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In Search of Gordon Cooper's UFOs 2/3
(original James Oberg Article)


Also please see: My Rebuttal to this James Oberg Article

From: "Jerry Cohen" <>
Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 06:36:17 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 04 Feb 1997 09:39:44 -0500
Subject: In Search of Gordon Cooper's UFOs 2/3

Part two of Mr. Oberg's original essay, which appeared in May 1996,
is reprinted from "Errol Bruce-Knapp: UFO UpDates - Toronto".
Orginally posted on UFO Updates by Dean Kanipe, Area 51 Research
Center.(Formatted BBS compatible)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Sat, 11 May 1996 00:47:24 -0400
From: Errol Bruce-Knapp <>
Subject: UFO UpDate: In Search of Gordon Cooper's UFOs

footnoted the source. What was actually happening was that on his
third orbit, five hours into the flight, Cooper was describing
auroral activity ("Northern Lights"). He reported, "Right now I can
make out a lot of luminous activity in an easterly

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 8

direction. I wouldn't say it was much like a layer. It wasn't
distinct and it didn't last long, but it was higher than I was. It
wasn't even in the vicinity of the horizon and was not well defined.
A good size -- it was a good sized area. It was very indistinct in
shape. It was a faint glow with a reddish-brown cast." And whatever
it was, it wasn't a UFO, as Wilson's doctored excerpt of the
transcripts would otherwise lead trusting readers to conclude.

30       In an OMNI interview published in March 1980, Cooper was asked
about the reports of astronauts seeing UFOs in space. He replied, "It
got so bad that there were deliberately falsified tapes of
communications with the astronauts, where UFO material was simply
edited in." Cooper explicitly denied that there had been UFO
sightings on his two flights. In a 1978 letter to me, Cooper stressed
"the non-occurrence of a sighting on Mercury 9. I have the original
on-board tapes in my possession which also refute this."

31       The actual source of the original report, attributed to NBC
radio news, remains obscure. In 1979 I asked the NBC Radio News
archives to check on transcripts from the period, but according to
Lyn Myers, executive producer of NBC Radio News (letter dated August
8,1979), "We... can find no transcript concerning an incident such as
you describe". There the matter rests.

32       As so often happens, there probably was some spark that set
off the blaze -- but the actual stimulus was too minor to have left
any trace. Some UFO enthusiast probably half-heard a garbled radio
account, told associates about it, and developed the recollection at
conferences and conclaves. Before long, the story had spread in so
many garbled versions that the different tales appeared to be
independent corroborations when in fact they were only
multi-generation mongrels.

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 9

 33      A minor footnote to Cooper's spaceflight UFO connection is a
report from his second (and last) orbital mission, Gemini-5 in August
1965. Researcher Alan Frank Sandler found some air-to-ground voice
transcripts which seemed to refer to a radar sighting of a UFO. He
used this material in a movie, "UFOs Past Present and Future", and
author Robert Emmenegger adapted the screenplay to a paperback book
of the same name published by Ballantine in 1974.

34       On a pass across the US, the astronauts were told that Cape
Kennedy radar was tracking another object "two to ten thousand yards"
from their spacecraft. They were asked if they had seen anything, but
they replied in the negative. "And that is the last that the public
knows about what was sighted during the Gemini 5 flight", intoned
Sandler. The story subsequently appeared in UFO magazines and

35       If Sandler, who did the research in Houston, really believed
that assertion, then it was only because his research was deficient.
At the very next "change of shift" press briefing, two hours after
the incident was reported, flight director Christopher Kraft (who,
contrary to Sandler's claim, did not himself talk directly to the
astronauts) answered a newsman's question about it: "The radars at
the Cape apparently were tracking a side lobe which gave them two
returns from the spacecraft.... We're fairly certain that it was some
kind of phenomenon like that.... The Merritt Island and Patrick
radars were tracking what appeared to be two objects with similar
signal strengths about two to ten thousand yards from the spacecraft
and we really believe they were tracking the side lobe". These
comments were on transcripts of the conference, available to this day
at the Public Affairs Office in Houston.

36       Kraft was referring to a not-uncommon problem with space
radar. It is associated with the fact that the

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 10

radar beam (which is used to obtain a reflection when the radar is
operating in the "skin track", or entirely passive mode of tracking)
is not a pure cone-shaped projection, but is accompanied by weaker
parallel projections as well. Sometimes the target acquisition logic
circuits can become confused by reflections of these "side lobes",
and this is what NASA decided had happened. Gemini-5 was a
particularly difficult flight to track, according to a post-flight
report entitled "Network Performance Analysis for the GT-5 Mission"
(U66- 11760). Explained the report, "Due to the fuel cell problem
the spacecraft beacon was turned off for long periods to conserve
electrical power. Therefore, more effort than usual was directed
towards skin tracking.... Significantly, many stations scheduled to
skin track were either unable to acquire, or were unable to lock on
the target". So the incident was neither exceptional nor particularly

37       The last word on this incident should lie with the astronauts
involved. Cooper and his co-pilot Charles "Pete" Conrad have denied
seeing such UFOs, and Cooper's candor is unquestionable. Another
witness whose testimony UFO buffs should trust is the "capcom", the
astronaut who was talking to Cooper and Conrad during the incident.
It was James McDivitt, who has never made any secret of his own
UFO-related experiences in the space program. Neither of these men
ever considered the Gemini-5 incident as having anything to do with

38       Sandler had missed another trick by not digging deeply enough
into the Gemini-5 material. Cooper had in fact described something
which could well have been verbally converted into a UFO, during the
post-flight crew debriefing. His co-pilot Conrad had started off with
the remark, "Okay, now that satellite ---" to which Cooper replied,
"Satellites --- we never saw any of the scheduled ones. There was one
time when Pete and I

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 11

thought we saw something and we didn't have time to identify it. We
were in drifting flight and we never could identify it. I don't even
know if it was a satellite. So many things are going by when you're
drifting that it's difficult to say...."

39       (It is not known what McDivitt, who had seen his own famous
UFO while in the same kind of "drifting flight" just ten weeks
earlier, thought about Cooper's comment.)

40       In OMNI, Cooper summarized the whole mythology: "To my
knowledge, the only astronaut on any of the Mercury, Gemini, or
Apollo missions who ever saw anything that might have been a UFO was
Jim McDivitt, but he didn't get enough pictures to prove anything
substantial. That's the only case, in spite of all the stories you
hear" --- stories from the books and articles by Edwards, Vallee and
Hynek, Don Wilson and Robert Anton Wilson, Sachs, Stringfield,
Fawcett, and many others. So the famous Mercury-9 story is false --
it never happened.


41       Cooper had been a student at the USAF Experimental Flight Test
School at Edwards AFB, California, from 1956- 1957. After graduation
he served as an experimental flight test engineer and a flight test
pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center at the base. He was there
when in 1959 he was selected as one of the "original seven" Mercury
astronauts recently celebrated in "The Right Stuff".

42       What has been portrayed as "an alleged case of suppression of
photographic evidence of a UFO that landed near Edwards AFB" has
become part of the Cooper UFO legend. His own words on the case, told
in 1977 to interviewer Lee Spiegel for the "The Credibility Factor"
(the UFO record), are as follows: he recalled "...the case of one
that landed out on the dry lake bed right out from a number of camera
crews we had who filmed it. And

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 12

the film was there and was sent forward to the safekeeping somewhere
in Washington, never to be seen again.".

43       A detailed account of the incident appeared in Timothy Green
Beckley's booklet, Hangar 18 (Global Communications, 1980). "After
lunch this particular day", wrote Beckley, "Cooper had assigned a
team of photographers to an area of the vast dry lake beds near
Edwards". The team spotted "a strange-looking craft" which, in
Cooper's words, was "hovering above the ground -- and then it slowly
came down and sat on the lake bed for a few minutes." All during this
time the cameras were supposedly filming away. Then, in words again
ascribed to Cooper, "It took off at quite a sharp angle and just
climbed straight out of sight." The film, sent off to Washington,
vanished almost as quickly. As recounted in Penthouse ("Cosmic
Coverup" by Tony Scaduto, October 1978), "Gordon Cooper says the film
that he knows was taken of a UFO landing near the astronauts'
training base in California has disappeared somewhere within official
vaults....(It was) a film of the UFO that his men photographed, a
film that has keen suppressed.".

44       Early in 1979 I had only begun pursuing this story. My first
step was a call to the Public Information Officer at Edwards, Paul
Sewall. He readily recalled the incident Cooper must have been
talking about, but with some differences. Although the widespread
story was that the UFO had set down on Haystack Butte out on the
range, the two witnesses to the incident only described it as slowly
flying past them. They had indeed made a lot of theodolite (tracking
camera) exposures, which had keen developed in a base lab and them
sent away for analysis..

45       When I called John ("Jack") Gettys, one of the witnesses, he
sent me a file of material on the sighting, which had occurred on May
3, 1957. He had never even realized that future astronaut Gordon
Cooper had keen at

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 13

the base at that time (he had no connection with the incident). He
also proudly recalled that the case had been extensively investigated
by a UFO researcher named Dr. James McDonald -- who had been one of
the leading ufologists in the world in the 1960s. The "coverup" story
seemed to be unraveling..

46       In fact, McDonald had described his findings on July 29,1968,
during his testimony on UFOs to a congressional committee. This is
the way he described it: "James D. Bittick and John R. Gettys... were
at the time Askania cameramen on the test range, and spotted the
domed-disk UFO just as they reached Askania #4 site at Edwards, a bit
before 8:00 AM that day [JEO: Compare this with Beckley's account of
"after lunch" -- evidently pure dramatization]. They immediately got
into communication with the range director, Frank E. Baker, and asked
if anyone else was manning an Askania that could be used to get
triangulation shots. Since no other camera operators were on duty at
other sites, Baker told them to fire manually, and they got a number
of shots before the object moved off into the distance. Bittick
estimated that the object lay about a mile away when they got off the
first shot, though when first seen he put it at no more than 500
yards off. He and Gettys both said it had a golden color, looked
somewhat like an inverted plate with a dome on top, and had square
holes or panels around the dome. Gettys thought that the holes were
circular, not square. It was moving away from them, seemed to glow
with its own luminosity, and had a hazy, indistinct halo around its
rim, both mentioned. The number of shots taken is uncertain: Gettys
thought perhaps thirty. The object was lost from sight by the time it
moved out to about five miles or so, and they did not see it
again.... The photos were shortly taken by base military authorities
and were never seen again by the men. In a session later that day,
Bittick [was] informed that they had seen a

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 14

weather balloon distorted by the desert atmospheric effects.".

47       When I told Gettys in 1982 that McDonald had used his case in
congressional testimony, the UFO witness was pleased but surprised.
McDonald had never gotten back to him about the use he'd put his
testimony to. So the pro- UFO people kept some secrets, too!.

48       Now, in fact those photographs did not vanish after all: they
had been sent to Project Blue Book, at Wright- Patterson AFB in
Dayton, Ohio, per regulations (I even have talked to the officer who
did the original Blue Book interviews, former Captain Hubert Davis,
who had been greatly impressed with the witness's sincerity) . Years
later the photos were pulled out of the retired Air Force files by
UFO writers and investigators, as yet ignorant of the
still-unpublished "Cooper connection". Two of the photos appear in
Brad Steiger's paperback "Project Blue Book" (Ballantine, 1976) in
the set of illustrations between pages 360 and 361. Wrote Steiger in
the caption: "UFOs on target! Photos taken by United States military
personnel" for case #4715, Edwards AFB, May 2 [sic!] 1957. But that
case number did not appear on another list in Steiger's book, which
included all "unsolved" cases. The Air Force must have found a
satisfactory solution -- but what?.

49       That answer had been around since 1957, but not widely
circulated in the UFO media for obvious reasons: the Air Force said
it had been a weather balloon (as the witnesses had been told the
very day of their sighting) and had the evidence to prove it. In a
letter to a UFO newsletter in June 1957, Major Robert F. Spence of
the Edwards AFB Office of Information Services wrote as follows: "The
alleged UFO was conclusively identified as a balloon from a weather
unit a few miles west of the observer's location. This was
corrborated by an independent report which discloses that this
balloon was

      Hunting for Gordon Cooper's UFOs / Oberg / p. 15

being tracked at that time with precision recording devices. The data
show that the balloon passed the observer's location at almost the
precise time, bearings, elevations and speed reported by them....
Objects in the photographs, even after magnification, were found to
be small white specks, alternately changing from elliptical to round
in shape. These are typical of a number of similar reports received
by the Air Force, which upon investigation were found to be balloons,
the odd appearances being caused by specular reflection of sunlight
and other atmospheric conditions peculiar to desert regions. It is
the opinion of the Air Force that any attempt to attribute anything
unusual or mysterious to the incident is unwarranted and not
supported by the facts.".

50       But oddly enough, even though the original sighting was
published in numerous newspapers (and made national wire services),
the explanation was written up in no newspaper that I have been able
to find. Nor did the pro- UFO McDonald (who hardly could have failed
to be aware of it, since he had been sent the same material by
Gettys) mention it before the congressional committee. Of course, the
explanation "weather balloon" elicits snickers of disbelief from
anybody familiar with how the term was over-used for other cases --
but this case looks pretty solid..

51       There is no evidence that Cooper ever heard this explanation,
but he evidently had same misgivings about the case. In 1978, in his
second interview with Spiegel (this time for OMNI), he evaded any
discussion of the Edwards case by saying, "I'd just as soon not get
into the Edwards incident. I didn't get to see anything personally,
it was all second hand evidence really." That it was, and Cooper's
caution was commendable -- if perhaps a bit tardy. His name had
already been interwoven with the

To: In Search of Gordon Cooper's UFOs 3/3

To: A Problem with some of James Oberg's Assertions

To:	***My Comments Regarding what Jim finally had to say about my Rebuttal***

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