Chupacabras: Sudden Impact
By José Pérez – PRMUFON
On Saturday, 20 April 2013, a team of researchers consisting of this author, José Pérez, his wife Ilbis Dominguez, Mr. Luissepi Quiñones, Mr. José A. Martinez, Mr. Anibal Martínez and Mr. Richard Flores reported to the residence of Mr. Fernando Díaz to interview him about the impressive and highly important case which we will endeavor to narrate briefly in this article as follows…
In the early hours of 30 March 2013 at around 6:15 a.m., Mr. Fernando Díaz, a resident of the town of Guayama, Puerto Rico, was headed to work as usual. Mr. Díaz was driving along PR-3, one of the island’s main thoroughfares. The sky was light at that time of the morning, although the sun was not fully out yet.
Mr. Diaz was driving his blue 2001 Hyundai Brio at an approximate speed of 35 miles per hour, heading from the town of Guayama to the town of Salinas.
As he approached kilometer 3.0, right in front of the facilities of the División de Tránsito y Vehículos Hurtados (Traffic and Stolen Vehicles Division) of the Guayama State Police, he noticed that the vehicle ahead of him began zigzagging, as if trying to avoid something.
When he looked, he could see something strange coming over the vehicle – something he had never seen before. It was an enormous, dark-winged figure that appeared to have collided against the vehicle in front of him, and was trying to stand up in an effort to take flight. His first impression was that it was a gigantic bird.
The creature never had enough time to get up off the ground and struck the grille of Mr. Díaz’s car head-on. With the same momentum, it continued sliding along the vehicle’s hood until it struck the windshield, continuing to slide off the hood.
Mr. Diaz stepped on the brake, terrified at the sight, and brought his vehicle to a sudden halt. Luckily there were no cars behind him. After stopping, he looked through the rear-view mirror to see exactly what he had hit, but was unable to see anything.
Although the event lasted only seconds, Mr. Díaz was able to take in considerable details of the creature that hit his car.
According to his description, the creature had a broad face like a Pitbull terrier. It had a short snout and nose resembling that of a dog. Its eyes were small, human-sized, but completely dark and glossy. It had something like ears on either side of its head. It had no feathers; its skin was like a bat’s and although he thinks it may have had hair, it was short and smooth along the body.
The creature was black or dark brown in color, and seemed to have arms aside from wings – that is to say, it had six extremities: two legs, two arms and two wings. Its feet appeared to have multiple toes with claws, and its extended wings resembled those of a bat.
Mr. Díaz noted that the wings appeared to stretch out from two to three feet on either side of his vehicle. A 2001 Hyundai Brio measures exactly 5 feet and 8 inches wide, meaning that if we round it off to 6 feet and add a minimum of two additional feet to each side, we would be talking of a creature whose wingspan was 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip.
Mr. Díaz admitted to us that the first thing that came to his mind was that he had seen the Devil.
Despite his fear, he could see that the vehicle ahead of him was pulling into a Gulf station some 400 meters ahead on the right side of the road.
Once there, he saw the driver of the other vehicle – a white Toyota Corolla – stepping out. Excitedly, Mr. Díaz asked him: “Did you see that?!”
Both drivers spent a few minutes discussing the awful experience, but since they had to reach their respective workplaces, decided to continue their journeys. They decided not to make a formal complaint to the police, since they were certain no one was going to believe them and would probably consider it a joke, and mock them.
Mr. Díaz told his co-workers about the event and one of them accompanied him back to the site at around 10:00 a.m. to see if they could find the thing that hit his vehicle, but there were no traces to be found.
Although Mr. Díaz has been very kind and cooperated with us in our investigation, the driver of the other car does not want his name made public, at least for now. We hope he changes his mind soon in order to lend further credence to this significant case.
Mr. Díaz knows Ms. Felicitas Cintrón, who reported seeing a similar creature in 2012, and when sharing their experiences, agreed that they were definitely talking about the same entity.
Luckily for Mr. Díaz (but not for us in our evidence-gathering endeavors) his vehicle suffered no damage whatsoever aside from some scratches to the paint. The bodywork was not dented and the windshield did not shatter.
We would like to express our thanks to Mr. José Oscar Martínez and Ms. Felicitas Cintrón, who informed us about this case, and especially Mr. Fernando Díaz for having welcomed us into his home and bravely recounted his terrible experience, allowing us to share it with the public.
In my opinion, this could be one of the most significant cases in explaining the mystery that surrounds the mutilation of animals by creatures of unknown origin.
We shall continue our investigations until the day that those who know the truth – and we are certain that they do – choose to make it public.
When I read this article and come across the description of the winged creature, the first thing I thought was “Jersey Devil!”, not chupacabras.
I suppose there could be winged chupacabras, but I don’t think the name applies to this particular creature.
Of course cryptozoology isn’t my main forte, but I’ve done enough research over the years to express my opinion about such things. I’ll stand by Scott Corrales’s research in Fortean things Latin American however because I have limited experience in that cultural venue.
Orbital Sciences Corporation Sunday launched its Antares rocket at 05:00 p.m. EDT from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The test flight was the first launch from the pad at Wallops and was the first flight of Antares, which delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth’s orbit.
“Today’s successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA’s plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Congratulations to Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them for the picture-perfect launch of the Antares rocket. In addition to providing further evidence that our strategic space exploration plan is moving forward, this test also inaugurates America’s newest spaceport capable of launching to the space station, opening up additional opportunities for commercial and government users.
“President Obama has presented a budget for next year that ensures the United States will remain the world leader in space exploration, and a critical part of this budget is the funding needed to advance NASA’s commercial space initiative. In order to stop outsourcing American space launches, we need to have the President’s budget enacted. It’s a budget that’s good for our economy, good for the U.S. Space program — and good for American taxpayers.”
The test of the Antares launch system began with the rocket’s rollout and placement on the launch pad April 6, and culminated with the separation of the mass simulator payload from the rocket.
The completed flight paves the way for a demonstration mission by Orbital to resupply the space station later this year. Antares will launch experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory carried aboard the company’s new Cygnus cargo spacecraft through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
“Today’s successful test flight of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket from the spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, demonstrates an additional private space-launch capability for the United States and lays the groundwork for the first Antares cargo mission to the International Space Station later this year,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The growing potential of America’s commercial space industry and NASA’s use of public-private partnerships are central to President Obama’s strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in space exploration while pushing the bounds of scientific discovery and innovation in the 21st century. With NASA focusing on the challenging and exciting task of sending humans deeper into space than ever before, private companies will be crucial in taking the baton for American cargo and crew launches into low-Earth orbit.
“I congratulate Orbital Sciences and the NASA teams at Wallops, and look forward to more groundbreaking missions in the months and years ahead.”
Orbital is building and testing its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. After successful completion of a COTS demonstration mission to the station, Orbital will begin conducting eight planned cargo resupply flights to the orbiting laboratory through NASA’s $1.9 billion CRS contract with the company.
NASA initiatives, such as COTS, are helping to develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial space partners to develop capabilities to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil in the next few years.
Although Orbital had to reschedule three times, they got their test launch off.
Let’s hope they solved their fairing separation issues before the main Cygnus missions start.
An extrapolation of the genetic complexity of organisms to earlier times suggests that life began before the Earth was formed. Life may have started from systems with single heritable elements that are functionally equivalent to a nucleotide. The genetic complexity, roughly measured by the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides, is expected to have grown exponentially due to several positive feedback factors: gene cooperation, duplication of genes with their subsequent specialization, and emergence of novel functional niches associated with existing genes. Linear regression of genetic complexity on a log scale extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life 9.7 billion years ago. This cosmic time scale for the evolution of life has important consequences: life took ca. 5 billion years to reach the complexity of bacteria; the environments in which life originated and evolved to the prokaryote stage may have been quite different from those envisaged on Earth; there was no intelligent life in our universe prior to the origin of Earth, thus Earth could not have been deliberately seeded with life by intelligent aliens; Earth was seeded by panspermia; experimental replication of the origin of life from scratch may have to emulate many cumulative rare events; and the Drake equation for guesstimating the number of civilizations in the universe is likely wrong, as intelligent life has just begun appearing in our universe. Evolution of advanced organisms has accelerated via development of additional information-processing systems: epigenetic memory, primitive mind, multicellular brain, language, books, computers, and Internet. As a result the doubling time of complexity has reached ca. 20 years. Finally, we discuss the issue of the predicted technological singularity and give a biosemiotics perspective on the increase of complexity.
A very fine paper, except for one thing.
The authors only use one data-set to reach their conclusions.
And I believe they are wrong unless they can prove we live in a simulated universe.
From Dr. David Clarke:
The death of ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher has deprived UFOlogists of an answer to an enduring question: what did she really know about Britain’s Roswell incident?
Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain’s Prime Minister during at the time of the Rendlesham incident in 1980 (credit: BBC.co.uk)
Thatcher, who died on 8 April aged 87, was 19 months into her first term as Prime Minister in 1980 when US airmen at the nuclear-armed twin airbase RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge reported ‘unexplained lights’ (UFOs) hovering above Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
The ‘Rendlesham Forest’ incident happened at the height of the Cold War when tensions in Poland – then behind the Iron Curtain -were reaching crisis point. In the years that followed, the Ministry of Defence drew up secret plans to base US cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common and US airbases in eastern England and was keen to avoid drawing attention to a persistent story about a UFO landing near one of them.
MoD always claimed the UFO incident was ‘of no defence significance’ but until I obtained a copy of their closed file on the case in 2001 – using a precursor to the Freedom of Information Act – the results of their inquiries into the strange sightings remained shrouded in secrecy.
The file revealed their conclusion that ‘it was highly unlikely that any violation of UK airspace would be heralded by such a display of lights…[we] think it equally likely that any [Soviet] reconnaissance or spying activity would be announced in this way.‘
But before these plain facts entered the public domain UFOlogist and internet gossip columnist Georgina Bruni revealed that she had quizzed Thatcher face-to-face about her knowledge of UFOs and Rendlesham.
The bizarre conversation took place in London at a charity cocktail party during 1997, shortly after the former Prime Minister had returned from an engagement in Washington DC. At the time Bruni was working on a book that she hoped would expose ‘the truth’ about Britain’s Roswell.
Seizing the opportunity, Bruni asked her opinion on UFOs and claims that world leaders knew about the existence of alien technology. She received this response:
‘You can’t tell the people’
As Special Branch guards and husband Dennis listened, Bruni asked if she was referring to UFOs. According to her account published in 2001, the following exchange then took place:
‘Determined to pursue the questioning I stood facing her and, almost in a whisper, I said, “UFOs and alien technology, Lady Thatcher.”
“You must get your facts right,” she answered.
“What facts?” I wanted to know. In a worried tone of voice, but with her usual composure, she repeated,
“You must have the facts and you can’t tell the people.”
That was the end of the conversation. Bruni – who died in 2008 – shook Thatcher’s hand, thanked her and the Prime Minister was escorted out of the room, followed by her bodyguards.
Bruni was so impressed by this ‘admission’ that she used the phrase You Can’t Tell the People, despite its ambiguous status, as the title of her 2000 book that publishers Macmillan promoted as ‘the definitive account of the Rendlesham Forest incident’.
As a believer in UFOs and conspiracy theories, Bruni’s gut instinct was Thatcher, like Winston Churchill and other world leaders, had been briefed on the defence threat posed by UFOs and aliens. She mused: ‘If Britain was under threat…Thatcher would want to know all the intricate details…What were the facts she was referring to and, even more importantly, why should she insist that the people should not be told about UFOs?’
In the second edition of the book Bruni revealed she was, as a result of her research into the mystery:
‘…convinced that they [UFOnauts] are time travellers from our future or another dimension…that would account for why there is a reluctance from our governments to reveal the truth about these encounters. How would you tell the people that there is an intelligence far more advanced than we are, who are capable of creating such incredible technology?’ (p406, paperback edition)
Several attempts were made to obtain an explanation of the phrase ‘you can’t tell the people’ from Baroness Thatcher’s office, without success. But a persistent UFOlogist, the late Eric Morris, extracted one plausible explanation from the former PM’s personal assistant Mary Wakeley.
In a letter dated 12 November 2001, that Morris later donated to my archive, Wakeley insisted that the comment ‘you must first get your facts right’ was one ‘that Lady Thatcher regularly uses in almost all circumstances and therefore it would be no surprise that she might have said the same on this occasion.’
Extract from a letter sent by Margaret Thatcher’s PA to UFOlogist Eric Morris in 2001 (author’s collection)
‘However, I do not think one should read too much into it – as the author [Bruni] obviously has done.’
Wakeley reveals she was familiar with the UFO story as she notes that ‘you will not be surprised that this matter has been raised before.’
Although this anecdote appears to have impressed Bruni’s publishers, like many UFO-related yarns, it does not stand up to critical scrutiny.
It could, for instance, be argued the ‘facts’ referred to by Thatcher were those contained in the MoD’s policy assessment – used to justify the closure of their UFO desk in 2009 – that UFOs as alien craft did not exist but those who believed in them would never accept that disappointing conclusion.
So this was more a case of ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’ rather than a clue to the puzzle of Britain’s Roswell incident.
A well written article, but I disagree with Dr. Clarke on a couple of things:
The testimony of the security people on Christmas 1980 and -
As Stanton Friedman says, “Not all UFOs are flying saucers, but all flying saucers are UFOs.”
And not all flying saucers ( or flying triangles ) are interstellar craft. Some might be time machines.
And that might be worth kept secret by certain world leaders.
But we’ll never know.
Another hat tip to the Daily Grail.
Across the world’s great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces.
How desert varnish forms has yet to be resolved, despite intense research by geologists. Most theories suggest it is produced by chemical reactions that act over thousands of years or by ecological processes yet to be determined.
Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university’s astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. “The idea is straightforward,” she says. “On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.”
It is a striking idea: We share our planet with another domain of life that exists “like the realm of fairies and elves just beyond the hedgerow”, as David Toomey puts it in his newly published Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own. But an alternative biosphere to our own would be more than a mere scientific curiosity: it is of crucial importance, for its existence would greatly boost expectations of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos. As Paul Davies, of Arizona State University, has put it: “If life started more than once on Earth, we could be virtually certain that the universe is teeming with it.”
However, by the same token, if it turns out we have failed to realise that we have been sharing a planet with these shadowy lifeforms for eons, despite all the scientific advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, then we may need to think again about the way we hunt for life on other worlds. Robot spacecraft – such as the Mars rover Curiosity – are certainly sophisticated. But what chance do they have of detecting alien entities if the massed laboratories of modern science have not yet spotted them on our own planet? This point is stressed by the US biologist Craig Venter. As he has remarked: “We’re looking for life on Mars and we don’t even know what’s on Earth!”
The concept of a shadow biosphere was first outlined by Cleland and her Colorado colleague Shelley Copley in a paper in 2006 in the International Journal of Astrobiology, and is now supported by many other scientists, including astrobiologists Chris McKay, who is based at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre, California, and Paul Davies.
These researchers believe life may exist in more than one form on Earth: standard life – like ours – and “weird life”, as they term the conjectured inhabitants of the shadow biosphere. “All the micro-organisms we have detected on Earth to date have had a biology like our own: proteins made up of a maximum of 20 amino acids and a DNA genetic code made out of only four chemical bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine,” says Cleland. “Yet there are up to 100 amino acids in nature and at least a dozen bases. These could easily have combined in the remote past to create lifeforms with a very different biochemistry to our own. More to the point, some may still exist in corners of the planet.”
Science’s failure to date to spot this weird life may seem puzzling. The natural history of our planet has been scrupulously studied and analysed by scientists, so how could a whole new type of life, albeit a microbial one, have been missed? Cleland has an answer. The methods we use to detect micro-organisms today are based entirely on our own biochemistry and are therefore incapable of spotting shadow microbes, she argues. A sample of weird microbial life would simply not trigger responses to biochemists’ probes and would end up being thrown out with the rubbish.
That is why unexplained phenomena like desert varnish are important, she says, because they might provide us with clues about the shadow biosphere. We may have failed to detect the source of desert varnish for the simple reason that it is the handiwork of weird microbes which generate energy by oxidising minerals, leaving deposits behind them.
The idea of the shadow biosphere is also controversial and is challenged by several other scientists. “I think it is very unlikely that after 300 years of microbiology we would not have detected such organisms despite the fact that they are supposed to have a different biochemistry from the kind we know about today,” says Professor Charles Cockell, of the UK Centre for Astrobiology at Edinburgh University. “It is really quite unlikely,” adds Cockell, whose centre will be officially opened this week at a ceremony in Edinburgh.
Ways need to be found to determine whether or not the shadow biosphere exists, says Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. “If you want a clue you can count up the amount of carbon that is emitted by living things – cows, sheep, grass, plants, forests and all the planet’s bacteria. When you do, you find there is a discrepancy of around 5% when you compare the amount given off from Earth’s standard biosphere and the amount you find in the atmosphere.”
In other words, there is slightly too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be explained by the emissions of standard lifeforms on Earth. There could be an error in these calculations, of course. Alternatively, the shadow biosphere could be responsible for this excess, says Sasselov. “There is plenty of room for a shadow biosphere. That is clear. Certainly, it is not true, as some allege, that we have strong evidence to show that it does not exist. In fact, the opposite is true: we do not have good enough evidence to dismiss it.”
A key point to note is that scientists – although describing the inhabitants of the shadow biosphere as weird – still assume they will be carbon-based entities. Complex chemistry based on other elements, such as silicon, is possible, they acknowledge but these alternatives cannot create the vast range of organic materials that carbon can generate. In other words, the shadow biosphere, if it exists, will almost certainly be inhabited by carbon life, albeit of an alien variety.
“Billions of years ago, life based on different types of carbon biochemistry could have arisen in several places on Earth,” says Cleland. “These varieties would have been based on different combinations of bases and amino acids. Eventually, one – based on DNA and on proteins made from 20 amino acids – formed multicellular entities and became the dominant form of life on Earth. That is why we find that life as we know it, from insects to humans and from plants to birds, has DNA as its genetic code. However, other lifeforms based on different bases and proteins could still have survived – in the shadow biosphere.”
A different prospect is highlighted by Sasselov, who points out that a complex organic chemical can come in two different shapes even though they have the same chemical formula. Each is a mirror-image of the other and are said to have a different chirality. “Amino acids are an example,” says Sasselov. “Each comes in a right-handed version and a left-handed version. Our bodies – in common with all other lifeforms – only use left-handed versions to create proteins. Right-handed amino acids are simply ignored by our bodies. However, there may be some organisms, somewhere on the planet, that use only right-handed amino acids. They could make up the weird life of the shadow biosphere.”
But how can scientists pinpoint this weird life? Microbes are usually detected in laboratories by feeding nutrients to suspected samples so they grow and expend. Then the resulting cultures can be analysed. A weird lifeform – such as one made only of proteins formed out of right-handed amino acids – will not respond to left-handed nutrients, however. It will fail to form cultures and register its existence.
One solution to this problem is being pursued by Sasselov and colleagues’ Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. They are building an artificial cell – or bionic system – made only of right-handed components including right-handed DNA and right-handed ribosomes. “If there are right-handed lifeforms out there, many of them will be viruses – which will attempt to hijack the DNA of our bionic cells,” adds Sasselov. “When they do that they will leave evidence of their existence. Essentially we are building honey traps to catch any right-handed viruses that might live in the shadow biosphere and so reveal their existence.”
Other scientists suggest a different approach – by looking at Earth’s most inhospitable ecological niches: hot vents on the seafloor, mountaintops, highly saline lakes, Antarctic ice sheets and deserts. Standard lifeforms, mainly bacteria, have been found in these places but only a few. Some niches, researchers speculate, may prove to be just too inhospitable for standard life but may just be tolerable enough to support weird life. Microscopic studies would reveal their existence while standard culture tests would show they had a different biochemistry from standard lifeforms.
Stripes of desert varnish line the canyon walls of Capitol Gorge in Utah. No laboratory has been able to re-create the phenomenon. Photograph: Larry Geddis/Alamy
And a promising example is provided by the desert varnish proposed as a target by Cleland and backed by David Toomey in Weird Life. “No laboratory microbiologist has been able to coax bacteria or algae to make desert varnish,” he states. “It is also possible that the stuff is the end result of some very weird chemistry but no one has been able to reproduce that either.” So yes, these sites could provide proof of the shadow biosphere’s existence, he argues.
Not surprisingly, Cleland agrees. “The only trouble is that no one has yet got round to investigating desert varnish for weird life,” adds Cleland. “I confess I find that disappointing.”
Fascinating. I have come across different versions of Earth “shadow” life over the years; Mac Tonnies’ “cryptoterrestrials“, ancient creatures older than mankind whom remain hidden and undetectable from us. And Peter Watts’ “Behemoth” right-handed amino acid life forms taking over the Earth during the 21st Century.
And I’m not even counting legends of elves, Bigfoot, dwarves, demons and angels from past decades and centuries.
So the idea of Earthly “alien” life isn’t new.
But maybe, just maybe with advanced biotechnology techniques, we’ll be able to detect this shadow life.
Perhaps a whole hidden world!
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
NASA’s bold plan to drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon may sound like science fiction, but it’s achievable with current technology, experts say.
President Barack Obama’s 2014 federal budget request, which will be unveiled today (April 10), likely includes about $100 million for NASA to jump-start an asteroid-capture mission, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said last week.
The plan aims to place a roughly 23-foot-wide (7 meters) space rock into a stable lunar orbit, where astronauts could begin visiting it as soon as 2021 using NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, Nelson said.
While challenging, the mission is definitely doable, said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of billionaire-backed asteroid-mining firm Planetary Resources. [NASA's Asteroid-Capture Plan (Video)]
“Return of a near-Earth asteroid of this size would require today’s largest launch vehicles and today’s most efficient propulsion systems in order to achieve the mission,” Lewicki, who served as flight director for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers and surface mission manager for the agency’s Phoenix Mars lander, wrote in a blog post Sunday (April 7).
“Even so, capturing and transporting a small asteroid should be a fairly straightforward affair,” Lewicki added. “Mission cost and complexity are likely on par with missions like the [$2.5 billion] Curiosity Mars rover.”
Spurring solar system exploration
NASA’s idea is similar to one proposed last year by scientists based at Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena.
The Keck study estimated that a robotic spacecraft could drag a 23-foot near-Earth asteroid (NEA) — which would likely weigh about 500 tons — into a high lunar orbit for $2.6 billion. The returns on this initial investment are potentially huge, the researchers said.
“Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, [the Mars moons] Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt,” the Keck team wrote in a feasibility study of their plan.
The mission would also help develop asteroid-mining technology, advocates say, and advance scientists’ understanding of how our solar system took shape more than 4.5 billion years ago.
Asteroids “probably represent samples of the earliest matter that was made available to form our solar system and our Earth,” Caltech’s Paul Dimotakis, a member of the Keck study team, told SPACE.com in February.
“We learned a lot about the moon by analyzing the moon rocks that Apollo astronauts brought back,” he added. [NASA's 17 Apollo Moon Missions in Pictures]
A challenging mission
Unmanned probes have successfully rendezvoused with asteroids in deep space multiple times. Japan’s Hayabusa craft even snagged pieces of the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2005, sending them back to our planet for study.
But bagging an entire asteroid and dragging it to our neck of the cosmic woods is unprecedented, and it presents several daunting challenges.
For example, the target asteroid will be spinning, which doesn’t make for a smooth ride to lunar orbit. After the spacecraft captures the asteroid and brings it into a hold of sorts, the space rock will have to be de-spun, likely with thrusters, Dimotakis said.
“You might use reaction jets to take out most of it [the spin],” he said. “You would give you yourself a lot of time to do this, because there’s no second chance in any of this.”
Further, bringing the asteroid onboard greatly increases the spacecraft’s mass, making propulsion and navigation much more difficult. And precise navigation will definitely be required to deliver the space rock to its desired orbit, Dimotakis said (though he also stressed that any asteroid chosen would pose no danger to humanity even if it somehow struck our planet).
But ion thrusters like the ones powering NASA’s Dawn mission to the huge asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres should be muscular enough to make the journey, likely taking a few years to reach the asteroid and somewhat longer to come back. And the asteroid-laden probe could probably still be guided with great care, he added.
“My guess is that all of these are not insurmountable challenges, and you would be able to calibrate yourself after you snagged it and adjust your controls,” Dimotakis said.
Choosing a target
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the entire mission is picking a suitable space rock to retrieve, Lewicki wrote in his blog post.
The Keck study recommends going after a carbonaceous asteroid packed full of water and other volatiles. Carbonaceous asteroids can be very dark, and it’s tough to spot and characterize a 23-foot asteroid in the vast depths of space whatever its color.
So both Lewicki and Dimotakis stressed the importance of searching for potential asteroid targets sooner rather than later. Planetary Resources plans to begin launching a line of small prospecting space telescopes in 2014 or 2015, and these “Arkyd-100″ craft could aid NASA’s mission, Lewicki wrote.
Dimotakis, for his part, is engaged in a follow-up to the Keck study that’s looking for potential targets in observations made by current telescopes.
“We are developing software in collaboration with JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] that is going to exploit the observational digital record and essentially flag things that could be of interest and might be in this class,” he said. “This has never happened before.”
Still, mission scientists and engineers shouldn’t just sit on their hands until an asteroid selection is made, he added.
It’s important “to start developing the spacecraft before you even know where you’re going,” Dimotakis said. “If you do these things in parallel, then the mission timeline shrinks.”
The $2.6 Billion price tag looks a little low to me, but the Russians seem to want to get onboard with this idea too.
Unfortunately, the Russian space program is largely financed by NASA payments to launch American and international astronauts to the ISS. So the cost will still be born by the U.S. taxpayer.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a worthwhile effort, but I think NASA should continue to partner with private industry and the Europeans to help defray the expences.
Dr. Bruce Maccabee is a retired optical physicist, and has been one of the premier UFO researchers in the last few decades. His accomplishments in this field are too long to list here, but in particular, Dr. Maccabee was the first to receive the FBI’s UFO files via a FOIA request in the late 1970s. A FBI story on a memo in these files has been getting a lot of attention lately. In this story, the FBI referenced having released the UFO memo in the 70s, they were referring to Dr. Maccabee. Even though this is the case, no one in the media has bothered talking to Dr. Maccabee about the memo, so we are.
In this edition of Open Minds UFO Radio, we talk about how the media has gotten this story wrong, Dr. Maccabee’s opinion of this now infamous “Hottel” UFO memo, and what insights the FBI’s UFO files give us into their investigations into the subject.
For more on Dr. Maccabee’s work, visit his website at: http://brumac.8k.com.
Bruce Maccabee is one of the premier mainstream UFO scientists of the past four decades, second perhaps behind Jacques Vallee and Stanton Friedman.
His accomplishments are many and his credibility can be seconded by the U.S. Navy. Nobody has as much experience when it comes to verifying or debunking UFO photographs and films.
This picture was produced by my son Chris with my assistance to develop imagery that helps describe a “solid light” case that was focused at a beach headland area at Kiama New South Wales in Australia back in the early 1970s. I have revisited this affair many times and it has inspired my worldwide focus on similar cases. Gildas Bourdais from France helped me immensely with regard to the strange event played at Taize back in 1972. I have also focused on the classic Trancas case from Argentina in 1963. Both cases are striking, but not without their weaknesses and possible explanations. In both cases my enquiries to date suggest the possible explanations are not all that compelling, but we still need to examine them, to see how the evidence for these classic cases stack up.An objective and solid evidence based focus on the role military and government has emerged with the appearance of the book “UFOs and Government – A Historical Inquiry” by the UFO History Group, the primary authors being Dr. Michael Swords and Robert Powell, and contributions from the rest of the group – Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, myself (Bill Chalker), Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme, Jan Aldrich and Steve Purcell.One of the major themes that runs through the “UFOs and Government” narrative is the recurring sense of lost opportunities to engage appropriately with a consistently unexplained phenomena, which if studied properly could yield fascinating scientific breakthroughs. When the picture presented is of poor investigation and active debunking with far too little serious in depth analysis, and yet we have impressive international evidence of a consistent unexplained phenomenon, there is a vast disconnection from an appropriate scientific response.The book “UFOs and Government” alludes to several lost opportunities to focus on enduring unexplained attributes of the UFO phenomenon. Unfortunately if your only insight into the UFO phenomenon was the typical debunking official military response revealed time and time again by their documents and histories, you would miss these strange and possibly breakthrough attributes of the UFO phenomenon.A striking example of this is the fascinating 1960 Red Bluff California case where official attitudes caused a UFO witness, a highway patrol officer, to not initially describe the “light beam projected by the object seemed like what would be described today, as a big, fat laser beam. That is, it did not spread out or diffuse “properly.” But worse than that, the beam seemed to have an “end” to it,” wrote Mike Swords. Here was a remarkable example of what many researchers have called “solid light” in action. In writing this Dr. Swords touched upon a critical issue. He highlighted that Dr. James McDonald did manage to draw out this remarkable detail, because he was actually interested in what the witnesses reported, rather than conducting a myopic debunking exercise. Genuine scientific skepticism, driven by a desire to question and carefully investigate an experience can potentially yield scientific breakthroughs. We now know that there are many such cases of “this peculiar sawed-off light” or “solid light.”Indeed Michael Sword’s indicated in an endnote in “UFOs and Government” that “sawed-off light” cases are “a peculiar feature of a smallish set of “high strangeness” UFO encounters. As these encounters are widely spread across the world, this feature is suprising and difficult to explain on sociological grounds.” He indicated he had some 44 cases in his own files.I had been studying these sorts of “solid light” cases for decades so I naturally contacted Mike about his collection.I emailed Mike Swords:“I have been quietly studying for decades this strange aspect of many worldwide UFO cases and have developed a very disorganised collection of material on such cases.“In both “The OZ Files” and “Hair of the Alien” I refer to solid light cases and describe an Australian case from Kiama, southern NSW from the early 1970s. I have been looking into the case since learning of it in the 1990s and earlier this year conducted a very detailed site investigation to determine if the observations reported by the primary witness were possible and to see if further information could be found. The case is rather complicated and also has entity and abduction aspects. The primary witness has closely guarded his privacy and I have only had one face to face meeting with him, as well as many phone conversations, written statements and emails.“The on site investigations this year took place because the main witness was more forthcoming with locational details. Some of this was in my original interview notes and material when we originally talked in person, however they were not precise enough to undertake an on site reconstruction. Finally this year these confirmations were forthcoming and I had sufficient detail to locate the exact viewing locations, lines of sight, and confirm accurately the Kiama beach location. I stayed there for 2 days gathering information and managed to confirm that his ex parents in law were still living at the house in question. The ex father in law while elderly recollected the night, but while he feels he may not remember the event as the main witness Graham described to me, he is certain that his former son-in-law would not have invented the story. Bill, the ex-father in law, recollects that Graham was agitated and focused on the incident, but Bill cannot recollect that his own involvement was as Graham described it in his accounts to me.“Having talked to Graham a number of times over the years I have found him to be a compelling witness, but one who has struggled mightily with the ontological status of the events. Indeed he was originally much more comfortable casting the event as a strange dream. While the recent investigations seem to caste the stranger aspects as being witnessed by Graham only with marginal supporting cast in the form of his ex wife and ex father and mother in law, as well as possibly some neighbours, who may have interpreted the event in different ways, this seems to be a strange “display” event, so frequently reported in many CE type cases, particularly those with high strangeness elements, such as this one. In many of these sorts of cases there often seems to be selective perceptions of the events, sometimes so acute that often people near to each other have a very different experience, as if a central witness is the only intended viewer?“The ongoing investigation has continued to energise my interest in solid light cases and I have been attempting to drag all my solid light cases together with a view to create a catalogue of such cases, building on the early SOBEPS catalogue of the 1970s.“I was also intrigued with a UFO film taken by Ray Stanford, covered in Chris Lambright‘s recent e-book “X Descending”. Because I had some previous contact with Ray back in the 1970s and early 1980s and talked to him briefly at the 1987 Washington DC MUFON symposium, I renewed our acquaintance. This lead to some extensive email exchanges in which he elaborated on the “new film”, beyond the “air spike”/Leik Myrabo connection which Chris has understandably focused on.“Instead I focused on a different part of the same footage which appears to show a “solid light” projection event.“Apart from many other cases I was also drawn towards a Chinese event I located that occurred in 1998 at a desert Air Force base, involving a Chinese Air Force F-6 pursuit. The possibly striking confirmation of Zhao Xu, who is described as a famous Chinese Defence expert in unmanned aircraft, as one of the various high level witnesses, who mentioned “Surprisingly these two light beams of light were not as we normally see light beams, as has been according to the distance and spread, but as two light-emitting entities, sticking out from the bottom of the UFO ending on a certain length. At least today we have not got control of this sort of light technology.” Radar detection was also involved. Given this comment was made by a defence specialist* I suspect some Chinese military science investigation and research since then.* Correction: following further research and more detailed translations the quote above referring to “two light-emitting entities” comes from General Li the PLAAF missile base commander in the Badain Jaran Desert in Lanzhou province. Major General Zhao Xu witnessed the UFO incident. It was General Li’s pilots who undertook the attempted aerial pirsuits and close up observations.“Meanwhile open science has been playing with Bose-Einstein condensates et.al to manipulate light in diverse ways – our crude opening gambit in a direction that might show us “solid light” effects that have been reported for decades in a diverse range of international (UFO) case material. Mainstream science directions in this area have been nicely summarised with references in Sidney Perkowitz‘s “Slow Light: Invisibility, Teleportation, and other mysteries of light” (2011).“Hence my ongoing deep focus on “solid light” cases and my long winded way of asking if I can get a copy of your 44 “solid light” case files! A big ask I know, but it would support an in-depth focus on these cases and perhaps a collaborative workup of a catalogue of such cases to build on the early and somewhat flawed SOBEPS catalogue?“Best wishes in “solid light” anticipation, like don’t keep me in the dark (pun intended),Bill”Mike was very helpful and shared his listing of cases. Indeed he addressed this research focus in his always interesting blog “The Big Study” – thebiggeststudy.blogspot.com – on October 19 2012 – with a post entitled” “SLOW LIGHT & UFOs”:“Bill Chalker wrote the other day. He’s contemplating making a review of so-called “solid light” UFO cases, and I welcome that. Bill’s a hard-science-trained ufologist and might just be able to make some sense of a real puzzlement in this field. He asked me if I’d scour my files for such cases [since I'd foolishly admitted to having around 44 of such things], and so I did, making a list for him to pursue and build his analysis more robustly [Bill already had a bigger bunch than that].”Mike further stated, “In my understanding the term “solid light” came from witness testimony— the light beam seemed “solid”; it was as if the beam extended like a solid tube, etc. This phrase stuck but is probably a bad one. The light effects that we’re witnessing in these cases behave not like solids but like “regular” light which is abnormally “contained” somehow. Things don’t seem to be “impacted” by these beams, only illuminated by them. The things [generally] seem to be more like spatially-constrained lasers [admittedly of wide diameter] than anything solid, and might well be more like tubes [i.e. hollow] than “full” beams.”I recommend readers read Mike Swords valuable post on this fascinating group of cases.I’ve included the core details of the catalyst for this re-invigorated enquiry into “solid light” cases.BIZZARE UFO “LIGHT” PHENOMENA AT KIAMA…. I was approached by a man who was troubled by a bizarre episode on the south coast at Kiama, in the early 1970s…. The reporting witness, who I will call Graham, has pondered the nature of what occurred. He is troubled by it and now feels more comfortable with it being a dream. The fragmentary nature of the events and the strange elements of the experience beckon this interpretation. But there are startling aspects that fit in with some extraordinary characteristics of the UFO phenomenon. I have spoken to Graham on a number of occasions and meet him directly for an extended interview. I found him to be a compelling witness who is grappling with the ontological issues that striking episodes often force us to confront. I have quoted from his own prepared statement:“Awoken by a light coming into the room, I was too drowsy to do anything about it, I wanted to sleep. It came to mind that the only way light could come into the window was a light was being shone at it. I thought it may be an intruder so I forced myself awake, to step over the baby and my two year old daughter sleeping on the floor beside me. When I got to the window I could see nothing unusual outside. Thinking it must have been a dream because I had remarked on the endless stream of car headlights winding their way along the old highway towards Sydney. I laid down again and fell quickly asleep. Again the light came into the room. This time I jumped up quickly, wide awake again, there was nothing unusual outside. Suddenly I saw a light beam white in colour with a blue fluorescent tinge evaporating from it. Because of the luminescence of the light I was able to make out the shape of a flying craft from which the beam projected at an angle to the ground of about 75o. “The beam was about 30 feet long and about 2 feet six inches diameter, given the craft was between the headland I was on and the next headland. Suddenly the beam, still only 30 feet long fell, like a perfect cylinder of solid light. It did not fall in the direction of gravity, it continued along the path of its own axis. The cylinder of solid light hit a caravan. Upon impact the light behaved like water, pouring over the caravan, over its roof, over its walls, over every nook and cranny of the van. Like fluorescent paint from an electro, airless spray gun. The caravan illuminated completely for about three seconds then the light faded away. My attention was on the light. I could not see the craft any more.“I rubbed my eyes and looked for the craft. It appeared slightly to the left of its original position with another beam of light, descending from it at a very slow speed; say about only 3 feet per second. When the beam reached a given length, longer than the first time, it began falling as before. This time it hit an amenities block and the light covered its surfaces completely illuminating it in the same way as the caravan. Again the light faded away.“From the same location, the craft let another beam go at an angle of about 45o to the ground level line. The beam was much longer than before. It reached the beach and illuminated approximately an area of sand forty feet at its widest. Inside the lighted area were two men standing motionless looking up at the craft. A young woman jumped up from sitting near a small beach fire and ran to stand with the two men. A second young woman was running backwards trying to brush the light off her arms and body. Then she too stood separate to the other three and also stared up at the craft. The light suddenly went out and I looked for the people. Has it taken the people I thought. Where as I was marvelling at the craft and light before, I now became angry, thinking it has terrorised that woman. It was not a good thing as I first thought. Now I could see the fire dimly glowing. I looked this way and that to see if any of the people walked in front of the fire, to prove they were still there. I fell asleep on my feet. When I awoke I was standing on the other side of the window, one hand on the window.“I looked outside the window only feet away. The craft hovered over the street in front of the house. It manoeuvred very close to the window. I was impressed that it looked like a spaceship. It had no helicopter noises or blades. It did not force itself off the ground. There was no blowing of the small trees. It was not a hovercraft, and it had no wings like a plane. The metallic material it was made of appeared as though it was unpolished Zinc alloy. It had no seams, no rivets, no weld marks, no plates visible. It was as if it was made from one piece of metal about 40 feet wide and 10 feet high, which began to spin in one direction, then it stopped and spun for a shorter time in the opposite direction. Then it stopped spinning, hovering in a steady position above the skyline. There were no thoughts it belonged to the western world. That it was a secret craft, that got into difficulty. That I wasn’t meant to see. I blacked out.“When I came to, the craft was still opposite my window. I thought why was I meant to see that it had no welds or seams, it seemed to want to show me that. I looked at a window shape about six feet wide and two feet six inches high with carved corners. The metallic window shield suddenly disappeared and I could see inside the craft. I saw no fittings. It had flat vertical off white walls. I felt very peaciful. A man walked into the room of the craft and stood in front of the window. As he walked in he was looking at a flat object he was holding in his hands, like a clip board but thicker. He began to move his arms as though he was working on something at bench height below the window. Totally absorbed, he worked away. I felt completely safe. Another man then entered the room looking at the other man and what he was doing. He stood also facing me looking at the bench and pointing like without words he was helping the other fix something.“They had bright silver one piece suits like thin wetsuits on, with no badges or markings. They carried no weapons or tools. The craft had no fittings or anything that looked like a weapon, so I felt safe. And besides, they didn’t know I was watching them. With that thought the last one to enter the room smiled at the other, then they both smiled directly at me. I had physical fright, my hair stood on end literally and I knew what it meant to be really scared. I dropped to the floor and said, “Everybody keep down. Stay out of the light.” I knew that in the light they could control my thinking to feel and think peacefully. Suddenly great noise and severe vibration of the house took place. The laundry light went dim, the fridge began jumping about and there was great noise above the roof. The washing machine was bumping about also. I said, “Quickly get under the doorways, the house is going to fall.” It was like the craft overhead sucked the electricity out of the house, then took off.“Bill shouted out, “Shit, what was that? It took the bloody roof off.” I said, “It was a UFO.” Somebody said what, againI said, it was a UFO. Bill said, “Yes I saw it as it took the roof off.” Bill was trying to comprehend how come the roof was still there.“Gordon __ living behind came out to his back door and said very explicitly, “What the …… was that? I thought it took the roof off.” He too was greatly concerned with checking out his roof, reassuring himself it was still there. The lady next door on the seaward side opened a window and said, “Where did it crash? Do we have to get out?” She became very angry saying again, “Do we have to get out?” No you’re safe. It’s gone. Relieved, she said, “I am alone with the children tonight, that bloody pilot should be shot for that.” It was unusual to hear people who I had never heard swear before, swearing.“Bill and Gordon were saying it was a UFO. Suddenly, __, Bill’s wife began to try and quieten everyone down and get us all inside. We decided that I should phone the Nowra base. I spoke to the duty officer. He said he was the only one on duty. He asked me if I saw any orange lights. I said, “Yes.” He then quickly said it was a weather balloon you saw, it was let go at such and such a time from Jambaroo, it didn’t inflate properly and other people reported seeing it as an orange light over Kiama. In my mind I thought, he knows what it was, it must be secret. I’ve done my duty reporting it, so that was that.“The next day (our wives) said two men in dark suits with ID tags came to the door asking did any one see anything unusual last night. Frightened by the men, they said no and the men went on. (Our wives) warned me not to speak about it, they were very frightened that something would happen to me if I spoke up and also it would make us a laughing stock in the community. The plan was we would forget it, not talk about it, even to one another. So it would be distanced from our lives.“Bill was reading the paper some days later and said an expensive Navy helicopter flew from Jambaroo over Kiama. It lost its electronics and crashed forty kilometres out to sea off Kiama. The navy was reported to be trying to recover it to find out what happened. The crew were rescued. I said, “Yeh, I know about losing power, the same thing happened to the helicopter as what happened to the fridge and the laundry light. The UFO took its electricity.” Nothing was said further. We ignored the event. What I saw holds future understanding for me, if it was a dream I believe. Possibly it was an active imagination, a dream and actual occurrences combined.”This strange affair has several defined stages, but the evident discontinuities in awareness, argue both for a surreal, dream like quality and also reflect the paradoxical reality of some of the stranger elements of the UFO phenomenon. The extraordinary behaviour of the “light beams” behaving as both “solid” and “liquid” has been reported elsewhere in Australia and overseas. The apparent display quality to episodes in the incident is reflected in many cases. There seems to have been a number of gaps in the time sequence. The apparent plight of the people on the beach is provocative, and one I am trying to unravel. This is clearly a case that would benefit from further in depth enquiry.Fortunately the original witness to the Kiama case re-contacted me. He has been very difficult to relocate after my original interviews with him. He is still very guarded about his privacy and protecting the welfare of his family. However we were able to have some very extensive discussions and a detailed interview where I was able to locate the events much more precisely in the Kiama area and secure more details about the incident.He confirmed an aspect I had long suspected as part of the experience, which he only original hinted at in the vaguest possible way. He has an abduction recollection that was consciously recollected at the time, but he was extremely reluctant to share these details during our original discussions years ago.He recollects sitting in a curved hallway in a strange environment. He heard a voice and turned to find a woman. She asked him, “Do you remember what happened in there?” “No,” he replied. “Do you?” he asked. “Put it this way, I won’t be telling my husband.”He doesn’t recollect much more, or he volunteered little further detail about this aspect of the Kiama encounter. However he did say he started to frequent some UFO group meetings with the express purpose of seeing if he could find the woman he had encountered in the Kiama experience. At one meeting he saw a woman who looked like the woman encountered in the “strange environment”, presumably onboard the UFO. When he started to talk to her he felt she was not the right person and did not persist with the conversation.
I described some of the results of my 2012 field investigations in the Kiama area in my email to Mike Swords quoted above. I hope that further research and investigation will continue to assist the evaluation of this strange case. It will be fascinating if the ongoing enquiries further validate the affair. “Solid light” cases represent an intriguing and challenging opportunity to research a potential “breakthrough” aspect of the UFO phenomenon. If we can get to the bottom of such extraordinary manipulations of light and other associated UFO light phenomena, then real progress in a UFO science can be made. Maybe mainstream science is slowly catching up. New Scientist has done a few reports on “tractor beam” development following the Bessel beam principle, including this one:which was accompanied by this Russell Tate/Getty Imagest image:
An earlier New Scientist piece (3 March 2011) highlighted the Chinese connection: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20193-treklike-tractor-beam-is-possible.html(This image accompanied the March 2011 New Scientist article)
Now Jun Chen of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and colleagues, have shown that it is possible to create exotic beams that would pull rather than push on an object. For tiny particles with dimensions of a thousandth of a millimetre or so, this would result in the particle being drawn back towards the beam.Hmm … I wonder what inspired them? Perhaps the Zhao Xu and General Li 1998 UFO observation? Seems to me that maybe someone within our more clandestine scientific community is already trawling through “solid light” UFO cases?
The “solid light” phenomenon is gaining scientific value in the laboratory as in the actual “slowing down” of light in crystals and heavy gases using diffuse lasers.
All in all, I think that the answer to the UFO issue lies in finding the answer to quantum entanglement, brane theory and linking of parallel universes at a practical level.
Hat tip to The Anomalist.
From Centauri Dreams:
I’ve always wondered how Arthur C. Clarke coped with the news he received in 1986, when doctors in London told him he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terminal illness that in the States is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The diagnosis was mistaken — it turns out Clarke actually suffered from what is known as ‘post-polio syndrome,’ a debilitating but not fatal condition. For two long years, though, he must have thought through all the symptoms of ALS, knowing that the degenerative motor neuron breakdown could gradually sap him of strength and movement. How would such an energetic man cope with an agonizing, slow fade?
Neil McAleer’s revised biography (Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke) gives the answer, as recounted by Clarke’s brother Fred:
“…after the initial shock, Arthur more or less said, damn it, he’d got an enormous amount he wanted to do, and if he’s only got fifteen months to do it, he’d better whack into it. And he did whack into it, and the next year he produced four books.
“Eighteen months later he was still writing, and all the horrible things they told him might happen hadn’t happened to him. Of course they had told him all the things he should do to keep it under control—what diets to take and what exercises to do, which he very religiously did. He carried on working intensely and produced an enormous amount of work, which might have been the saving grace. If he had been the sort to say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die in fifteen months,’ he probably would have…”
That story speaks volumes about the man, identifying a resolve that kept him working despite his other ailments into his nineties. It also tells me that he was able to place himself mentally in a context that weighed a single human life against the broad movement of history. I think Clarke was happy to see himself as someone who instigated currents of thought, changed perspectives and launched careers. He did these things for people of all ages both by the example of his own life and by the lives he created in fiction that showed us what humanity might become.
Young Writer at Work
By the time Clarke moved from Somerset to London in 1936 he was already suffused with science fiction and in particular enraptured with Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, not to mention the second-hand copies of American science fiction magazines that were then available in England. He spoke of the ‘ravenous addiction’ these magazines inspired and the effect that Stapledon’s novel, with a time scale spanning five billion years, had upon his imagination. He was twelve years old when he first read Last and First Men, awed by its cosmic reach and its placement of the evolution of humanity against the broader backdrop of the cosmos.
Think for a moment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Has any film ever covered a wider swath of time, from the beginnings of tool making to the apotheosis of the species in an extraterrestrial encounter? This was Clarke’s stage, but the other great discovery of his youth, David Lasser’s The Conquest of Space (1931) gave him the technology he would spend a life examining. Lasser was the founder of the American Interplanetary Society (which became the American Rocket Society and, eventually, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). He was also, for a time, the editor of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. If Stapledon brought Clarke the cosmos, Lasser gave the boy a focus on the attainable, the idea of space as a reachable frontier.
In London, Clarke had a tiny flat in Norfolk Square and was soon co-editing (with science fiction writer William Temple) the fanzine Novae Terrae, whose editorial sessions were so cramped in Clarke’s quarters that Temple once said “…there was hardly room for the two of us, and A[rthur]’s Ego had to be left outside on the landing.” Clarke’s nickname of Ego derives from this period when Temple and Clarke both discovered the latter’s competitive nature. I think McAleer is right in stressing, though, that Clarke’s volubility was largely the result of his enthusiasms. This was a man who loved, above all else, the communication of an idea.
Into the Remote Future
For those keeping score, Novae Terrae would soon become, under the editorship of Ted Carnell, the influential magazine New Worlds. But in the days just before World War II, while working on issues of Novae Terrae and assorted publications for the British Interplanetary Society, Clarke found time to begin developing his first novel from ideas that had come to him back in Somerset. “Against the Fall of Night” would appear in an early version in Startling Stories in November of 1948, but that hardly ended the tale. Clarke kept rewriting the story, seeing it into print as a novel from Gnome Press in 1953 and then putting it through a major revision as The City and the Stars, published in 1956.
I seldom think of Clarke as a reader of poetry, but he clearly knew his Housman:
Here, on the level sand, Between the sea and land, What shall I build or write Against the fall of night?
The words are from Housman’s poem “Smooth Between Sea and Land.” Maybe the idea of long stretches of sand and a metaphorical night that comes to us all fired his imagination. I came across The City and the Stars just a few years after it was published and was mesmerized by its setting in much the way Clarke was taken with Stapledon’s Last and First Men. Here was Diaspar, the city of the far future, the only city on planet Earth, whose inhabitants moved through a high-tech monument to stasis. Nothing changes in Diaspar even as the world around it loses its oceans and becomes desert. Clarke would have much to say about the kind of inward thinking that his characters have to overcome, but the unmistakable fact about Diaspar is that the city at the end of time is also achingly, eerily beautiful.
Here’s science fiction writer Jo Walton on the book, nailing its essential allure:
The plot is quite simple. Diaspar is beautiful but entirely inward turned. Alvin looks out and discovers that there is more in the universe than his one city. He recovers the truth about human history, and rather than wrecking what is left of human civilization, revitalises it. By the end of the novel, Man, Diaspar, and Earth have begun to turn outward again. That’s all well and good. What’s always stayed with me is the in-turned Diaspar and the sense of deep time. That’s what’s memorable, and cool, and influential. Clarke recognized though that there isn’t, and can’t be, any story there, beyond that amazing image. It’s a short book even so, 159 pages and not a wasted word.
As to its author, I love the way he could never let this book go. It was, after all, his first novel, and as such it was perhaps the most deeply inspired by the reading of his youth. When he wrote a new preface to it in 1955, he noted that developments in information theory encouraged him to re-think the future course of humanity, a revision that would lead, says McAleer, to a whopping seventy-five percent new prose. The man was indefatigable; he couldn’t let go when ideas seized him, and when he had the wind behind him, no horizon was too far to strive for.
Restless Thoughts from Orbit
On the same visit to the United States in which he met Neil McAleer and learned that he did not have ALS after all, Clarke visited the National Air and Space Museum with Gregory Benford, long-term colleague Fred Durant and Hector Ekanayake, whose friendship with Clarke in Sri Lanka spanned decades. Benford noted the lack of long-term perspective in much contemporary science fiction and pointed out that The City and the Stars had been written before the discovery of DNA, so biology made no significant appearance in the story. Benford and Clarke’s Beyond the Fall of Night (1990) would be the result of that conversation.
McAleer’s biography gives the details on all of Clarke’s books, but my childhood fascination with The City and the Stars has kept me focused on the early stages of Clarke’s career in London and the ideas that began germinating both there and earlier in Somerset. The Signet paperback illustrated here is not the edition I first encountered, but I have to run it because of my love of Richard Powers, whose cover art appeared in so many paperbacks from this period. In this case, Powers’ surreal images go far toward capturing the timeless allure of the city in the desert.
The letters that McAleer has access to offer insights from Clarke’s old associates, and some new ones as well. In 2006 a British engineer named Nicholas Patrick was about to fly on a Space Shuttle mission, Discovery STS-116. He wrote Clarke to invite him to the launch, telling him he had been reading Clarke’s books since growing up in London. Due to his health problems, Clarke was unable to appear, though he wrote an enthusiastic response thanking Patrick, who replied:
“I am sad to hear that you will not be able to attend the launch, but understand completely given the circumstances. Perhaps instead, if you are willing, I might email you from orbit. “A month ago I reread The City and the Stars, perhaps my favourite book, and was again drawn by the ideas in it. Ever since I first read it, I have wanted to find an old spaceship and travel to distant suns. I shall be very happy in low earth orbit, but I don’t think it will completely satisfy me.”
And that’s the thing: Anyone who has grown up with The City and the Stars is going to find even the wonders of Earth orbit a bit tame. Clarke was always at his best as a science fiction writer when taking the long view. His characters would learn to burst free from Diaspar, but its very conception is as staggering and poetic as anything he ever wrote. From the book:
Here was the end of an evolution almost as long as Man’s. Its beginnings were lost in the mists of the Dawn Ages, when humanity had first learned the use of power and sent its noisy engines clanking about the world. Steam, water, wind-all had been harnessed for a little while and then abandoned. For centuries the energy of matter had run the world until it too had been superseded, and with each change the old machines were forgotten and new ones took their place. Very slowly, over thousands of years, the ideal of the perfect machine was approached – that ideal which had once been a dream, then a distant prospect, and at last reality: No machine may contain any moving parts. Here was the ultimate expression of that ideal. Its achievement had taken Man perhaps a hundred million years, and in the moment of his triumph he had turned his back upon the machine forever. It had reached finality, and thenceforth could sustain itself eternally while serving him.
Thus Clarke’s description of the computer that runs Diaspar free from all human intervention. What continues to confound me about Clarke is what McAleer brings out so well, the duality between an imagination capable of transcending time and the canny engineering horse-sense that spawned near-term space achievements. This is the man who dreamed up communications satellites when not dreaming of eternal cities of the far future. Tomorrow, then, let’s look at Clarke the space pioneer.
Sir Arthur was one of my favorites growing up and I found his “hard” science science-fiction very entertaining and thought provoking. His ‘Rendezvous With Rama’ and ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ was the pinnacle of his “interstellar works” and no doubt influenced many of the rocket scientists working in NASA and private industry.
I did in fact read ‘The City and The Stars’, but after I read the other two books. I found “City” kind of esoteric and very advanced for it’s time period. In fact, I found several “Singularity” ideas in it.
Excellent post by Paul Gilster!
NASA’s first manned outpost in deep space may be a repurposed rocket part, just like the agency’s first-ever astronaut abode in Earth orbit.
With a little tinkering, the upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank of NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket would make a nice and relatively cheap deep-space habitat, some researchers say. They call the proposed craft “Skylab II,” an homage to the 1970s Skylab space station that was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket.
“This idea is not challenging technology,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“It’s just trying to say, ‘Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?’” Griffin said Wednesday (March 27) during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.
A roomy home in deep space
NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts toward distant destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA wants it to start lofting crews by 2021.
The SLS will stand 384 feet tall (117 meters) in its biggest (“evolved”) incarnation, which will be capable of blasting 130 metric tons of payload to orbit. Its upper-stage hydrogen tank is big, too, measuring 36.1 feet tall by 27.6 feet wide (11.15 m by 8.5 m).
The tank’s dimensions yield an internal volume of 17,481 cubic feet (495 cubic m) — roughly equivalent to a two-story house. That’s much roomier than a potential deep-space habitat derived from modules of the International Space Station (ISS), which are just 14.8 feet (4.5 m) wide, Griffin said.
The tank-based Skylab II could accommodate a crew of four comfortably and carry enough gear and food to last for several years at a time without requiring a resupply, he added. Further, it would launch aboard the SLS in a single piece, whereas ISS-derived habitats would need to link up multiple components in space.
Because of this, Skylab II would require relatively few launches to establish and maintain, Griffin said. That and the use of existing SLS-manufacturing infrastructure would translate into big cost savings — a key selling point in today’s tough fiscal climate.
“We will have the facilities in place, the tooling, the personnel, all the supply chain and everything else,” Griffin said.
He compared the overall concept with the original Skylab space station, which was built in a time of declining NASA budgets after the boom years of the Apollo program.
Skylab “was a project embedded under the Apollo program,” Griffin said. “In many ways, this could follow that same pattern. It could be a project embedded under SLS and be able to, ideally, not incur some of the costs of program startup.”
There has been much caterwauling in the space advocacy community about the Space Launch System ( ne, “The Senate Launch System” ) concerning its cost and lack of purpose and/or destinations.
Of course, the thing was designed by Congress in order to fund a jobs program in the NASA Centers for the good voters of those districts. But it’s a seriously underfunded program, with just enough money to keep the civil servants of NASA employed, with just enough contractor support to keep them happy.
In the meantime, ideas like Skylab II, the Spacehab at EML-2 and the asteroid capture scheme rear their ugly heads and claim they’re economical in these austeric times.
My money is still on Elon Musk, Bob Bigelow, Dennis Tito and company.