted. (Continued below.)

Close Encounters of The Aural Kind (continued)

What we are hearing are apparently genuine eye-witness accounts which Hiller has been collecting for many years from books, magazines, newspaper articles and the internet. Where an incident happened in Russia, the actor recounting it speaks in Russian, with the overall result that the gallery is filled with voices babbling simultaneously in English, French, Russian, German and Swedish. It sounds like the UN General Assembly, but without the translators.

Of course we listen to the stories told in English. And what is so compelling is the earnestness of the testimony, the absolute conviction with which these anonymous, ordinary people tell us of their meetings with men whose skin is blue or metallic, whose craniums are huge and who have slits for eyes, or no mouth. Then, for a few electrifying moments, all the voices fall silent except for one who, speaking in English, holds the room spellbound.

It is as though the microphones have a life of their own, as though the people speaking into them belong to a closed circle, a club of believers. The tailor from Yorkshire who saw his UFO in 1979; the man who saw something hovering above Hythe on November 16, 1963; the housewife's 3am encounter with a 7ft-high alien from a green spaceship that happened to be parked in her street - there is something obsessive about the way that those who have had these experiences endlessly repeat their stories, then politely listen to what a new arrival has to report, before beginning again.

American-born Hiller, 60 this year, is a conceptual artist best known for her work From the Freud Museum, on show at Tate Modern. But what is she doing here in Witness? None of the stories is actually frightening, and none of them have any real point. They just happened. Many of the men and women who tell them are not particularly articulate. You feel in some cases that the narrator has neither the imagination nor the guile to concoct such a spellbinding tale in such detail. Many begin or end "I probably sound like a complete nutcase".

Whatever you think of supernatural occurrences (I am a firm non-believer), you have to conclude that not all of these people are liars - and if they aren't lying, then what did they see? Hiller's use of microphones reminds us that things that we can't see, such as sound waves, can be very real indeed, so it is as though we have stumbled on a parallel world of people who have had some actual but as yet unexplained experience that has been denied the rest of us.

The question for us is what do you do with this information. It isn't factual data, but neither is it fiction. It doesn't quite belong in the realms of dreams or psychiatric disorder, since the storytellers appear to be otherwise normal.

The more I thought about Witness the more I felt that its ostensible subject, UFOs, is beside the point. These people could have been fundamentalist Christians talking about miracle cures, or psychiatric patients discussing their therapy. It's true that listening to them makes you ask yourself whether what they say could possibly be true. But what is important is not whether we believe, but that they do.

And if you are a sceptic, the piece becomes if anything even more moving and mysterious because it then speaks of the deep human need to tell stories and to have stories told to us. Whatever she saw, or dreamed, or made up, or hallucinated, for the rest of her life that housewife will share with Homer or the Brothers Grimm the ability to cast a spell, to reduce a room to silence.

'Witness'is at The Chapel, 92 Golborne Road, London W10, until June 25 (020 7336 6803)

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