Friday, May 09, 2014

UFOs and Science Fiction Theater

So, I’m watching the old Science Fiction Theater on YouTube… (Science Fiction Theater was a 1950s half-hour drama that alleged that there was some science in their stories). I remembered seeing reruns in the 1960s as a kid and all this would be irrelevant to us here, except that I remembered one particular episode in which there was a flying saucer. The title, I learned, was “Are We Invaded?” I remembered that the scientist in the tale explained the UFO sighting as a temperature inversion by using chemicals that didn’t mix. The thing that struck me was that it seemed to be the same explanation Donald Menzel had used as one of his explanations of the Lubbock Lights and he even showed a light bouncing off chemicals in a fish tank.

Even that wouldn’t be of much interest, except in the beginning, Truman Bradley, the series host, said that there had been more than 2000 UFO sightings but that no one had been injured by UFOs. The copyright of the show is 1955, so this was after Mantell, after Kinross and even after Walesville.

Yes, in today’s world I believe most of us think Mantell was chasing a balloon and not Venus, and not Venus and a balloon, and not Venus and two balloons, as the Air Force claimed. But at the time, he was chasing a UFO, and in 1955, there was not a good explanation for it. My thinking is that here was a case in which someone was hurt.

In Walesville several people were killed when a fighter plunged into a neighborhood did involve a UFO report. The pilot of an Air Force fighter, who had been in an active air defense mission, reported that his cockpit filled with heat as if the aircraft was on fire. He, and his radar officer, bailed out. The aircraft crashed into a residential area, burst into flames, and killed four people. This case is sometimes linked to a UFO sighting from the day before, but this seems to be an aircraft accident rather than a UFO incident, but in 1955, it was believed that a UFO had caused the aircraft cockpit to fill with heat.

Kinross is a UFO sighting and two pilots disappeared while attempting to intercept the UFO. They had been scrambled to identify the object. Radar operators watched as the two blips, the fighter and the UFO, merged, but never separated. The aircraft and the pilots disappeared. This is case has never been satisfactorily explained and the result was the loss of the pilots.

Bradley, in his opening monologue, then, provided inaccurate information, but he always made it clear that his story was not necessarily true but based, sort of, on the science of the day. I objected to his comment about no one having been injured by a flying saucer because it wasn’t true.

The irony here is that after the UFO sighting from the show, after the actor trying to prove that there was something to UFO sightings, and seeing all his evidence evaporate with the Menzel-like demonstration, we learn that there might be something to the UFO stories. The man who had tried to prove that UFOs were alien had been handed a picture to give to the scientist. When they looked at it, they saw that it was the solar system, but the picture had to be taken from space. (Remember this was early in the 1950s, and we didn’t have photographs of the solar system taken from space).

Oh, I know what you’re thinking… what does this have to do with UFOs? It’s science fiction. I thought it was interesting, given the timing of the show, and that it was about flying saucers, and I had remembered the demonstration from it for something like forty years. Every time I saw the picture of Menzel with his light and formation of UFOs, I thought of this show. It was good to see it again, see how it was all put together, and see the obvious twist at the end.


Unknown said...

Truman Bradley's script writers may have been inconsistent, because in an episode titled "Nightmare", a UFO blasts a Mexican guide who "stole" a homing device from an alien's corpse. So the story writers for this episode, at least, did propose UFOs as potentially dangerous to meddling humans.

Unknown said...

P.S., that should read, "Hour of Nightmare"!

David Rudiak said...

Science Fiction theater was one of those shows we watched regularly when my family got its first TV in 1957. I don't remember this particular episode, but I was only 8 or 9.

1957 was when I also became aware of UFOs and space travel with the first two Sputniks, the launch of Sputnik II being IMMEDIATELY followed by the Levelland car stalling cases that made front page news along with Sputnik II.

cda said...

Yes Sputnik 2 carried a dog, Laika, didn't it? I recall the cries of animal cruelty (in the UK anyway) that followed from the animal rights people very soon afterwards.

Also Hynek wrote, in one of his books, that although Levelland followed just one hour after Sputnik 2, this was pure coincidence because although the satellite was up, the American people were not yet aware of it!

David Rudiak said...

CDA wrote:
"Also Hynek wrote, in one of his books, that although Levelland followed just one hour after Sputnik 2, this was pure coincidence because although the satellite was up, the American people were not yet aware of it!"

Hynek's argument would only make sense if the "American people" were somehow responsible for the car stallings. However, I suspect someone "up there" keeping us under surveillance would be aware of such a satellite launch much sooner than the American people or even the American government.

Along these lines, in the days following, were stories of Sputnik II being followed by an unknown object putting out radio signals. And there were more car stalling cases, such as the well-publicized missile scientist James Stokes' case near Alamogordo.

Among the linked-to stories was a very Father Gill-like one from Fiji of repeat sightings there by islanders and a white minister two weeks before.

However, true to Science Fiction Theater claims, no one was harmed during the UFO car stalling kerfluffle of November 1957, except perhaps poor Laika the space dog.

Rusty L. said...

Hey Kevin, how about a link to the show on YouTube.

Larry said...

David wrote:
" the days following, were stories of Sputnik II being followed by an unknown object putting out radio signals. ..."

As a card-carrying rocket scientist, I would immediately suspect that unknown object might have been the upper stage of the launch vehicle that placed the Sputnik in orbit. I'm pretty sure that the early Soviet satellites themselves did not have any significant propulsive capability built in, so that means the last stage of the launch vehicle would have to achieve almost the same velocity and phasing as the satellite. The upper stage would have a lot more aerodynamic drag than the Sputnik itself, so its orbit would decay much faster--possibly re-entering the atmosphere within a matter of days. Also, the upper stage would also have two-way radio communication, so its RF signature ("radio signals") would show up to anyone with the capability and interest to listen in.

Which would have been the CIA, tasking the NSA. They routinely monitored and decrypted Soviet civil space missions and provided the intelligence product to users in the US Government. However, in a case like this, neither the Soviets nor the USG would have a motive for clearing up the mystery.

I am not familiar with this case; has no one raised this possibility before? Where did the "stories" originate from?

KRandle said...

Rusty -

Try this:

Jim Robinson said...

In re Menzel's fish tank demo,it is virtually worthless in proving optical phenomena in Earth's atmosphere, where the range of physical parameters is far different. This was pointed out often by James Mcdonald, but nobody apparently paid much attention, since temperature inversion mirages are still often cited as the possible cause of ufo sightings.

It is easily proven that no inversion layer can ever cause a mirage over one-half degree from the horizon of an observer. So, if an object is seen skimming the horizon, maybe it's a mirage, but nowhere else ... and that includes sightings by airborne observers.

Jim Robinson said...

P.S. As for Levelland, I forgot to mention the fact that Sputnik2 could not possibly have had anything to do with it because at the time it was many thousands of miles away & was never even above the horizon at Levelland during the nighttime.

KRandle said...

Jim -

I think the linkage to Levelland was not that Sputnik was seen but that it put the idea of spaceships into the minds of the witnesses. The timing doesn't exactly line up, but it was one of the skeptical arguments.

David Rudiak said...

Earlier I mentioned news stories during the UFO wave of Nov. 1957 of another object being discovered in orbit with Sputnik II and unknown radio signals also being detected. Literal rocket scientist Larry suggested maybe the booster stage of Sputnik II was responsible for both.

In email with Larry, I said I remembered there was something unusual reported about the object and radio signal, but I didn't exactly remember what. I pulled my 1957 file today and what seemed to be unusual was the extra object was in front of Sputnik II, not behind, like you would expect of a booster. The radio signal was on a frequency not used by either Sputnik I or II and was further said to be "classified." It was also a moving, not stationary radio signal. That doesn't preclude a booster with telemetry on a different radio band (though I wonder on the need for telemetry from a spent booster), and also what the reason for classification might be.

We can discuss this in more detail if anybody is interested, but if not, I'll just have further email with Larry.