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The Amazing Story of the Salyut-6 Close Encounter

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“On June 18, 1981, Gosplan called for an extraordinary conference, with the presence of UFO experts, cosmonauts and Soviet authorities, including military officers. Its moderator was the chief of the Soviet Space Program, General Georgi Timofeevict Beregovoy. Beside him was Vladimir Kovalyonok [Kovalenok], the cosmonaut who, along with Viktor Savinikh [Savinykh], stayed 77 days in space, aboard the Salyut-6 station. …  The revelation they made was to shock the world. It’s quite simply the story of a close encounter of the second kind – which didn’t go the third kind because mission control ordered: NYET. Salyut-6 made contact with an alien spaceship for fou4 days (with interruptions) and together they orbited Earth. The event involved five astronauts: Kovalyonok, Savinikh and three aliens aboard an unknown vehicle that had the shape of a sphere.” [Brazilian Manchete magazine, September 24, 1984]

It’s an Amazing Story. The tale describe how the cosmonauts managed to contact the extraterrestrial intelligences, first by a failed attempt flashing a light in Morse code, but eventually succeeding with an alleged mathematical message. There is also the physical description of the aliens, essentially human beings, or “similar to human beings”:

“They used light helmets, such as tight hoods. … They had thick and long eyebrows and straight noses, like those of Greek statues. What most impressed the cosmonauts were the eyes – large and blue, twice as large as ours – fixed on them, without a trace of emotion. Their traces were handsome, very dark. They reminded of solemn Hindu men. But no muscle moved on their faces. They looked like robots.”

It’s even more amazing because, according to the story, the contact was fully recorded in many photographs and a long film footage, which was shown in the Gosplan conference and even today must be kept highly secret in some Russian vault.

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The bad news is that this amazing story is almost as fictional as those found on early pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories. It’s literally pulp fiction.

Russian researcher Boris Shurinov is especially critical of the promotion of this legend in the west. Quoting none other then Georgi Beregovoy – who was never chief of the Soviet Space Program – the source states quite clearly:

“Once I tried to investigate the subject myself. I read in a small Ukrainian paper about my  contacts with representatives of extraterrestrial civilizations and a film I allegedly showed members of the Politburo. I wanted to know where all that had come from, and found out it was a reproduction of an article published on Central Asia which in turn used an article from abroad. This is the degree of authenticity of this information.”

I also asked researcher Mikhail Gershtein, who kindly informed that another primary source in the story denies it all:

“In the documentary "V poiskah prisheltzev" ("In search of the extraterrestrials", 1988, in Russian) the producer showed this news clipping from the ‘National Enquirer’ to the astronaut Viktor Savinyh and translated some parts from it. Savinyh stated that it is pure lie: "They make us, the readers, fools as they want…"

Pure lies. But then, absence of confirmation, and even presence of denial can be taken by some as evidence of something to hide. The interesting thing is that the final source in the story confirms part of the story.

I saw this object and then something happened I could not explain”, repeatedly claimed Kovalenok.

“The object was the size of a finger. I was surprised to see it was an orbiting object … "It was hard to determine the size and the speed of an object in space. That is why I can not say exactly, which size it actually was. Savinykh prepared to take a picture of it, but the UFO suddenly exploded. Only clouds of smoke were left. The object split into two interconnected pieces. It was reminiscent of a dumb-bell. I reported about it to the Mission Control immediately.”

Kovalenok even made a drawing of the object.

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“The Soviet press headlined the event widely. Soviet newspapers and magazines published a lot of articles and messages about it, but they were mostly critical articles. Journalists excluded the existence of the extraterrestrial reason. It was probably a UFO, but it was definitely not mysticism – two people watched it at the same time.”

Now, this is confirmation of a UFO, but there’s no mention of the Gosplan conference, nor of Hindu aliens, and not even a single picture. Where did those details came from?

Yes, it was invented on the West by some ‘yellow press’ writer – maybe Henry Gris”, Gershtein answered me. “In Russia this wild story was known only from the ‘National Enquirer’ article”. Indeed, the single source for all those amazing details is an article by Henry Gris on that pulp tabloid, the National Enquirer.

At the time the Enquirer was deeply involved with the UFOria, and wild tales “from behind the Iron Curtain”, where the stories could not be checked, were a carte blanche to embellish things. If the Amazing Story of Salyut-6 sounded extraordinary, what about the “Space Alien Baby Found Alive”?

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The MUFON bulletin reprinted in 1983 a critical article by Anders Liljegren which exposed items from the Enquirer such as “Soviet Ships Buzzed by UFOs from Under the Sea” and “Space Alien Blasts Forest Rangers With a Bizarre Ray”, which Liljegren noted was copied almost verbatim from the details of a Finnish case that happened ten years before. “UFO researchers should put their NE issues into the depths of their waste-paper baskets where they rightly belong”, he recommended.

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But even the purple space alien baby kept alive for a couple of months was taken seriously by some believers, and has been quoted as a real story that was covered up. The Salyut-6 legend is very prominent in Latin America, and the Brazilian UFO magazine promoted it as a real event in  no less than two cover articles, one published in 1985 – when the story was fresh, and from where these wonderful illustrations came from – and the other in 2002, where they actually quoted Kovalenok latest statements, but still had not figured the legend out. This is the magazine that announced Jesus would come in a flying saucer. In April 2007.

In this review of the legend, I trusted the work of Shurinov and Gershtein, and could not find a fac-simile of Gris original item – the best I worked on was a full Italian translation. If you didn’t throw your Enquirer issue on the waste bin, I would really like to see the source for this tale I first heard when I was a kid!

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To sum it up: a UFO was sighted by Kovalenok and Savinikh aboard the Salyut-6 on May 5, 1981. But they couldn’t determine its distance and size, nor record it as the whole event lasted for only a few moments. The not exactly extraordinary sighting transpired in the Russian press, where intrepid Enquirer journalists such as Henry Gris picked it up and embellished it with the Hindu aliens. One has to concede it’s an interesting, if kitsch, tale. From the Enquirer the story circulated to the world, and made full circle back and past the Iron Curtain.

But what did the cosmonauts saw? In early 1978 there was another UFO sighting aboard the Salyut-6 space station, and this is yet another long story. But like the Amazing Enquirer Story, no record was captured and James Oberg suggests they could have seen a jettisoned trash bag.

If it had some Enquirer UFO issues inside it, as Liljegren recommended, it would make for a funny story.

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UFO Best Evidence: The El Yeso Reflection?

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It’s been called the world’s best UFO photo. Of course, some national pride may have been involved since the claim was made by Chilean Ufologists about this Chilean UFO photo, captured on February 14, 2010 near the El Yeso reservoir, high in the Andes Mountains. Besides an interesting image, complete with a “possible shape of the UFO” reconstruction you see below, from a local UFO group, the case is interesting because it was also investigated by the official Chilean group CEFAA, which forwarded it for analysis abroad.

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As a cooperation between CEFAA and the American NARCAP, Dr. Richard Haines evaluated the series of images and issued a report, translated by CEFAA to Spanish, and also reproduced by Leslie Kean in English.

The image was part of a series of photos captured by a family in holiday interested in registering the colorful iridescent clouds that can be seen. It was only afterwards that they noticed the apparent UFO in the sky. That is, point one, they didn’t actually see the UFO. And, as Haines himself notes, “the UAP was not visible in any of the other photographs taken of the same location in the sky”. It only showed up in one image. Point two.

Here’s one additional. extremely relevant point. As local UFO group CIFAE comments on, quoting the direct statement by one of the witnesses, Doris Hermosilla, some of the photos in the series were taken from inside an utility vehicle. Hermosilla states that the image with the UFO was taken outisde the car, but the UFO group comments that both the previous and the photo in question actually have fuzzy reflections suggesting otherwise.

Indeed, in the upper left corner of area number 12, following the reference areas marked in the full photo by Haines, one can clearly see an out of focus light blob.

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Now, that could be either a flare, or an internal reflection on a car window or windshield. It could also be another UFO, but then, and here is the point, so could the UFO be… a flare or internal reflection.

A flare is not a very good candidate since the image does appear in focus with definite features, but a reflection looks like a very good hypothesis. It would not be the first of its kind.

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The three points we remarked are all compatible with a reflection on a window or windshield, not noticed by the witnesses, recorded only in one photograph where the angles were just right, and taken from inside a vehicle. Something very much like this mysterious yellow UFO in the sky:

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Which is just a GPS antenna reflected on a windshield. Notice in this other photo how reflections of objects at different distances from the glass may appear in and out of focus, just as on the El Yeso photo we have a more sharply defined “UFO” and an out of focus blob.

Additional elements supporting the idea of a reflection can actually be found in Dr. Haines considerations. He notices how the geometry of the illumination does not match if the assumed UFO was reflecting sunlight. Indeed, it’s backwards. Haines then suggests that “the UAP’s surface was not reflecting sunlight but (perhaps) emitting its own reddish luminance”. Perhaps, but then perhaps it was reflecting sunlight, and then being reflected once again through a windshield.

The ‘UFO’ is a reflection in a window”, promptly explained to me Chilean researcher Andrés Duarte. “Obviously, an image like that is very easy to recreate. The reflected object seems to show a woven pattern and stitching”. Amazingly, Haines also noticed that “the UAP looks remarkably like a woven, canvas shoe with threaded thong stitching around the sole”.

So, if the “UFO” was a reflection, what it actually was? Probably not a shoe. CIFAE published an image from one of the seats of the vehicle in question, noting some similarities, but also some differences:

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So, especially if the photo was taken through the side window, part of one of the seats illuminated by the Sun could be what many are interpreting as an UFO.

From my part, if the photo was taken instead through the windshield, then as with the previous GPS UFO example, the object may appear much larger than it actually is. It could even be, instead of a disc or part of a larger object, in fact a hole in the dashboard, similar to the best “UFO” photo ever.

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If it was a hole, then this case would be fascinating, among many other reasons, for combining the illusion of a convex object where it was actually concave, with the appearance of a large hovering object in the sky where it was in fact a small reflection.

An examination of the vehicle and further interviews with the witnesses could possibly identify the object and make this yet another one of the “best” UFO photos for their interesting story and unexpected identification rather than a great unexplained mystery.

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Famous Battle of LA photo was retouched version

Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on unknown object over Los Angeles in the early morning hours. Over 1400 rounds of anti-aircraft rounds were fired, with rounds with many rounds landing on the ground. This is unretouched version.

“Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on an unknown object in the skies over Los Angeles. During the early morning air-raid alert, more than 1,400 anti-aircraft shells are fired.

The incident, now referred to as the Battle of L.A., occurred less than three months after the Pearl Harbor attack and two days after a Japanese submarine shelled an oil facility near Santa Barbara.

The next day, on Feb. 26, The  Times published a photo page with a retouched version of the above searchlight photo and seven other images of damage from falling anti-aircraft shells.”

Do you hear that sound? It’s one “classic” UFO case falling apart in the most basic form. In an article by Scott Harrison published by the same LA Times, we are informed that an original, unretouched negative of the famous image was recently found at the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA, and that:

“In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.

In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky.

Thus my conclusion:  the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. But man, I wish the retouching had been more faithful to the original. With our current standards, this image would not be published.”

Feb. 25, 1942. Retouched version of searchlight photo after work by Los Angeles Times artists. The bottom part of the image was painted black. The searchlights were lightened with white paint.  This version is from a copy negative made at unknown date from retouched print.  The neg is now in the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA.

Previously, Tim Printy had already delved into the whole Battle of LA case in his SUNlite Vol..3 No.1, where he had already speculated the famous image could have been retouched. He also noted that another photo of the Battle of LA published on LIFE magazine shortly afterwards didn’t show anything at all:

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As it turns out, just like the original unretouched LA Times image.

Printy’s article also goes into the very small detail that most promoting an UFO link seem to ignore, that the Battle of LA happened a couple of days after an actual Japanese attack on the west coast.

Interestingly, and quite amazingly, all the panic that night may have started with a  weather balloon. One of the major cases before the word UFO was even coined involved a weather balloon.

Believe it or not – and if you do read more about the historical context, it actually is quite believable – fact is that the only physical evidence for an alleged alien spacecraft that night has just vanished.

As it was never actually there.

UPDATE 03/13/2011: A looping animation between the original and retouched versions:

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A young astronomer’s view on UFOs

Here’s a 32 year-old Carl Sagan speaking about flying saucers.

Fascinating bit of history. In that same year, the young astronomer published the book “Intelligent Life in the Universe”, along with Soviet Iosef Shklovskii. In that book, a scientific collaboration during the Cold War, Sagan and his Soviet fellow would delve and speculate into questions that unfortunately have not changed very much half a century later.

This is both because they were visionaries – the ubiquity of exoplanets was by no means a given in the 1960s, much to the contrary – and also because we still have not made contact nor found any conclusive evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Sadly.

This book is also very notable because, even before one Swiss guy exploited the idea, Sagan and Shklovskii analyzed seriously the idea of gods as ancient astronauts. Even a famous Sumerian tablet with several planets is discussed, decades before another alleged “expert” made a lot of fuss about it.

Now, back to the video interview, the man besides Sagan is also very notable, and not only because of the eypatch (due to an automobile accident) or the fact he lights up a smoking pipe. He’s Thornton Page, a noted astronomer and previously part of the Robertson panel on UFOs. Most importantly, along with the same Carl Sagan, he would promote a UFO symposium on the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That’s right, in 1969, one of the most representative institutions of science, the one that actually publishes Science, held a symposium about UFOs. Paul E. McCarthy has a very interesting dissertation on the backstage of this episode of UFO, and science, history: Politicking and Paradigm Shifting: James E. McDonald and the UFO case study. [hattip to Leonardo Stern]

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Ghost Rocket in California was flight UPS902

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At the beginning of the month, a “mysterious missile launch” recorded from South California sparked a lot of media interest until it was identified as a commercial flight UPS902 from Honolulu to Ontario, California. The sunlit contrail looked like a rocket exhaust, but unlike any rocket, its source moved very slowly.

Mick West over at ContrailScience did a superb job presenting the evidence for the identification, as this may be one of the most irrefutable explanations for an intriguing aerial phenomenon in the history of intriguing aerial phenomena.

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It goes from multiple photos allowing triangulation which matches in time and space the radar track of flight UPS902 to satellite imagery of the contrail and even previous cases of contrails that look like rocket plumes. Just check all the evidence, it’s quite beautiful to see so many independent evidence converging into one single and clear explanation thanks to the wonders of the modern information age – and Mick West and his many collaborators, of course.

Now, though most people called it a “mysterious missile launch”, one could just as well name it a “ghost rocket”. As Bob Sheaffer noted, the classic 1946 photo of a ghost rocket in Sweden, the only known photo of the wave that anticipated modern ufology by a year, is usually interpreted as a meteor.

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But couldn’t that actually be a contrail? “People in Sweden, seeing [in 1946] the unfamiliar new phenomenon of high-altitude contrails, [may have] perceived them as menacing rockets launched by one great power or another.

It would have been quite a feat to capture a meteor trail in the sky with an old camera, but a contrail not unlike the recent California one would be in the sky for several minutes. Much easier. Much more probable?

Contemporary investigations did mention contrails as one of several explanations for the “ghost rockets” (none of them involving actual rockets, nor alien spaceships), but it would be quite curious if the sole photo of that wave is of a contrail rather than a meteor.

Much more so that more than six decades later, with people in California very familiar with contrails, ghost rockets may still cause a lot of confusion.

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