Saturday, October 1, 2016

Devoir de memorie - the duty of memory

Hi all,

Forbidden Science

I am currently reading a copy of Jacques Vallee's 'Forbidden Science: Volume Three - Journals 1980-1989 - On the Trail of Hidden Truths.' It was published, in 2016,  by Documatica Research, LLC. ISBN is 978-1-329-89437-2.

Image courtesy Amazon Books
In the introduction, Vallee writes 'The French call it Devoir de memoire, the duty of memory:anyone who lives through exceptional times, or has the privilege to work with exceptional people, should preserve the recollection of the thoughts, the deeds and even the feelings that characterised the era in question. It is only in this way that future researchers will be able to assess the testimony of contemporaries and verify key facts.'

It is in this spirit, assessing and verifying, that I will, in a series of blog posts, examine points of personal interest in this new book.


In an entry dated 26 January 1980, Vallee writes of a lunch with a college teacher named Tom Gates, and a journalist named Renwick Breck. Breck tells Vallee:

 '...about his experiences in Australia, where he was to report on the re-entry of Skylab. His adventures centred on Pine Gap, an American national security facility, that controls the orbital trajectories of spy satellites over the Southern hemisphere.'

'"Pine Gap does all sorts of things!" Ren said. "I found out it directed the Polaris submarines and ran experiments with particle beam weapons and Star Wars Platforms."

'Ren believes that a new phase of the discreet "cold" war in space has begun between the Soviets and us; their Soyouz space craft are suspected of carrying ant-satellite weapons. But there's more: "Pine Gap is hosting disk-shaped drones that may be used to direct particle beams towards specific targets," he told us, drawing donut-like objects on his napkin."They're often mistaken for flying saucers. They may be nothing more than big magnets, powered from the ground by an energy beam. Such weapons would change the balance , the nuclear stalemate, making atom bombs obsolete."

"So whatever happened to Skylab?" I asked. He laughed: "The damn thing came down in the middle of a news blackout. Imagine that! The communications workers of Australia went on strike just at the critical period. Guess who controls the Unions down there?"

I had no idea.

"The CIA, that's who! It was a very convenient strike. They did make one exception, to allow the broadcasting of the Miss World Pageant from Perth. For four days all you could see on TV from Australia was a bunch of bimbos in bathing suits. In the meantime Skylab crashed down, right smack on the highway to Pine Gap after narrowly missing two airliners Nasa hadn't bothered to warn. The world had been told that the final trajectory was unpredictable. What a joke! Tom here had computed it at the public planetarium in San Jose. The main safe from Skylab was picked up near the front door of the secret Pine Gap facility. Heavens knows what was inside. Nasa served as a cover for military experiments once again."'

Fact checking

So, what fact checking can be undertaken on the above story?

1. What is the function of Pine Gap?


An early shot of Pine Gap
The leading civilian authorities on the Pine Gap facility are Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson and Richard Tanter. Much of their work has been published via the 'Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability.'

These three authors, in a paper titled 'The SIGINT Satellites of Pine Gap. Conception, Development and in Orbit,' dated 15 October 2015, wrote as follows about the facility's function:

'Pine Gap's initial and still principal importance to the United States lies in its role as a ground control and processing station for geosynchronous sigint intelligence satellites...'

So, the statement in Vallee, that Pine Gap

 '...controls the orbital trajectories of spy satellites over the southern hemisphere.'

is partially correct, in that it does 'control,' but it also 'processes.' 

2. Did it run '...experiments with particle beam weapons and Star Wars Platforms?'

There is certainly much Internet material available today about exotic weapons and Pine Gap, e.g.
here and here

However, there is fewer sources speaking of this topic back in 1980. One Australian source is the book titled "The Cosmic Conspiracy" by American Stan Deyo. In the book, Deyo discusses, among other things, Pine Gap and UFOs. He reports sightings of strange objects around the facility. In addition he mentions rumours that the base had a large, nuclear power station plant; and worked with high voltage, high energy plasma accelerators.

The Cosmic Conspiracy - image courtesy Amazon Books
So, the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck:

'...and ran experiments with particle beam weapons and Star Wars Platforms,'

cannot be confirmed or rejected.

3. Did Pine Gap host disk-shaped drones?

In 1980, the word 'drones' wasn't used terribly much; certainly not in terms we understand today, i.e. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV.) A broad search failed to find any mention of Pine Gap and drones in 1979-1980.

So, the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck that:

"Pine Gap is hosting disk-shaped drones...' cannot be confirmed or rejected.

Location of Pine Gap facility - image courtesy Google maps
4. (a) Did Skylab come down in the middle of a news-blackout? (b) Did the communications workers go out on strike?

a. I couldn't find anything on a total news-blackout for this era. Certainly, newspapers such as 'The Canberra Times' were being published during the period around the re-entry of Skylab. The TROVE digitised newspaper collection of the National Library of Australia has numerous newspaper items from 'The Canberra Times' about the re-entry. It could well be, however, that television was affected.

b. 'The Canberra Times' dated 10 July 1979, on page one, speaking of the Skylab re-entry, reports 'The only contingency which might cause some difficulty could be the effects of the telecommunication employees bans on equipment but this was not expected to be a major problem.'

So, the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck, that:

'The damn thing came down in the middle of a news blackout. Imagine that! The communications workers of Australia went on strike just at the critical period,'

is partially correct.

5. Was there a Miss World Pageant on at the time?

The date of the Miss World Pageant 1979 was in fact the 15 November 1979, and the venue for the event was not Western Australia, but London, in the United Kingdom. 

I wondered if this might have been a mistaken reference to the Miss Universe event? I found that the 1979 Miss Universe event was held in Perth, Western Australia on 20 July 1979, The Skylab  re-entry was on 12 July 1979 (Australian time.)

So, the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck that:

'They did make one exception, to allow the broadcasting of the Miss World Pageant from Perth. For four days all you could see on TV from Australia was a bunch of bimbos in bathing suits. In the meantime Skylab crashed down...'

is incorrect. There was no Miss World Pageant from Perth; and the re-entry was 8 days before the Miss Universe event. 

6. Did Skylab crash on the highway to Pine Gap?

According to media reports from 1979, the re-entry of Skylab occurred on 12 July 1979 at about 1.07am Western Australian time (equal to 11 July 1979 at 16:37 UTC.) As a double check I looked at a table titled 'Visually Observed Natural Re-entries of Earth Satellites' compiled by Canadian researcher Ted Molczan. He has the re-entry timed at 11 July 1979 at 16:33 UTC. 

According to Benson, C. and Compton W D. (1983) 'Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab' (Washington DC) page 37, the debris field for Skylab was between Esperance, Western Australia ( latitude 33.86 degrees south; longitude 121.89 degrees east) and Rawlinna, Western Australia (latitude 30.76 degrees south; longitude 125.38 degrees east.) Pine Gap is at latitude  23.82 degrees south and longitude 133.73 degrees east.

Esperance and Rawlinna - image courtesy of Google maps
The direct line distance between Esperance and Pine Gap is approximately 1622 kilometres. The straight line distance between Rawlinna and Pine Gap is about 1145 kilometres.

So, the statement in Vallee, atrributed to Breck that:

'In the meantime Skylab crashed down, right smack on the highway to Pine Gap...'

is totally incorrect, according to NASA history, and contemporary newspaper accounts.

A second, small point is that there is no 'highway' to Pine Gap. Locals tell me that the road in 1979 was a standard bitumised, two lane; one in each direction; and not a 'highway.'

7. Did Skylab narrowly miss two airliners?

An Internet search revealed no such account. A search of 'The Canberra Times' newspaper's numerous stories on Skylab, also revealed no such accounts. Indeed, 'The Canberra Times;' dated 10 July 1979 stated that the Australian Department of Transport would declare a large area of airspace restricted, before the Skylab re-entry, to avoid just such a possibility. 

I did find a mention that '...and an airline pilot saw dozens of celestial firework-like flares.." as Skylab re-entered. This appears in Lewis, R S. 1984. 'The Voyages of Columbia.' New York. Columbia University Press. pp 80-82.

So, the statement in Vallee attributed to Breck, that:

'...after narrowly missing two airliners Nasa hadn't bothered to warn,'

appears incorrect.

8. Was the trajectory of Skylab unpredictable?

Time magazine, dated 16 July 1979, in an article titled 'Skylab's Fiery Fall,' mentions that NASA aimed to steer Skylab to a point in the ocean, some 810 miles SSE of Cape Town, South Africa, to avoid population centres.

Australian newspaper reports, such as 'The Canberra Times" dated 15 July 1979, page 4, provide further details:

Image courtesy TROVE digitised newspapers
Thus, the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck, that:

'The world had been told that the final trajectory was unpredictable,'

is true.

9. Was the main safe from Skylab picked up near Pine Gap?

As mentioned before, bits of Skylab were picked up between 1145 and 1622 kilometres from Pine Gap. Although the trajectory, if extended backwards from Esperance to Rawlinna, does pass near Pine Gap, at what height did Skylab start to disintegrate?

 Lewis, R S. 1984. 'The Voyages of Columbia.' New York. Columbia University press. pp 80-82, provides the answer in that 'Analysis of some debris indicated that the Skylab station had disintegrated 10 miles above the Earth...'

If this is correct, then when it was 10 miles above the Earth it couldn't have been near Pine Gap, so no 'main safe' could have fallen near Pine Gap.

Thus the statement in Vallee, attributed to Breck that:

'The main safe from Skylab was picked up near the front door of the secret Pine Gap facility,'
appears incorrect.

In summary

Here is a tantilising tale from journalist Renwick Breck told to, and recorded by, Jacques Vallee in 1980. 

At first glance, it seems to be a story of Skylab crashing down near a Top Secret US facility in Australia, with its main safe intact; complete with stories of particle beam experiments at the base.

However, when fact checked, we find some statements to be true; eg there was a beauty contest in July 1979 in Perth. Other statements such as Skylab crashing near Pine Gap, seem untrue. Finally, the more extreme statements that Pine Gap was hosting disk-shaped drones and conducting experiments with particle beam weapons, are in the end unable to be confirmed or rejected.

All in all, one has to be very wary of accepting the totality of such accounts despite the apparent sincerity of the teller of the tale, in this instance, journalist Renwick Breck.

Would any reader care to comment on this story?

1 comment:

  1. It seems like the boring things were true and the compelling things were not. A cautionary tale of being careful what one reads, especially when it seems controversial. It is controversial for a reason and not always in a good sense.

    ReplyDelete

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