by Richard C. Cook
In 1986 Richard C. Cook made history when he became the first NASA official to testify on the space agency’s prior knowledge of flaws in the solid rocket booster O-ring joints that destroyed space shuttle Challenger. Following his January 24, 2011, speech at Chapman University in Orange, California, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, Cook now explores the links between how the seven Challenger astronauts answered the “call of space” with our growing awareness of the likelihood of an extraterrestrial presence affecting planet earth. He is the author of several books and dozens of articles on public policy issues published in print magazines and on the internet. His website is www.richardccook.com.
The space shuttle Challenger disaster took place 25 years ago on Jan. 28, 1986. I was working for NASA, sitting in the auditorium at Washington, D.C., headquarters, watching the launch when Challenger blew up. Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe was aboard. It was the most-watched manned space launch since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969.
Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, came on TV just afterward and said, “First light seemed to come from a solid rocket booster.” Actually, as a NASA resource analyst, I had been studying this problem for months as a potentially catastrophic problem.
I had written a detailed memo and other reports documenting engineers’ warnings of such an event. NASA knew the shuttle was unsafe due to this and several other hardware issues, had designed a fix, but now was “flying as is.”
Though NASA’s management knew almost immediately what had happened, they began to cover it up. But the O-ring papers came out in the press, including my July 1985 memo, and I was called to testify before a presidential commission headed by former Secretary of State William Rogers.
But there was more to the story of the Challenger mishap. Soon after I spoke up, the contractor engineers from Morton Thiokol who had opposed the launch came forward, and the story emerged of how they had warned the previous night that the cold air that had moved into the area could cause the O-ring joints to freeze. Other engineers were concerned about the ice on the launch tower and also testified. They had said the launch pad had looked like “something out of Dr. Zhivago.”
I was the first NASA official to speak publicly about the longstanding dangers of the solid rocket booster O-rings, but left NASA and spent the rest of my government career elsewhere. Though my stay at NASA was finished, in 1990 I received the Cavallo Award for Moral Courage in Business and Government for my testimony.
Challenger was a preventable disaster which I described in detail in my book Challenger Revealed, published in 2007, after I retired. What the commission did not report was the schedule pressures coming from the use of the space shuttle as a test platform for President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative—“Star Wars”—program and from the desire by the White House and NASA to get the Teacher in Space into orbit in time for President Reagan’s state of the union address that night. Pressure may also have come from NASA’s desire for delivery of the planned lesson from space on Friday which was Day Four of the mission. A delay would have pushed Christa McAuliffe’s televised presentation to the weekend.
|Richard's book about Challenger disaster|
The Challenger astronauts died because of all-too human failings but were true heroes of our time. Since NASA was created in 1958, America had been answering the call to space, and the Challenger astronauts were part of that historic mission.
We recognize today that exploration of space over the past half-century has been a quest that every person on the planet has been affected by one way or the other, even though many have good reason to question whether it has been worth the money or if it is just another way for us to attain national prestige or military superiority. Indeed, there is today a race to the moon involving not just the U.S., but also Russia, China, India, Japan, and the European Union. Some say it’s a race to gain a military advantage through the militarization of space and the creation of armed lunar bases.
Another major concern with the manned space program is that every human being who has flown has had to ride on the most dangerous transportation system known to man—extremely high-powered explosive rockets. The space shuttle has had two catastrophes—the loss of Columbia followed on Challenger’s heels in 2003—and is scheduled to cease operating in 2011.
But the next phase of the manned space program—Constellation—which may yet be cancelled by the Obama administration, uses the same type of primitive rocketry. Indeed, the program was called by one NASA administrator “Apollo on steroids.”
Manned space flight began with the suborbital mission of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, followed by American Alan Shepard later that year. Through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the U.S. flew its manned space missions in stubby one-use capsules.
The space shuttle, first launched in 1981, was the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft. Though other countries have sent human beings to space, including a diverse group of crew members for the International Space Station, it’s only been the U.S. and Russia that have actually launched a manned space rocket.
Of course the U.S., Russia, and other nations working with them, have explored space in many other ways. This has been done both from the ground, through telescopes and gigantic radio dishes, such as the Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico, and from unmanned space probes that have created the amazing new science of comparative planetology.
Probes have been launched to travel within and outside our solar system. The Hubble Space Telescope has extended our vision to deep space, approaching the far reaches of the universe. Plus there are the numerous weather, communication, and surveillance satellites, along with many other instruments to study the earth, its atmosphere, magnetic fields, solar radiation, and the solar wind.
Unmanned probes are cheaper and obviously far less dangerous than manned spacecraft. In the future, we could even use robots to explore space. And there has been constant tension within NASA and Congress between manned and unmanned spaceflight for funding, publicity, and organizational priority.
So what are we looking for in space? The simplest answer to that question is to say we are seeking knowledge of the universe in which we live.
Another answer is that we are looking for ways to use space as a laboratory, a manufacturing environment, keep track from space of threats to the earth’s environment from pollution, or, someday perhaps, as a source of different types of energy. Some have even viewed space as a potential location for human colonization, which is the justification given for NASA’s perennial desire to send men and women to visit Mars. A voyage to Mars has been the ultimate goal of NASA’s manned space program since the 1960s.
But the question of what are we seeking goes beyond that, for the larger question of whether life exists beyond earth has occupied the space program since its inception. And in looking for life out there we also seek to know ourselves—who we are and where we have come from.
Certainly there can be no doubt that the universe is alive in ways we do not fully understand and on an incredibly large scale. There are amazing phenomena out there, from supernovas to black holes to quasars to neutrinos. We know very little about these things. We know even less about the matter of whether there is life out there “like us.”
“Are we alone?” is the question constantly asked when some new discovery is made, especially when we consider the growing evidence that the universe may contain millions of planets with enough similarity to earth that it is possible for them also to support life in some form.
When I came to Washington in 1970, I met a man who worked in NASA’s office that was then seeking extraterrestrial life. The main thing they had in mind was establishing radio contact. This led to SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, the program advanced so famously by Carl Sagan and represented in Jodi Foster’s movie Contact.
But how about actual UFOs and ETs? Well, we know, for instance, that UFOs have been reported throughout recorded history. We have records of reports from the days of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages that sound exactly modern UFO sightings.
There are the famous Roswell legends from 1947 of one or more UFO crashes in the deserts of New Mexico. I have studied these incidents in detail, mainly through the definitively-researched books of scientist Stanton Friedman, and believe that the evidence is decidedly in his favor.
The Air Force’s Project Blue Book that was in place from 1948 to 1969, documented many cases of UFO sightings, some found merely to be images of familiar objects like weather balloons, but some impossible to explain. Some say the government’s knowledge of UFOs was overseen by a super-secret group called Majestic and that through this group the government made a decision to deny the existence of UFO and ET phenomena altogether. Some even allege the U.S. government has made a formal treaty with ETs and that the contact scene from Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a depiction of an actual event.
So the UFO reports have persisted, as do claims of what are called alien abductions, where people have gone under hypnosis to describe visits to alien spacecraft and their being examined for undisclosed medical or scientific research. There is Dr. Steven Greer’s Disclosure Project, headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, which has presented reports of UFO phenomena by former military, government, and scientific personnel and called on the government to let us know what it knows.
There have been allegations of technology transfers taking place due to UFO contact, including the sudden and unexplained appearance of transistors in the technological marketplace. The existence of a race of ETs called the “Greys” has been alleged, along with the idea that the government treaty I just spoke of was formed with this particular group of beings.
Do UFOs really exist? The published reports keep coming that say they do. I have personally talked to many intelligent people, including three different perfectly level-headed residents of Roanoke, Virginia, where I live, who have described UFOs, and I may have seen one myself as it zipped across the sky when I worked in Washington, D.C. Recently, a military veteran from North Carolina in his 80s said he had actually once seen a living ET, a survivor of one of the alleged 1947 New Mexico crashes, being held in custody at Camp Perry near Williamsburg, VA.
Former military officers have gone on record as having seen UFOs near military sites in the U.S. and Great Britain, including several who spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in September 2010. As reported by CNN:
“Retired Col. Charles Halt recalled seeing UFOs over the woods near Royal Air Force Stations Bentwaters and Woodbridge in eastern England in December 1980. He and security personnel were investigating reports of strange lights just outside one of the bases.
“‘All through the forest was a bright glowing object,’ he said Monday. ‘The best way I can describe it, it looked like an eye – with bright red, with a dark center. It appeared to be winking. It was shedding something like molten metal, was dripping off it.
“’It silently moved through the trees, avoiding any contact, it bobbed up and down, and at one point it actually approached us. We tried to get closer. It receded out into the field, beyond the forest, and silently exploded into five white objects – gone. So we went out into the field looking for any evidence, because something had been apparently falling off it – and we find nothing,’ he said.
“He recalled subsequently seeing other objects in the sky, including one that stopped about 3,000 feet overhead and “’sent down a concentrated beam at our feet.’ No one was harmed.
“’The best way I can equate it is sort of a laser beam. We stood there in awe. Was this a warning? Was this an attempt to communicate? Was this a weapon? Or just a probe?’ he said.
“At about the same time, he was hearing radio reports from base personnel that beams from some of the objects were ‘falling into or near the weapons storage area.’”
I have also been informed by people formerly connected with the NASA manned space program who speak of ET contacts in the Apollo and space shuttle programs, though, if official reports on these incidents exist, they are obviously well-guarded secrets. One space program veteran, Clark McLelland, has presented a description of what he claimed was an eight-to-nine-foot-tall ET in the space shuttle’s payload bay he observed while working at video monitors at the Kennedy Space Center during an orbital mission.
|Richard's book on monetary reform|
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who founded the Institute for Noetic Sciences after his spaceflight career, also has spoken out. According to a Fox News report from July 25, 2008:
“He says extraterrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions — but the alien contact has been repeatedly covered up by governments for six decades.
“Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview in Birmingham, England, that sources in the federal government who had had contact with aliens described the beings as ‘little people who look strange to us.’
Mitchell, now 80 years old, holds the record for the longest moon walk in history—over nine hours. He has stated that Roswell actually happened, that the U.S. government has utilized UFO technology for its own purposes, and told the press that he was briefed on ET contacts while at NASA. He said:
“I’ve been in military and intelligence circles, who know that beneath the surface of what has been public knowledge, yes, we have been visited.”
UFOs are often described as having the capability to fly in all directions, make rapid stops, turns, and starts, and accelerate at inconceivable speeds. Obviously the rockets used in manned spaceflight cannot do anything like this, not even the shuttle.
But other types of propulsion have been under study by NASA and other R&D institutions for years, including nuclear power, what is called anti-gravity, and electromagnetism. An example is the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket developed by Costa Rican scientist and former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz through the Ad Astra Rocket Company and scheduled to be tested on the International Space Station over the next several years.
This type of research points to much more advanced and benign technology than explosive rockets that some believe may already be known elsewhere in the universe, and it is through the investigation of such technology that the manned space program meets the world of ETs and UFOs, if indeed such things exist.
So how could UFOs defy the laws of inertia and gravity? As early as the 1950s and 60s, what was called the Space Valve principle was identified that would allow for silent, frictionless travel, even in earth’s atmosphere. Today we have the phenomena whereby a superconductor cooled to an extremely low temperature is repelled by a magnetic field and made to levitate, the Meisner Effect.
This is the principle behind the mag-lev train, whereby an extremely heavy train filled with cargo and passengers can travel at speeds over 100 mph on a track it never even touches. The same could be done with an automobile on a magnetized highway.
The mag-lev train actually floats a centimeter above the track in seeming defiance of the law of gravity. Animals such as frogs have been levitated in the laboratory. A Japanese sumo wrestler was reportedly levitated on a disc containing a superconductor.
Then there are the experiments with constructing a space elevator, where objects would ride to space on an extremely lightweight conveyor. My son at Virginia Tech worked on the space elevator project for a time.
UFOs and ETs are also a huge part of modern consciousness as reflected in the mass media. Space has been one of the predominant themes in movies, TV, and literature for the past half-century, including, most famously, Star Trek. The life of beings in space is an archetypal vision of reality that will not go away.
Depiction of space phenomena in the media has ranged from the benign, as in Steven Spielberg’s ET, to the comical, as in Third Rock from the Sun, to a gigantic battleground between good and evil, as in Star Wars, to the cynical and horrifying, as in X-Files and Men in Black. While some reports are unsettling, like those of alien abduction, there is no evidence of any immediate menace to the existence of humanity.
Indeed, it is often noted in the literature that beings capable of reaching the earth from distant regions could well be not only more advanced technologically, but also more ethically than we are. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell has said, again according to Fox News:
“Real-life ET’s were similar to the traditional image of a ‘small Gray”‘ — short, slight frame, large eyes and large head. Mitchell also claimed human technology is ‘not nearly as sophisticated’ as the aliens’ and ‘had they been hostile,’ he warned ‘we would be been gone by now.’”
Interest in space also touches the spiritual realm, as with out-of-body travel and remote viewing. These have been the objects of serious study by the Monroe Institute near Charlottesville, Virginia. Thousands of intelligent, capable people have attended its programs, including many military and intelligence analysts. Experiences reported by the Monroe Institute have included out-of-body travel to what is described as worlds parallel to but quite distinct from our own.
Though attempts have been made to debunk them, crop circles are another example of potential extraterrestrial involvement, where incredibly complex and mathematically-precise designs have been seen to be created by beams of light from the sky completing their work within minutes. These designs have included such figures as the Mandelbrot Set and the Julia Set which only in recent years have been created experimentally by high-powered computers.
We may also have historical evidence of space visitors. The Egyptian Ennead of nine overarching deities was reputed to have extraterrestrial origins. Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken is a famous book on the subject of ET visitation.
Indeed there are many legends from ancient civilizations of space visitors, including from ancient Sumeria and the Dogon culture of West Africa, which traces its origins to beings from Sirius. Even episodes of the Bible have been interpreted as referring to outer space visitation, including Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, as described in Exodus, in a roped-off area on Mt. Sinai.
The ancient Gnostics believed in the Aeons, spiritual beings or principles from afar who sometimes visited earth. Hinduism has the concept of lokas, extraterrestrial realms to which people can travel in deep meditation or after death.
The concept of other-wordly beings has actually been very common in history and is present today in the form of angels. Virtually all Christians believe in angels, including a guardian angel assigned to each of us, though they are viewed as spiritual, not physical, beings, if indeed the distinction means much scientifically. Why couldn’t angelic bodies simply be composed of a finer form of matter than we are accustomed to?
Many Christians pray to the archangel Michael. Prayers are also offered to departed saints who obviously reside somewhere other than right here on earth. Muslims believe the archangel Gabriel gave the Koran to Mohammed. Hindus may pray to the elephant-headed deity Ganesh or to the Lord Shiva or to forms of the divine mother such as Durga, Kali, or Saraswati.
Clearly none of these divine or semi-divine beings resides in the visible earthly realm, so might also be called “extraterrestrials” of a kind. There have also been rumors that both the Vatican and the United Nations have designated individuals as liaisons with ETs if and when they appear.
Actually, the U.N. has an Office for Outer Space Affairs, and while its head, Dr. Mazlan Othman of Malaysia, is not an official ambassador to the ET realm, she has spoken at such events as the British Royal Society’s conference on “The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society.”
This 2010 conference in London was hosted by Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen, who said that ETs “could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognise them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology.”
He added: “I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there as aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”
Regarding the Vatican, while the Roman Catholic Church has not taken an official position, Monsignor Corrado Balducci, a member of the Vatican Curia, has gone on Italian national television a number of times to state his belief that extraterrestrial contact is a real phenomenon. Balducci provides an analysis of extraterrestrials that he feels is consistent with the Catholic Church’s understanding of theology, emphasizing that extraterrestrial encounters “are not demonic, they are not due to psychological impairment, they are not a case of entity attachment, but these encounters deserve to be studied carefully.”
Balducci has said that the Vatican is closely following ET phenomena and cites such Catholic thinkers of the past as 19th century Jesuit astronomer Angelo Secchi (1818-66), who said, “It’s absurd to consider the worlds around us as uninhabited deserts.” There has even been discussion in some circles of whether, if ETs make themselves known, they should be offered the sacrament of Christian baptism.
Indeed, from a spiritual perspective, and according to some of the major religions in some description or another, we all may be viewed as “extraterrestrials,” if by that we mean souls incarnated here on earth to have a human experience. Otherwise, where did we come from in the first place?
Of course it’s also easy to get lost in fantasy. There are whole imaginary mythologies and some bizarre cults that have been created, some focused on the possible significance of the supposed ending of the Mayan calendar in the year 2012. No one knows the exact future, but it is surely better to look ahead with faith and hope than to get wrapped up in gloom and doom prophecies.
At the same time, there are some definitely credible accounts of extraterrestrial contact through psychic means, if we can accept the possibility of mental or telepathic communication between different levels of being or among entities in different parts of the universe.
I’ll mention two of these that I find particularly interesting and credible. One is the “Ra Material” from L/L Research in Louisville, KY, and the second is material on what is called “The Nine” from a group led by the late U.S. psychic researcher Andrija Puharich.
Research on The Nine covered a fairly large group, including Eugene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek. The Association for Research and Enlightenment founded by Edgar Cayce in Virginia Beach, VA, also regularly conducts conferences and workshops on UFO research, as do many other organizations around the world.
Let me close by saying simply that these are some of the avenues I’ve explored over the 25 years since I was personally involved in what was without a doubt the greatest tragedy of the space age. Yet in a sense it was not entirely a tragedy. Rather it was a demonstration by seven brave people of what it may be worth to explore the highest frontier, one we really know very little about.
And as we move forward from here, I would urge each of you to have an open mind about what space is and what the role of the human race may be in space exploration in both the immediate and distant future. Remember too that it has been through the manned space program and its many related endeavors that two infinities have met: that of the vast unending universe around us and that of the equally vast inner world of man’s thought, his emotions of awe and wonder, and his undying and eternal striving of consciousness and spirit.
Copyright 2011 by Richard C. Cook
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