CANAVERAL, Florida (AMP) — The United States for the first time
admitted it is engaged in a "salvage operation" in Antarctica and says
that a recently discovered "anomaly" two miles beneath the ice is a NASA Mars module lost during an ill-fated training mission 31 years ago.
salvage crew has found a piece of American spaceflight history at the
bottom of an eleven-thousand-foot-deep ice gorge in East Antarctica,"
Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood said. "But an icy gale crushed
the robotic rover used to identify and photograph the spacecraft,
putting recovery efforts on hold until the polar storm passes." That
could be weeks, he added.
in the international community were suspicious of the announcement,
calling the "recovery effort " a cover story for something more
sinister. "Why all the secrecy?" asked one French diplomat at the
United Nations. "When the Liberty Bell 7 space capsule was discovered
on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, much hoopla was made. Now it sits
in the Kansas Cosmosphere. Where is the publicity for this discovery?"
intelligence analysts speculate that the lost Mars module was powered
by a compact nuclear reactor plant. That would be in direct violation
of the international Antarctic Treaty.
"The irony," said one space observer, "is that in attempting to cover
its past infringements, the U.S. does even greater violation to the
this day NASA has refused to release details on the module, Red Genie,
or the names of its four occupants. But some old-timers from the Apollo
space program recall Red Genie disappeared halfway through a 40-day
training mission meant to simulate conditions on Mars after the ice
beneath it mysteriously collapsed, revealing an ancient, scythe-like
gorge almost one mile long and two miles deep. [Click here to take a virtual tour of Antarctica, courtesy of the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA).]
asked why a military rather than a civilian salvage crew was used,
Flood said that NASA reserved the right to inspect the capsule for
signs of what went wrong in 1969. Two cameras and a tape recorder were
on board that could shed light on what happened in one of the more
intriguing mysteries of American space flight.
Americans are aware that NASA had plans to put the first man on Mars in
1982," said former Apollo systems technician Peter Nordquist, 78. "And
we could have done it back then cheap. Just imagine. Today a manned
flight is so cost-prohibitive that nobody will seriously talk about it.
They want to stick with robots like the Sojourner."
Mars shuttle, as originally formulated by rocket pioneer Wernher von
Braun in 1953 and later revised by NASA planners in the late 1960s, was
scheduled to depart the American space station Freedom on November 12,
1981, reach the red planet on August 9, 1982, and return to Earth one
year later. But by 1969 the war in Vietnam had sapped the federal
budget, and the moon landing had temporarily satiated Americans'
appetite for space exploration. With congressional opposition to the
mission mounting, President Nixon rejected the Mars mission and space
station program. Only the space shuttle got the green light.
in hindsight say Nixon's catastrophic decision set back the Mars
program for decades, left the space shuttle all dressed up with no
place to go and cast a rudderless NASA adrift in the political
backwaters of Washington without a clear vision.