Chapter XIMY FIRST STEP, in checking on our space plans, was to look up official announcements. I found that on December 29, 1948, Defense Secretary James Forrestal had released this official statement:
"The Earth Satellite Vehicle Program, which is being carried out independently by each military service, has been assigned to the Committee on Guided Missiles for coordination.
"To provide an integrated program, the Committee has recommended that current efforts be limited to studies and component design. Well-defined areas of such research have been allocated to each of the three military departments."
Appropriation bills had already provided funds for space exploration plans. The Air Force research was indicated by General Curtis E. LeMay, who was then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development. In outlining plans for an Air Engineering Design Center at Wright Field, General LeMay included these space-exploration requisites:
"Flight and survival equipment for ultra-atmospheric operations, including space vehicles, space bases, and devices for use therein."
The idea of exploring space is, of course, nothing new. For many years, writers of imaginative fiction have described trips to the moon and distant planets. More recently, comic books and strips have gone in heavily for space-travel adventures.
As a natural result of this, the first serious rocket experiments in this country were labeled screwball stunts, about on a par with efforts to break through the sonic barrier. The latter had been "proved" impossible by aeronautical engineers; as for rocket flight, it was too silly for serious consideration. Pendray, Goddard, and other rocket pioneers took some vicious ridicule before America woke up to the possibilities.
Meantime, German scientists had gone far ahead.
When the Allies seized Nazi secrets, some of the German plans were revealed. Among them was one for a huge earth satellite. From this base, which would circle the earth some five hundred miles away, enormous mirrors would focus the sun's rays on any desired spot. The result: swift, fiery destruction of any city or base refusing to surrender.
First publication of this scheme brought the usual jeers. Many people, including some reputable scientists, believed it had been just a propaganda plan that even Goebbels had discarded as hopeless.
Then the Pentagon announced the U.S. Earth Satellite Vehicle Program, along with plans for a moon rocket, The artificial satellite is to be a large rocket-propelled projectile. In its upward flight, it will have to reach a speed of 23,000 miles an hour, to escape the earth's pull of gravity. At a height of about 500 miles, special controls will turn the projectile and cause it to circle the earth. These controls will be either automatic or operated from the ground, by radar. Theoretically, once such a vehicle is beyond gravity's magnetism, it can coast along in the sky forever. Its rocket power will be shut off; the only need for such power would be if the satellite veered off course. A momentary burst from the jets would be sufficient to bring it back to its orbit.
Circling the earth in about two hours, this first satellite is expected to be used as a testing station. Instruments will record and transmit vital information to the earth--the effect of cosmic rays, solar radiation, fuel required for course corrections, and many other items.
A second space base farther out will probably be the next step. It may be manned, or it may be under remote control like the first. Perhaps the first satellite vehicle will be followed by a compartmented operating base, a sort of aerial aircraft carrier, with other rocket
The first attempts may fail. The first satellite may fall back and have to be guided to an ocean landing. Or its controls might not bring it into the planned orbit. In this case, it could coast on out into space and be lost. But sooner or later, effective controls will be found. Then the manned space ships will follow.
Once in free space, there will be no gravitational pull to offset. The space ship and everything in it will be weightless. Shielding is expected to prevent danger from cosmic rays and solar radiation.
The danger from meteorites has been partly discounted in one scientific study. ("Probability that a meteorite will hit or penetrate a body situated in the vicinity of the earth," by G. Grimminger, Journal of Applied Physics, Vol. 19, No. 10, pp. 947-956, October 1948) In this study, it is stated that a meteorite is unlikely to penetrate the thick shell our space vehicles will undoubtedly have. However, this applies only to the earth's atmosphere. Longer studies, using remote-controlled vehicles in space, may take years before it will be safe to launch a manned space ship. Radar or other devices may have to be developed to detect approaching meteorites at a distance and automatically change a space ship's course. The change required would be infinitesimal, using power for only a fraction of a second.
But before we are ready for interplanetary travel, we will have to harness atomic power or some other force not now available, such as cosmic rays. Navigation at such tremendous speeds is another great problem, on which special groups are now at work. A Navy scientific project recently found that strange radio signals are constantly being sent out from a "hot spot" in the Milky Way; other nebulae or "hot" stars may be similarly identified by some peculiarity in their radio emanations. If so, these could be used as check points in long-range space travel.
Escape from the earth's gravity is possible even now,
Already, a two-stage rocket has gone more than 250 miles above the earth. This is the V-2-Wac Corporal combination. The V-2 rocket is used to power the first part of the flight, dropping off when its fuel is exhausted. The Wac Corporal then proceeds on its own fuel, reaching a fantastic speed in the thin air higher up.
Hundreds of technical problems must be licked before the first satellite vehicle can be launched successfully. Records on our V-2 rockets indicate some of the obstacles. On the take-off, their present swift acceleration would undoubtedly kill anyone inside. When re-entering the earth's atmosphere the nose of a V-2 gets red-hot.
Both the acceleration and deceleration must be controlled before the first volunteers will be allowed to hazard their lives in manned rockets. Willi Ley, noted authority on space-travel problems, believes that pilots may have to accept temporary blackout as a necessity on the take-off. (Two of his books, Rockets and Space Travel and Outer Space, give fascinating and well-thought-out pictures of what we may expect in years to come.)
Some authorities believe that our space travel will be confined to our own solar system for a long time, perhaps forever. The trip to the moon, though now a tremendous project, would be relatively simple compared with a journey outside our system. Escape from the moon, for the return trip, would be easier than leaving the earth; because of its smaller mass, to escape the moon's gravitational pull would take a speed of about 5,000 miles an hour, against 23,000 for the earth. Navigation would be much simpler. Our globe would loom up in the heavens, much larger and brighter than the moon appears to us. Radar beams would also be a guide.
The greatest obstacle to reaching far-distant planet is the time required. In the Project "Saucer" study of
There have been a few scientists who dispute Einstein's law, though no one has disproved it. If the speed of light is not an absolute limit for space ships, then travel to remote parts of the universe may someday be possible.
Otherwise, a trip outside our solar system could be a lifetime expedition. Most space travel would probably be limited to the planets of our sun--the moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and the others.
Although it may be many years before the first manned space ship leaves the earth, we are already at work on the problems the crews would face. I learned some of the details from a Navy flight surgeon with whom I had talked about take-off problems.
"They're a lot further than that" he told me. "Down at Randolph Field, the Aero-Medical research lab has run into some mighty queer things. Ever hear of 'dead distance'?"
"No, that's a new one."
"Well, it sounds crazy, but they've figured out that a space ship would be going faster than anyone could think."
"But you think instantaneously," I objected.
"Oh, no. It takes a fraction of a second, even for the fastest thinker. Let's say the ship was making a hundred miles a second--and that's slow compared with what they expect eventually. Everything would happen faster than your nerve impulses could register it. Your comprehension would always be lagging a split second behind the space ship's operation."
"I don't see why that's so serious," I said.
"Then all the controls would have to be automatic," I said. I told him that I had heard about plans for avoiding meteorites. "Electronic controls would be faster than thought."
"That's probably the answer," he agreed. "Of course, at a hundred miles a second it might not be too serious. But if they ever get up to speeds like a thousand miles a second, that mental lag could make an enormous difference, whether it was a meteorite heading toward you or a matter of navigation."
One of the problems he mentioned was the lack of gravity. I had already learned about this. Once away from the earth's pull, objects in the space ship would have no weight. The slightest push could send crewmen floating around the sealed compartment.
"Suppose you spilled a cup of coffee," said the flight surgeon. "What would happen?"
I said I hadn't thought it out.
"The Randolph Field lab can tell you," he said. "The coffee would stay right there in the air. So would the cup, if you let go of it. But there's a more serious angle--your breath."
"You'd have artificial air," I began.
"Yes, they've already worked that out. But what about the breath you exhale? It contains carbon dioxide, and if you let it stay right there in front of your face you'd be sucking it back into your lungs. After a while, it would asphyxiate you. So the air has to be kept in motion, and besides that the ventilating system has to remove the carbon dioxide."
"What about eating?" I asked. "Swallowing is partly gravity, isn't it?"
He nodded. "Same as drinking, though the throat muscles help force the food down. I don't know the answer to that. In fact, everything about the human body presents a problem. Take the blood circulation. The
"I couldn't even guess," I said.
"Well, that's all the Aero-Medical lab can do--guess at it. They've been trying to work out some way of duplicating the effect of zero gravity, but there's just no answer. If you could build a machine to neutralize gravity, you could get all the answers, except to the 'dead distance' question.
"For instance, there's the matter of whether the human body would even function without gravity. All down through the stages of evolution, man's organs have been used to that downward pull. Take away gravity, and your whole body might stop working. Some of the Aero-Medical men I've talked with don't believe that, but they admit that long trips outside of gravity might have odd effects.
"Then there's the question of orientation. Here on earth, orienting yourself depends on the feeling you get from the pull of gravity, plus your vision, just being blindfolded is enough to disorient some people. Taking away the pull of gravity might be a lot worse. And of course out in space your only reference points would be distant stars and planets. We've been used to locating stars from points on the earth, where we know their position. But how about locating them from out in space, with a ship moving at great speed? Inside the space ship, it would be something like being in a submarine. Probably only the pilot compartment would have glass ports, and those would be covered except in landing--maybe even then. Outside vision might be by television, so you couldn't break a glass port and let out your pressure.
"But to go back to the submarine idea. It would be like a sub, with this big difference: In the submarine you can generally tell which way is down, except maybe in a crash dive when you may lose your equilibrium for a moment. But in the space ship, you could be standing with your feet on one spot, and another crewman might be--relative to you--standing upside down. You might be floating horizontally, the other man vertically.
To make sure I had the details right, I checked on the Air Force research. I found that the Randolph Field laboratory is working on all these problems, and many more.
Although plans are not far enough advanced to make it certain, probably animals will be sent up in research rockets to determine the effect of no gravity before any human beings make such flights. The results could be televised back to the earth.
All through my check-up on space exploration plans, one thing struck me: I met no resistance. There was no official reticence about the program; on the contrary, nothing about it seemed secret.
Even though it was peacetime, this was a little curious, because of the potential war value of an earth satellite vehicle. Even if the Nazi scheme for destruction proved just a dream, an orbiting space base could be used for other purposes. In its two-hour swing around the earth, practically all of the globe could be observed-directly, by powerful telescopes, or indirectly, by a combination of radar and television. Long-range missiles could be guided to targets, after being launched from some point on the earth. As the missiles climbed high into the stratosphere, the satellite's radar could pick them up and keep them on course by remote control.
There were other possibilities for both attack and defense. Ordinarily, projects with wartime value are kept under wraps, or at least not widely publicized. Of course, the explanation might be very simple: The completion of the satellite vehicle was so remote that there seemed no need for secrecy. But in that case, why had the program been announced at all?
If the purpose had been propaganda, it looked like a weak gesture. The Soviets would not be greatly worried by a dream weapon forty or fifty years off. Besides that, the Pentagon, as a rule, doesn't go for such propaganda.
There was only one conventional answer that made any sense. If we had heard that the Soviets were about
The date on Secretary Forrestal's co-ordination announcement was December 30, 1948. One day later, the order creating Project "Saucer" had been signed. That didn't prove anything; winding up the year, Forrestal could have signed a hundred orders. I was getting too suspicious.
At any rate, I had now analyzed the Gorman case and checked on our space plans. Tomorrow I would see Redell and find out what he knew.
Chapter XIIWHEN I called Redell's office I found he had flown to Dallas and would not be back for two days. By the time he returned, I had written a draft of the Gorman case, with my answer to the balloon explanation. When I saw him, the next morning, I asked him to look it over.
Redell lighted his pipe and then read the draft, nodding to himself now and then.
"I think that's correct analysis," he said when he finished. "That was a very curious case. You know, Project 'Saucer' even had psychiatrists out there. If Gorman had been the only witness, I think they'd have called it a hallucination. As it was, they took a crack at him and the C.A.A. men in their preliminary report."
Though I recalled that there had been a comment, I didn't remember the wording. Redell looked it up and read it aloud:
"From a psychological aspect, the Gorman incident raised the question, "Is it possible for an object without appreciable shape or known aeronautical configuration to appear to travel at variable speeds and maneuver intelligently?"
"Hallucination might sound like a logical answer," I said, "until you check all the testimony. But there are just too many witnesses who confirm Gorman's report. Also, he seems like a pretty level-headed chap."
Redell filled his pipe again. "But you still can't quite accept it?"
"I'm positive they saw the light--but what the devil was it? How could it fly without some kind of airfoil?"
"Maybe it didn't. You remember Gorman described an odd fuzziness around the edge of the light? It's in this Air Force report. That could have been a reflection from the airfoil."
"Yes, but Gorman would have seen any solid--" I stopped, as Redell made a negative gesture.
"It could be solid and still not show up," he said.
"You mean it was transparent? Sure, that would do it!"
"Paul, I think you've hit it," I said. "I can see the rest of it--the thing was under remote control, radio or radar. And from the way it flew rings around Gorman, whoever controlled it must have been able to see the F-51, either with a television 'eye' or by radar,"
"Or by some means we don't understand," said Redell. He went on carefully, "In all these saucer cases, keep this in mind: We may be dealing with some totally unknown principle--something completely beyond our comprehension."
For a moment, I thought he was hunting at some radical discovery by Soviet--captured Nazi scientists. Then I realized what he meant.
"You think they're interplanetary," I murmured.
"Why not?" Redell looked surprised. "Isn't that your idea? I got that impression."
"Yes, but I didn't think you believed it. When you said to check on our space plans, I thought you had some secret missile in mind."
"No, I had another reason. I wanted you to see all the problems involved in space travel. If you accept the interplanetary answer, you have to accept this, too--whoever is looking us over has licked all those problems years ago. Technically, they'd be hundreds of years ahead of us--maybe thousands. It has a lot to do with what they'd be up to here."
When I mentioned the old sighting reports, I found that Redell already knew about them. He was convinced that the earth had been under observation a long time, probably even before the first recorded sightings.
"I know some of those reports aren't authentic," he admitted. "But if you accept even one report of a flying disk or rocket-shaped object before the twentieth century, then you have to accept the basic idea. In the last forty years, you might blame the reports on planes and dirigibles. But there was no propelled aircraft until 1903.
I told him I was pretty well convinced, but that True faced a problem. There was some conflicting evidence, and part of it seemed linked with guided missiles. I felt sure we could prove the space-travel answer, but we had to stay clear of discussing any weapons that were still a secret.
"I can't believe that guided missiles are the answer to the Godman Field saucer and the Chiles-Whitted case, or this business at Fargo. But we're got to be absolutely sure before we print anything."
"Well, let's analyze it," said Redell. "Let's see if all the saucers could be explained as something launched from the earth."
He reached for a pad and a pencil.
"First, let's take your rotating disk. That would be a lot simpler to build than the stationary disk with variable jet nozzles. With a disk rotated at high speed you get a tremendous lift, whether it's slotted or cambered, as long as there's enough air to work on."
"The helicopter principle," I said.
Redell nodded. "The most practical propulsion would be with two or more jets out on the rim, to spin your rotating section. But to get up enough speed for the jets to be efficient, you'd have to whirl the disk mechanically before the take-off. Here's one way. You could have a square hole in the center; then the disk launching device would have a square shaft, rotated by an engine or a motor. As the speed built up, the cambered disk would ride up the shaft and free itself, rising vertically, with the jets taking over the job of whirling the cambered section.
"The lift would be terrific, far more than any normal aircraft. I don't believe any human being could take the G's involved in a maximum power climb; they'd have to use remote control. When it got to the desired altitude, your disk could be flown in any direction by tilting it that way. The forward component from that tremendous
"What about maneuvering?" I asked, thinking of Gorman's experience.
"It could turn faster than any pilot could stand," said Redell. "Of course, a pilot's cockpit could be built into a large disk; but there'd have to be some way of holding down the speed, to avoid too many G's in tight maneuvers."
"Most of the disks don't make any noise," I said. "At least, that's the general report. You'd hear ordinary jets for miles."
"Right and here's another angle. Ram jets take a lot of fuel. Even with some highly efficient new jet, I can't see the long ranges reported. Some of these saucers have been seen all over the world. No matter which hemisphere they were launched from, they'd need an eight-thousand-mile range, at least, to explain all of the sightings. The only apparent answer would be some new kind of power, probably atomic. We certainly didn't have atomic engines for aircraft in 1947, when the first disks were seen here. And we don't have them now, though we're working on it. Even if we had such an engine, it wouldn't be tiny enough to power the small disks."
"Anyway," I said, "we'd hardly be flying them all over everywhere. The cost would be enormous, and there'd always be a danger of somebody getting the secret if a disk landed."
"Plus the risk of injuring people by radiation. Just imagine an atomic-powered disk dropping into a city. The whole idea's ridiculous."
"That seems to rule out the guided-missile answer," I began. But Redell shook his head.
"Disk-shaped missiles are quite feasible. I'm talking about range, speed, and performance. Imagine for a moment that we have disk-type missiles using the latest jet or rocket propulsion--either piloted or remote-controlled. The question is, could such disks fit specific sightings like the one at Godman Field and the case at Fargo?"
Redell paused as if some new thought had struck him.
"Wait a minute, here's an even better test. I happen to
"You're sure he wasn't kidding Miles?" I said. Then I remembered Purdy's tip about a White Sands case.
"I told you I checked on this myself," Redell said, a little annoyed. "After Miles told me about it, I asked an engineer who'd been down there if it was true. He gave me the same story, figures and all. The first saucer was tracked by White Sands observers with a theodolite. Then they worked out its performance with ballistics formulas."
Redell looked at me grimly.
"The thing was about fifty miles up. And it was making over fifteen thousand miles an hour!"
One of the witnesses, said Redell, was a well-known scientist from the General Mills aeronautical research laboratory in Minneapolis, which was working with the Navy. (A few days later, I verified this fact and the basic details of Redell's account. But it was not until early in January 1950 that I finally identified the officer as Commander Robert B. McLaughlin and got his dramatic story.)
"Here are two more items Miles told me," Redell went on. "This Navy expert said the saucer actually looked elliptical, or egg-shaped. And while it was being tracked it suddenly made a steep climb--so steep no human being could have lived through it."
"One thing is certain," I said. "That fifty-mile altitude knocks out the rotating disk. Up in that thin air it wouldn't have any lift."
"Right," said Redell. "And the variable jet type would require an enormous amount of fuel. Regardless, those G's mean it couldn't have had any pilot born on this earth."
According to Marvin Miles, this White Sands saucer had been over a hundred feet long. (Later, Commander
"If we had such an advanced design," said Redell, "and I just don't believe it possible--would we gamble on a remote-control system? No such system is perfect. Suppose it went wrong. At that speed, over fifteen thousand miles an hour, your precious missile or strato-ship could be halfway around the globe in about forty-five minutes. That is, if the fuel held out. Before you could regain control, you might lose it in the sea. Or it might come down behind the Iron Curtain. Even if it were I smashed to bits, it would tip off the Soviets. They might claim it was a guided-missile attack. Almost anything could happen."
"It could have a time bomb in it," I suggested. "If it got off course or out of control, it would blow itself up."
Redell emphatically shook his head. "I've heard that idea before, but it won't hold up. What if your ship's controls went haywire and the thing blew up over a crowded city? Imagine the panic, even if no actual damage was done. No, sir--nobody in his right mind is going to let a huge ship like that go barging around unpiloted. It would be criminal negligence.
"If the White Sands calculations were correct, then this particular saucer was no earth-made device. Perhaps in coming years, we could produce such a ship, with atomic power to drive it. But not now."
Redell went over several other cases.
"Take the Godman Field saucer. At one time, it was seen at places one hundred and seventy-five miles apart, as you know. Even to have been seen at all from both places, it would have to have been huge--much larger than two hundred and fifty feet in diameter. The human eye wouldn't resolve an object that size, at such a distance and height."
It was an odd thing; I had, gone over the Mantell case
"How big do you think it was?" I asked quickly. This could be the key I had tried to find.
"I haven't worked it out," said Redell. "But I can give you a rough idea. The human eye can't resolve any object that subtends less than three minutes of arc. For instance, a plane with a hundred-foot wing span would only be a speck twenty miles away, if you saw it at all."
"But this thing was seen clearly eighty-seven miles away--or even more, if it wasn't midway between the two cities. Why, it would have to be a thousand feet in diameter."
"Even larger." Redell was silent a moment. "What was the word Mantell used--'tremendous'?" I tried to visualize the thing, but my mind balked. One thing was certain now. It was utterly impossible that any nation on earth could have built such an enormous airborne machine just to think of the force required to hold it in the sky was enough to stagger any engineer. We were years away--perhaps centuries--from any such possibility.
As if he had read my thoughts, Redell said soberly, "There's no other possible answer. It was a huge space ship--perhaps the largest ever to come into our atmosphere."
It was clear now why such desperate efforts had been made to explain away the object Mantell had chased.
"What about that Eastern Airlines sighting?" I asked.
"Well, first," said Redell, "it wasn't any remote-control guided missile. I'll say it again; it would be sheer insanity. Suppose that thing had crashed in Macon. At that speed it could have plowed its way for blocks, right through the buildings. It could have killed hundreds of people, burned the heart out of the city.
"If it was a missile, or some hush-hush experimental job, then it was piloted. But they don't test a job like that on any commercial airways. And they don't fool around at five thousand feet where people will see the thing streaking by and call the newspapers.
"To power a hundred-foot wingless ship, especially at those speeds, would take enormous force. Not as much
Redell paused. He looked at me grimly. "And the way I'd have to soup it up, it would be a damned dangerous ship to fly. No pilot would deliberately fly it that low. He'd stay up where he'd have a chance to bail out."
I told him what I had heard about the blueprints the Air Force was said to have rushed.
"Of course they were worried," said Redell. "And probably they still are. But I don't think they need be; so far, there's been nothing menacing about these space ships."
When I got him back to the Gorman case, Redell drew a sketch on his pad, showing me his idea of the disk light. He estimated the transparent rim as not more than five feet in diameter.
"Possibly smaller," he said. "You recall that Gorman said the light was between six and eight inches in diameter. He also said it seemed to have depth--that was in the Air Force report."
"You think all the mechanism was hidden by the light?"
"Only possible answer," said Redell. "But just try to imagine crowding a motor, or jet controls for rim jets, along with remote controls and a television device, in that small space. Plus your fuel supply. I don't know any engineer who would even attempt it. To carry that much gear, it would take a fair-sized plane. You could make a disk large enough, but the mechanism and fuel section would be two or three feet across, at least. So Gorman's light must have been powered and controlled by some unique means. The same principle applies to all the other light reports I've heard. No shape behind them, high speed, and intelligent maneuvers. That thing was guided from some interplanetary ship, hovering at a high altitude," Redell declared. "But I haven't any idea what source of power it used."
"I knew they went over Gorman's fighter with a Geiger counter," Redell commented. "But they said the reaction was negative. If Green is right, it's interesting. It would mean they have built incredibly small atomic engines. But with a race so many years ahead of us, it shouldn't be surprising. Of course, they may also be using some other kind of power our scientists say is impossible."
I was about to ask him what he meant when his secretary came in.
"Mr. Carson is waiting," she told Redell. "He had a four-o'clock appointment."
As I started to leave, Redell looked at his calendar.
"I hate to break this up; it's a fascinating business What about coming in Friday? I'd like to see the rest of those case reports."
"Fine," I said. "I've got a few more questions, too."
Going out, I made a mental note of the Friday date. Then the figure clicked; it was just three months since I'd started on this assignment.
Three months ago. At that time I'd only been half sure that the saucers were real. If anyone had said I'd soon believe they were space ships, I'd have told him he was crazy.
Chapter XIIIBefore my date with Redell, I went over all the material I had, hoping to find some clue to the space visitors' planet. It was possible, of course, that there was more than one planet involved.
Project "Saucer" had discussed the possibilities in its report of April 27, 1949. I read over this section again:
Since flying saucers first hit the headlines almost two years ago, there has been wide speculation that the aerial phenomena might actually be some form of penetration from another planet.
Actually, astronomers are largely in agreement that only one member of the solar system beside Earth is capable of supporting life. That is Mars. Even Mars, however, appears to be relatively desolate and inhospitable, so that a Martian race would be more occupied with survival than we are on Earth.
On Mars, there exists an excessively slow loss of atmosphere, oxygen and water, against which intelligent beings, if they do exist there, may have protected themselves by scientific control of physical conditions. This might have been done, scientists speculate, by the construction of homes and cities underground where the atmospheric pressure would be greater and thus temperature extremes reduced. The other possibilities exist, of course, that evolution may have developed a being who can withstand the rigors of the Martian climate, or that the race--if it ever did exist--has perished.
In other words, the existence of intelligent life on Mars, where the rare atmosphere is nearly devoid of oxygen and water and where the nights are much colder than our Arctic winters, is not impossible but is completely unproven.
The possibility of intelligent life also existing on the planet Venus is not considered completely unreasonable by astronomers.
The atmosphere of Venus apparently consists mostly of carbon dioxide with deep clouds of formaldehyde droplets, and there seems to be little or no water. Yet, scientists concede that living organisms might develop in chemical environments which are strange to us. Venus, however, has two handicaps. Her mass and gravity are nearly as large as the Earth (Mars is smaller) and her cloudy atmosphere would discourage astronomy, hence space travel.
The last argument, I thought, did not have too much weight. We were planning to escape the earth's gravity; Martians could do the same, with their planet. As for the cloudy atmosphere, they could have developed some system of radio or radar investigation of the universe. The Navy research units, I knew, were probing the far-off Crab nebula in the Milky Way with special radio devices. This same method, or something far superior, could have been developed on Venus, or other planets surrounded by constant clouds.After the discussion of solar-system planets, the Project "Saucer" report went on to other star systems:
Outside the solar system other stars--22 in number--have satellite planets. Our sun has nine. One of these, the Earth, is ideal for existence of intelligent life. On two others there is a possibility of life. Therefore, astronomers believe reasonable the thesis that there could be at least one ideally habitable planet for each of the 22 other eligible stars.(After publication of our findings in True, several astronomers said that many planets may be inhabited. One of these was Dr. Carl F. von Weizacker, noted University of Chicago physicist. On January 10, 1950, Dr. von Weizacker stated: "Billions upon billions of stars found in the heavens may each have their own planets revolving about them. It is possible that these planets would have plant and animal life on them similar to the earths.")
The theory is also employed that man represents the average in advancement and development. Therefore, one-half the other habitable planets would be behind man in development, and the other half ahead. It is also assumed that any visiting race could be expected to be far in advance of man. Thus, the chance of space travelers existing at planets attached to neighboring stars is very much greater than the chance of space-traveling Martians. The one can be viewed as almost a certainty (if you accept the thesis that the number of inhabited planets is equal to those that are suitable for life and that intelligent life is not peculiar to the Earth)."
The most likely star was Wolf 359--eight light-years away. I thought for a minute about traveling that vast distance. It was almost appalling, considered in terms of man's life span. Of course, dwellers on other planets might live much longer.If the speed of light was not an absolute limit, almost any space journey would then be possible. Since there would be no resistance in outer space, it would be simply a matter of using rocket power in the first stages to accelerate to the maximum speed desired. In the latter phase, the rocket's drive would have to be reversed, to decelerate for the landing.
The night before my appointment with Redell, I was checking a case report when the phone rang. It was John Steele.
"Are you still working on the saucers?" he asked. "If you are, I have a suggestion--something that might be a real lead."
"I could use a lead right now," I told him.
"I can't give you the source, but it's one I consider reliable," said Steele. "This man says the disks are British developments."
This was a new one. I hadn't considered the British. Steele talked for over half an hour, expanding the idea.
The first British types had been developed secretly in England, according to this account. But the first tests showed a dangerous lack of control; the disks streaked up to high altitudes, hurtling without direction. Some had been seen over the Atlantic, some in Turkey, Spain, and other parts of Europe.
The British then had shifted operations to Australia, where a guided-missile test range had been set up. (This part, I knew, could be true; there was such a range.) After improving their remote-control system, which used both radio and radar, they had built disks up to a hundred feet in diameter. These were launched out over the Pacific, the first ones straight eastward over open sea. British destroyers were stationed at 100-mile and later 500-mile intervals, to track the missiles by radar and correct their courses. At a set time, when their fuel was almost exhausted, the disks came down vertically and landed in the ocean. Since part of the device was sealed, the disks would float; then a special launching ship would hoist them abroad, refuel them, and launch them back toward a remote base in Australia, where they were landed by remote control.
Since then, Steele said, the disks' range and speed had been greatly increased. The first test of the new disks was in the spring of 1947, his informant had told him. The British had rushed the project, because of Soviet Russia's menacing attitude. Their only defense in England, the British knew, would be some powerful guided missile that could destroy Soviet bases after the first attack.
In order to check the range and speeds accurately, it was necessary to have observers in the Western Hemisphere--the disks were now traversing the Pacific. The ideal test range, the British decided, was one extending over Canada, where the disks could be tracked and even landed.
Some of the disk missiles were supposed to have been launched from a British island in the South Pacific; others came all the way from Australia. Still others were believed to have been launched by a mother ship stationed between the Galapagos Islands and Pitcairn.
It was these new disks that had been seen in the United States, Alaska, Canada, and Latin America, Steele's informant had told him. At first, the sightings were due to imperfect controls; the disks sometimes failed to keep their altitude, partly because of conflicting radio and radar beams from the countries below. Responding to some of these mixed signals, Steele said, the disks had been known to reverse course, hover or descend over radar and radio stations, or circle around at high speeds until their own control system picked them up again.
For this reason, the British had arranged a simple detonator system, operated either by remote control or automatically under certain conditions. In this way, no disk would crash over land, with the danger of hitting a populated area. If it descended below a certain altitude, the disk would automatically speed up its rotation, then explode at a high altitude. When radar trackers saw that a disk was off course and could not be realigned, the nearest station then sent a special signal to activate the detonator system. This was always done, Steele had been told, when a disk headed toward Siberia; there had previously been a few cases when Australian-launched disks had got away from controllers and appeared over Europe.
I listened to Steele's account with mixed astonishment and suspicion. It sounded like a pipe dream; but if it was, it had been carefully thought out, especially the details that followed.
At first, Steele said, American defense officials had been completely baffled by the disk reports. Then the British, learning about the sightings, had hastily explained to top-level American officials. An agreement had been
"And I gather we paid in other ways," Steele said. "My source says this played a big part in increasing our aid to Britain, including certain atomic secrets."
That could make sense. Sharing such a secret would be worth all the money and supplies we had poured into England. If America and Great Britain both had a superior long-range missile, it would be the biggest factor I knew for holding off war. But the long ranges involved in Steele's explanation made the thing incredible.
"How are they powered? What fuel do they use?" I asked him.
"That's the one thing I couldn't get," said Steele. "This man told me it was the most carefully guarded secret of all. They've tapped a new source of power."
"If he means atomic engines," I said, "I don't believe it. I don't think anyone is that far along."
"No, no," Steele said earnestly, "he said it wasn't that. And the rest of the story hangs together."
Privately, I thought of two or three holes, but I let that go.
"If it's British," I said, "do you think we should even hint at it?"
"I don't see any harm," Steele answered. "The Russians undoubtedly know the truth. They have agents everywhere. It might do a lot of good for American-British relations. Anyway, it would offset any fear that the saucers are Soviet weapons."
"Then you're not worried about that angle any more?"
Steele laughed. "No, but it had me going for a while. It was a big relief to find out the disks are British."
"What's the disks' ceiling?" I asked, abruptly.
"Oh--sixty thousand feet, at least," said Steele. After a moment he added quickly, "That's just a guess--they probably operate much higher. I didn't think to ask."
Before I hung up, he asked me what I thought, of the British explanation.
If he was sincere, it would be poor thanks for what he had told me. If he was trying to plant a fake explanation, it wouldn't hurt to let him think I'd swallowed it. When I saw Redell, I told him about Steele.
"It does look like an attempt to steer you away from the interplanetary answer," Redell agreed, "though he may be passing on a tip he believes."
"You think there could be any truth in the British story?"
"Would the British risk a hundred-foot disk crashing in some American city?" said Redell. "No remote control is perfect, and neither is a detonator system. By some freak accident, a disk might come down in a place like Chicago, and then blow up. I just can't see the British--any more than ourselves--letting huge unpiloted missiles go barging around the world, flying along airways and over cities. Certainly, they could have automatic devices to make them veer away from airliners--but what if a circuit failed?"
"I go along with that," I said.
"I don't say the British don't have some long-range missiles," Redell broke in. "Every big nation has a guided-missile project. But no guided missile on earth can explain the Mantell case and the others we've discussed."
I showed him the material I had on the Nazi disk experiments. Redell skimmed through it and nodded.
"I can tell you a little more," he said. "Some top Nazi scientists were convinced we were being observed by space visitors. They'd searched all the old reports. Some sighting over Germany set them off about 1940. That's what I was told. I think that's where they first got the idea of trying out oval and circular airfoils.
"Up to then, nobody was interested. The rotation idea uses the same principle as the helicopter, but nobody had even followed that through. The Nazis went to work on the disks. They also began to rush space-exploration plans--the orbiting satellite idea. I think they realized these
When I asked Redell how he thought the space ships were powered, he shrugged.
"Probably cosmic rays hold the answer. Their power would be even greater than atomic power. There's another source I've heard mentioned, but most people scoff at it. That's the use of electromagnetic fields in space. The earth has its magnetic field, of course, and so does the sun. Probably all planets do.
"There's a man named Fernand Roussel who wrote a book called The Unifying Principle of Physical Phenomena, about 1943. He goes into the electromagnetic-field theory. If he's right, then there must be some way to tap this force and go from one planet to another without using any fuel. You'd use your first planet's magnetic field to start you off and then coast through space until you got into the field of the next planet. At least, that's how I understand it. But you'd be safer sticking to atomic power. That's been proved."
Most of our conversations had been keyed to the technical side of the flying-saucer problem. But before I left this time, I asked Redell how the thought of space visitors affected him.
"Oh, at first I had a queer feeling about it," he answered. "But once you accept it, it's like anything else. You get used to the idea."
"One thing bothers me," I said. "When I try to picture them, I keep remembering the crazy-looking things in some of the comics. What do you suppose they're really like?"
"I've thought about it for months." Redell slowly shook his head. "I haven't the slightest idea."