21 March 2018

Top 20: Military Space Mysteries and Oddities

The final frontier of outer space is often viewed as the answer to issues down here on the good Earth. However, it is also the ultimate high ground in military strategic thinking, and that has made space exploration also a military venture. Since the first days of manned space flight, the men that went out into the black were officers in the military, and many missions conducted by the US and the Soviets were centered around military motivations and hardware. Over six decades of space travel, there have been a number of oddities and mysterious events that center around the military usage of outer space. Here are the top 20 military space oddities and mysteries. By the way, the Soviet-era Buran space shuttle program will be covered in its own blogpost coming up sometime in April or May.

1. The Lost Cosmonauts

The Soviet Union was never one for being open and admitting failure, and for years, there have been rumors for years that there were Cosmonauts killed prior to the successful launch of Yuri Gagarin into the history books as the first human into outer space. According to varies accounts and rumors, there were four Cosmonauts killed in the attempt to be the first humans in space. It did not stop there. Creepy radio transmissions were picked up by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers in the early 1960s of several failed Soviet manned space missions, including one bearing a female Cosmonauts who reported being hot as her vehicle failed reentry. They also picked up another failed reentry that caused the capsule to bounce off the atmosphere and sail helplessly into deep space.
While the sound recorders were produced to the public, they are widely considered fakes or they do not concern failed and fatal Soviet space launches. Another popular event that has lost Cosmonauts tied to it is the failed Soviet attempt to beat NASA to the Moon. Some believe that the Soviet tried a few missions prior to the successful landing of Apollo 11, but all ended in failure. Rumors state that the Hero of the Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin, was killed during such an attempt onboard the N1 rocket. Some say that there are crashed Soviet landers on the surface of the moon to provide these claims. When the Soviet Union fell, previously classified documents on the manned space program were released and there is no evidence of any of the claims of “Lost Cosmonauts” among them.

2. The Soviet Space Laser Pistol
We all know that the Soviets had a thing for putting guns into space. The first gun in space coincides with the first man in space. When Yuri Gagarin launched into space in 1961, in his survival kit was a Makarov 9x18mm pistol. The interesting TP-82 survival space gun was carried by Cosmonauts in case of landing in a remote location in Mother Russia until 2007. However, during the Soviet obsession with a frickin’ laser beam in the 1980’s, the Soviet Military Academy of Strategic Missile Forces (The USSR’s NORAD) developed a silver pistol that fired 10mm bullets loaded with zirconium, foil, oxygen, and a metal salt, all elements required for a pyrotechnic flash.
This flash made the little space laser pistol an optically pumped solid state laser DEW device, but the power output was minimum, about the same as an air rifle, however, the pistol was not developed for offensive space warfare, but for defense. Okay, leave it to the Reds to dream this one up…they develop a weak space laser as a defensive armament for Cosmonauts under attack from spacesuit soldiers.
The laser’s sole purpose was to pierce the spacesuit of the space soldiers and allow the nature of outer space to do its grim work. In this case, it really is that ray-guns don’t kill spacemen. I assume that the Soviets were dreaming up tactical scenarios were the US and the USSR battle over their space assets, and the US deploys specialized space marines to take the Russian space platforms form them. Of course, it was all a wet dream, and nothing really became of the space pistol, it never reached beyond the prototype stage, and one of the two examples is in the museum of the military academy that developed the pistol. It is reported that the space laser pistol is their most popular item.

3. The US Spy Space Station (MOT)
In the early days of manned space flight, there was a US Air Force space surveillance program, called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory that was designed to be an orbiting spy space station that took its foundation from the two-man Gemini capsule, but it was greatly expanded on. The cylinder-shaped MOL space station called for a 40-day tour for the two USAF astronauts that would carry out surveillance assignments while beyond the reach of Soviet weapons, unlike other options at the time like the U-2 spy plane. The USAF would modify an existing NASA Gemini capsule for being the transport vehicle for the crew of MOL.
Unlike many other US military space projects, important pieces of the overall MOL project was indeed a reality with a number of personnel recruited for the specialized corps of military astronauts including Maj. Robert H. Lawrence Jr, who would have the first African-American astronaut. Just before the MOL program was set to launch in 1969, it was canceled despite two successful test launches. This program was canceled due to the effectiveness of surveillance satellites and the abilities of the CIA’s A-12 “OXCART” spy plane and the USAF’s version, the SR-71 Blackbird. While the US never deployed or developed a manned space platform, the USSR did with the Almaz space stations.

4. The Soviet Space Plane Projects
Both the Soviets and Americans began the process of developing space planes with the intention of using them for combat and intelligence gather work in orbital space. The US had the X-20 Dyan-Soar and in 1962, the idea of a space plane was proposed for orbital combat space vehicle to counter the Dyan-Soar by the USSR and by 1964 the project gained the general title of “Spiral”. 
The central idea was to have an orbital space plane that could be used as a space bomber, satellite attack vehicle, spy plane that was lifting into orbit via a two-stage launcher system, where a booster vehicle would lift the space plane to about 20 miles above the surface of the Earth, then the piggyback space plane would be launched from the booster vehicle into orbit with its own rocket motor then land like normal plane.  Some sources say that the name “Spiral” was the name for the booster/launcher vehicle that pushed the orbital space plane, while others say that the entire project was named “Spiral”. 
From 1964-1978, the Spiral Space Plane project was under development with the test-mule for the endoatmospheric portion being handled by the MiG-105.11 “Lapot” or “wooden shoe” in Russian. Several flights were made with the MiG-105.11 being lifted by a Tu-95 bomber or under its own power. These tests started and stopped until the late 1970s when technical issues and budget limitations due to the Buran Space Shuttle program caused cancellation. While the Spiral spaceplane project was canceled in 1978, the design of the space plane test vehicles was reused for the Buran Space Shuttle program to test certain exoatmospheric elements and technologies.
These unmanned lifting body subscale vehicles were called “BOR”(“orbital plane without pilot” in Russian) and western intelligence services were able to photograph the recovery of one of these subscale testers (BOR-4) in the early 1980s, leading some to believe that the Soviets were working on another space plane to counter the US Space Shuttle, which the Soviets had fears of being a “space bomber”. While it is true that the Spiral spaceplane concept was being revisited to counter the assumed military purposes of the new Space Shuttle Orbiter, the Russians were also working on their own copy of the Orbiter and the BOR test vehicles were helping gather the data they needed. In addition to the Buran and cancelled Spiral, there was yet another new space plane interceptor program was called “Hurricane” or “Zarya”(meaning “Dawn” in Russian” was being envisioned as rocket-launched space plane armed with missiles to take down US space assets like the Shuttle and satellites via the Zenit-2 rocket.
It was also being looked at a larger replacement for the aging Soyuz space vehicle. The “Hurricane” or “Zarya” project was scrapped in 1989. Then there is another space plane project was under study: the MAKS (multi-purpose aerospace system in Russian). This air-launched space plane was similar to the old Spiral piggyback system, and could use the An-225 airplane as a launcher, but was canceled in 1991 only to semi-relived in 2010 due to being a counter-project to the USAF secretive X-37B space vehicle.

5. The US and the USSR Wanted to Nuke the Moon?!
It often amazing to me just how insane the Cold War really was, especially when it came to the unique applications of nuclear weapons, as is the case with the US and USSR wanting to nuke the Moon. In the late 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union were exploring the insane possibility of using nuclear devices for studying the interior makeup of the Moon. As a bonus would be an excellent way to display the power of your nation over the other by detonating a nuclear bomb on the Moon that could be seen on Earth.  The United States plans to nuke the Moon was called “A119” and was first exposed to the public via a 1999 biography of Carl Sagan while the Soviet plan was called “E4” and was exposed in 2010 via some reports. Both plans were rejected for a number of reasons, but mostly due to technological limitations, fear of backlash from the public, and the possibility of unforeseen issues that could not be predicted. Sometimes, I am actually surprised that we even survived the Cold War.

6. The Lost Soviet Lunar Mission
Early on in the Space Race, the true measure of who was superior in the realm of outer space was thrown down by President Kennedy: the Moon. It is insane to think how young manned space flight was when NASA was able to accomplish this ambitious-as-hell Apollo mission, especially with the USA trailing behind the USSR space program at nearly every turn. While NASA did not win that many battles in the Space Race, it did win the war. So, why did the Soviets never make it to the Moon either during the Space Race or even after? Part of it rests in the political reality of the Soviet Union that complicated and delayed the approval of the lunar rocket as various design bureaus waged political warfare to achieve approval. To overcome the issue of the Soviet Union lacking the industrial base to construct the rockets need to lift the manned mission payload, they designed 30 smaller rocket motors for the N1. By the time the N1 rocket design with its 30 rocket motors arranged in a circular pattern was ready for testing, the Soviet Union Lunar Program was behind the Americans and the Soviet goal of landing on the Moon in 1967.
This N1 was closed-cycle engine design that was more advanced than the Saturn V rocket, but this leads to several failed launches and crashed. Then on June 3rd, 1969, another N1 was launched, but within a minute of the launch, there was an issue and the engines were shut down save for one. When the N1 came crashing down on the launch complex, it had over 2,000 tons of rocket fuel generating a massive explosion on order of the power of small nuclear bomb and it destroyed the launch complex and could be seen over 20 miles away. During this, Apollo 11 was successful and the Soviet spent two years rebuilding the launch complex.
This more or less killed the Soviet attempt at a manned lunar mission. It was officially canceled in 1974 before a fifth launch of the N1. If that launch has been successful, it is likely the Soviets would launch some sort of manned Lunar mission to justify the cost of the N1 rocket. The experimental rocket motors were sold to the Americans many years later and are used in American rockets. Weird. So, who would have been the first Russian on the Moon if the Soviets had been successful? Alexey Leonov

7. The Loss of the Soviet Phobos-2  Space Probe
As a friend of my once observed about Mars, “it is a super creepy place” and one of the stories reinforcement that title is the mystery of what happened to the USSR Phobos-2 space probe sent to the potato-shaped moons of the Red Planet in 1988. When the space probe began its final mission to deploy two surface probes and photograph Phobos at a range of 50 kilometers, there was a failure of the spacecraft and communications were unable to be reestablished in March of 1989. The Soviet Space Agency said that it was a computer failure; however, there is “evidence” to counter that leaked out of the former Soviet Union. There are several photographs that indicate a massive cylinder shaped shadow on the surface of Mars, an underground structure on Phobos, and that a massive alien mothership.
The assumption in UFO conspiracy circles is that the Soviet probe was blasted to keep it away from any sensitive sites on the Martian moon. One hint of an artificial structure on Phobos was revealed in 1998 in an image from the Mars Global Surveyor. Jetting out of the moon is a 279-foot monolith of unknown origin that *could* be a constructed object. The claims of an attack on a Terran space probe from an alien spacecraft or lunar installation have denied, but one of the most intriguing theories is that attack on Phobos-2 was not from an alien space vehicle but from the rumored secret “solar warden” space fleet.

8. USAF /Boeing X-37B Space Plane
This mysterious US Air Force/Boeing automated spaceplane, the X-37B, is one of the big mysteries of current United States space effort. The most often asked question is what the hell is it? Officially, the X-37B is an orbital test vehicle for space plane technology and onboard experiments and the US Air Force has been more than willing to publish pictures and videos of the elusive spacecraft, but as the old saying goes "the best place to hid something is in plain sight". There are many questions asked about the two in-service Boeing X-37B especially after a 718-day mission ended in March of 2017.
There are many rumors, that include the testbed for a future larger manned or unmanned space recon vehicle, a dedicated classified satellite launch vehicle, a test vehicle for Hall-effect ionized thrusters. Above us at the moment is the fifth mission of the X-37B, the USA-277 (OTV-5), was launched in Septemeber of 2017 and a sixth launch is planned for 2019. The odd thing is how public the X-37B project has been and it makes you wonder what the Air Force is testing above us.

9. Secret Space "Solar Warden" Fleet?
There have been stories for years during the Cold War of a secret space program running parallel to NASA beyond the joint ventures between NASA and the Air Force. However, these rumors took on a Stargate SG-1 spin when a Scottish hacker Gary McKinnon starting accessing classified data that informed of a secret space fleet called “Solar Warden” also known as “Radiant Guardian”. This information was gathered between 2001-2002 and resulted in McKinnon’s arrest. In the gathered information, there was transfer orders of “non-terrestrial” officers between interstellar warship, recovered alien technology was used to construct the first American interstellar space vehicles with Hanger 8 at Johnson Space Center being a major site for these cigar-shaped Terran space vehicles. Inside the Excel files of the non-terrestrial USAF officers, he discovered the transfer of personnel between ships and even the name of these vessels. Naturally, the information on Solar Warden is fuzzy and sources vary greatly but are some of the interesting bits. There are eight carrier vessels that are the heart of the eight squadrons with about 43 smaller warships divided among these squadrons. 
This deep space fleet force is under the command of the US Naval Network and Space Operations Command with 300 personnel handling fleet operations. It is believed that there are off-world installations as well. While the program to develop interstellar space vehicles from reverse engineered alien technology had been going since 1947, with the first vehicles being built in an underground lab in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. However, it was during President Reagan’s first term that the construction of a full-fledged military space fleet was undertaken after he was briefed on Project Solar Warden and the five alien races. So, what are the purpose and the source of Solar Warden ships? 
The source of the technology is from a variety of sources: recovered alien technology, the Nordic aliens, and Nazi/alien technology that was all gathered and used to construct these warships that have an international (interstellar?) crew. What is all of this hardware being used for? That is uncertain. It could be little more than a protective organization with duties similar to the Coastal Guard that also monitors alien traffic in and out of the solar system. It could be defensive for some unknown foe or for possible use by an interstellar ET ally or defend rumored secret off-world colonies.   

10. Armed US Space Shuttles?
Despite one expectation with the Soviet 23mm cannon, spacecraft are not armed due to a lack of need, but that could have changed in the 1980s. The idea of intercepting nuclear missiles has been a dream since the invention of the ICBM and we still develop time and money to hitting a “bullet-with-a-bullet”. On March 23rd, 1983, President Reagan made the public announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that would use KE and DE weapon systems in orbit to knock out incoming ICBMs. The program was christened “Star Wars” by the press and publically mocked. While there is some debate on if the SDI program was more than the attempt to spend the Russians to the table, we know that there were real attempts to bring the vision of SDI to hard reality. Among some of the plans for SDI were a possible dedicated space shuttle orbiter fleet (rumored to be called "Blue Shuttles" and/or an SDI space station. There was also an idea of armed the NASA Space Shuttle fleet with a laser beam weapon system mounted in the payload section that could be used to take down incoming ICBMs. It is uncertain how NASA would have been able to launch all of the Space Shuttles in time to take a part in the role of orbital defense given the suddenness of nuclear war or if this idea was anything more than that…just an SDI fever dream.

11. Armed Soviet Space Station?
It is amazing when researching the Soviet space program how many outlandish and bold ideas were not only thought of but also undertaken. One of those was arming one of the Almaz military space stations, the Salyut 3, with a defensive 23mm cannon. As far as publicly known, this is the only weapon system mounted to a space vehicle and test fired in the vacuum of outer space. The weapon itself was heavily based around the widely known R-23M 23x260mm 37lbs autocannon that had unique telescoped steel casing and mounted on the Tu-22 bomber for the rear arch defense that was designed by Aleksandr Nudelman. This specially modified variant of the  R-23M has only publically been seen once during winter of 2015 episode of the Russian military-sponsored program “Voennaya Priemka” on the Zvezda TV channel.
The weapon was hard-mounted to the belly of the Salyut 3 Almaz space station causing the entire station to be repositioned to acquire a target. This variant was ground tested, then mounted to the space station prior to launch, with an optical sight to target the weapon. The test firing of the weapon was conducted remotely on January 24th, 1975 just before the station was to be burned up in the atmosphere due to concerns about the effect of the recoil on the station’s structure and orbit.
According to an article in Popular Mechanics, about 20 rounds of 23mm were fired in bursts with the rounds burning up in the atmosphere with thrusters being used to counter some of the recoil energy. The results of the test have not been made public, and if the Almaz program had continued, it was rumored that interceptor missiles would have been tested. From the one video of the actual space autocannon from Voennaya Priemka program, we can see a brass catcher system to project the station from the spent shells spinning round in outer space and posing a danger to the station or another other Soviet spacecraft.

12. US Navy Space Cruiser
One of the more oddball manned combat space vehicles proposed was by the US Navy with their anti-satellite “Space Cruiser”. The cone-shaped craft was a single man vehicle that could be more covertly launched from a Poseidon or MX missile to take out Soviet tracking satellites in one to two orbits with 17 small thruster ports. The kicker was that the pilot would partly exit the 30-foot space cone to pilot the craft and acquire the targets(s) and a spacesuit had to be worn at all time. I was unable to find anything on the weapon system of the USN Space Cruiser Cone and the project was canceled in the 1970s.

13. The Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar
What if the Space Shuttle had been 15 years earlier and it was under the direction of the US Air Force? That was the hope of the experimental Boeing X-20 Dynamic Soarer (Dyna-Soar) and its roots as an orbital space plane capable of space bombing mission, recon, and satellite attack platform dated back to World War II Germany. The idea of an orbital offensive space plane that could launch global missions via sub-orbital hops or ”skips” was explored by Nazi Germany via the Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt “Silbervogel” project, AKA “the Skip bomber”. This could have been used to wage softening up bombing campaign of the USA in a prelude to a Nazi invasion. It was also hoped by Eugen Sanger that the sub-orbital bomber could be used for intercontinental travel and peaceful space exploration.
During Operation PAPERCLIP, former Nazi scientists with knowledge of the Skip Bomber were used to design the US Air Force space plane, the Dyna-Soar. Began in 1957, the goal was to have a military reusable boost-glide space plane that could carry out a number of offensive and defense missions while landing like a plane, much like the NASA Orbiter. To achieve orbit, the X-20 would have used a Titan III rocket and launch from Cape Canaveral. After Boeing was select, the X-20 Dyna-Soar project moved forward with space pilots being selected, including Neil Armstrong, in 1960. The project was canceled in 1963 mostly due to DoD secretary Robert McNamara wanting the MOL program and there was no money for both along with issues if the USAF should even be in the business of manned space flight along with issues with the rocket booster. If the X-20 project would have continued, in 1965, there would have flight test of an X-20 being dropped from a B-52 bomber. It is uncertain how the inclusion of the X-20 Dyna-Soar would have had on the Cold War, NASA, or the Shuttle program if it had been made into a reality.

14. The STS-84 Footage
The September 15, 1991, Space Shuttle Discovery STS-48 mission is mostly remembered for a piece of remarkable footage shot by the crew of the Discovery while over Africa at night. Within the horizon and the Airglow is an amazing sight: a floating bright object appears to take evasive action to avoid an incoming projectile. NASA has rejected the appearance of an orbital space battle, citing that an 80-millisecond burst from the RCS caused the flash and reaction of the ice particles. However, the footage lives on as one of the best examples of UFOs and some sort of human reaction to them.
I came across a video briefing of Richard C. Hoagland, who is best known for books on the purported ruins on the Cydonia region of Mars, explaining the footage. He states that they have worked out that the events seen on the tape placed some 1700 miles away from the Discovery and that object was moving at over 5400 MPH prior to the flash. When that flash came, the object makes a radical shift in position and speed, accelerating in 2.2 seconds to over 200,000 MPH at a G-Force rating of 14,000! If even possible, this would represent clear evidence of some sort of advanced spacecraft of beyond our current engineering understanding.
While many believe that it is a UFO being targeted by SDI weapon systems out of Australia, Hoagland believed it is an example of the SDI Brilliant Pebble weapon being live-fired against a drone space vehicle in orbital space. How did this footage of a beyond-black weapon system be leaked to the general public? Hoagland believes that someone in the government allowed the footage to be broadcasted as a deep throat style leak to inform the general public of what the government has been up to with their money. It could also be a warning to other governments or powers that we have the technology.

15. Project Lunex
It came as a surprise to me that the US military was exploring their own Lunar landing venture with Project Lunex (Lunar Expedition) that would have resulted in a manned underground military base several years prior to the Apollo moon landing. The timeline for Project Lunex was insane and most of the milestones were laid down around 1961 with research dating back to the 1950s, well before the advent of manned American space flight. The USAF target date was 1967 for their moon landing. According to the declassified material, Project Lunex was to be the US Air Forces pathway to being first to establish an underground garrison base on the moon with 21 airmen stationed to counter the rumored Soviet military expedition to the moon around 1968 with the Kepler crater being the likely site.
These fears of military planners included Soviet Lunar tanks and off-world labs. It was hoped that the base would prevent this from happening. Many point to the fever pitch of NASA and the USAF work on lunar programs as a way to achieve a needed victory in the Space Race against the Soviets. There were many issues preventing the US Air Force's lunar dreams. For one, NASA was working on their own lunar program, Apollo, and the USAF had other space projects already in motion as well; like the MOL. Second, the Lunex spacecraft was much heavier than the Apollo payload, causing logistical and engineering issues. Third, the heart of the Lunex spacecraft was to be lifting body reentry vehicle more similar to the 1980s Space Shuttle orbiter than the Apollo space capsule system. The knowledge and technology were just not there in the 1960s. Fourth, the emergence of the Vietnam War altered the goals and economics of the US Air Force, allowing for NASA to take the lead in American manned lunar expeditions. It is thankful it never worked out. If the USAF had been successful, it would have a military organization had been the first to another stellar body, not a more civilian organization. The militarization of outer space could have spilled out of control.   

16. The Mythical "Aurora" Aircraft
The CIA, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, and the USAF have been involved in several Black Project aircraft like the B-2 Sheath bomber, the A-12 OXCART/SR-71, and the F-117…but does this list include the fabled Aurora hypervelocity advanced recon plane? Much like those real-world examples of black project aircraft, the Aurora is rumored to have been tested in roasting heart of the Nevada desert and it can achieve MACH 5/6 comfortable via scramjets and advanced materials that could have been from reversed engineered UFO wreckage.
Some have claimed that the rumored black project Aurora is actually the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works follow-up to the SR-71 blackbird, the SR-72. Others have claimed it is called the “SR-91 Aurora” and it is a space plane. There have been rumors of the Aurora advanced black project aeroplane since the 1980s, due to various eyewitness reports and encounters with sonic booms and donut contrails. The name “Aurora” coming from a line in the 1985 budget that allocated $455 million for a “black aircraft production” for 1987. The name entered into public culture due to a story in a March 1990 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology (I was unable to verify this) and the project has remained in the public eye ever since with various accounts from eyewitnesses and former Lockheed employees. According to some of these reports, Aurora is a triangle shaped craft that leads some to believe that alien technology is at the heart of its performance. In addition to a few photographs that float around the internet, there is the black triangle photography from STS-61C on January 12th, 1986 that some have claimed is Aurora on an orbital test. Several former Lockheed employees have come forward and stated that the “Aurora” found in the 1985 budget was actually a codename for the B2 “Spirit” bomber program.

17. The Soviet Polyus Orbital Weapons Platform
One of the strategic uses of outer space is satellites and the ability for one nation blind another’s “eye-in-the-sky” capability via anti-satellite weapon systems (ASAT) has been one of the most common reasons cited for developing armed space vehicles of one sort or another. When the US SDI program was announced, the Soviet Union became quite worried that the US would soon be able to knock down their ICBMs, rendering their nuclear stockpile neutered and open to a first-and-final strike by the US like it was the 1940s all over again.  This fueled the Soviet Union to explore technology to reduce the gap in technology and the Soviets turned to several orbital weapons programs going on since the 1970s. The end result of this request was the experimental "Polyus" or "Pole" in Russian orbital weapons platform. The purpose of the Polyus-Skif battle station was to take out the American SDI weapons platform via a laser directed energy weapon that would have been followed by a Soviet nuclear launch. The laser was a one-megawatt carbon-dioxide laser that was also used on an experiment airborne laser system that used the A-60 aircraft. This 18,0,000lbs space station was to be launched into orbit via the new Energia heavy rocket that was developed for use also with the Buran Soviet space shuttle program.The launch of the Polyus-Skif full-scale test vehicle that devoted of the laser, was to be the first use of the Energia.
During the plans for the 1987 launch, Gorbachev himself prohibited the test-firing of the laser in outer space due to the resulting fallout, On May 15th, 1987, the Polyus-Skif was launched mounted upside down on the Energia rocket and it did not go well. Due to computer error after the Polyus separated the rocket, the 180 degree was overshot and the spacecraft tumbled back to Earth crashing into the Pacific ocean. It was after this that the political, economic, and military situation changed and the orbital laser battle station program was killed with pieces of the Polyus being reused, even on the ISS. The Energia rocket would be used again to launch the Space Shuttle Buran a few years later.

18. Apollo 20 Alien Lunar Salvage Mission
The last NASA Apollo moon mission was Apollo 17 in 1972 causing the cancellation of three moon missions and ending the possibilities of a lunar base. There have been rumors and badly done space horror movies concerning the “lost Apollo missions”. The evidence is pretty clear that there were no more manned lunar missions after 1972. The remains of the Apollo program were used for the Skylab program and the 1975 joint Apollo-Soyuz space mission, but that has not stopped the conspiracy theory train. In 2007, a series of videos were uploaded to YouTube that were rumored to show a top-secret alien technology salvage mission to Guyot crater, where a massive abandoned alien spacecraft was resting, photographed by Apollo 15 in 1971. This mission was conducting using Apollo-era equipment with two Americans and one Russian, the famous Alexey Leonov.
On the mission, an alien city is explored along with the city-sized ship, and a hibernating alien female, nicknamed “Mona Lisa” was recovered. According to the mission patch and other details, there was a strong Egyptian connection to the alien craft and the body. It was the supposed mission commander, William Rutledge that “leaked” the footage and conducted interviews. While this is regarded as a hoax, it is an elaborate one. The footage is not bad, the landing site is one known to moon conspiracy theorists prior to the 2007 videos, and the Mona Lisa human-alien thing was horrifying and compelling.

19. The 1984 USSR Laser Attack on Space Shuttle Challenger
During the Cold War, the Sary Shagan testing range in the Karaganda Region of Kazakhstan was a major site for research and testing region for anti-ballistic missile defense system, later, this the Sary Shagan site was devoted to tracking objects in space and possibly anti-satellite systems.  It was the rumored site of ruby and co2 laser directed energy weapon research that was purposely designed to knock out US satellites. But there is much doubt about the claimed abilities of the former Soviet laser research facilities once American officials got to take a look at the TERRA-3 site in 1989. According to either rumor or fact, on October 10th, 1984, the TERRA-3 facility tracked the Challenger orbiter on STS-41-G with a low-power laser beam that temporally blinded the crew and disrupted some of the onboard equipment. This “attack” was to serve as a warning to the United States about the SDI program and the “attack” was ordered by Defence Minister Dmitri Ustinov. This "attack" by TERRA-3 was met with an official diplomatic protest by the US. However, official logs of the mission, the crew themselves, and former intelligence service have denied this ever happened.

20. Nazi Space Weapon?
In 1929, noted space pioneer Hermann Oberth came up with the basic idea of using an orbiting mirror to focus and direct sunlight as a form of directing space-based energy for used back on Earth. However, the 3rd Riech had visions of space-based weaponry in their sick heads. The project, known as  the Sonnengewehr or "Sun Gun", was little more than a study project by the time of the war's end, but based on interviews, the Nazi scientists predicted that the Sun Gun project would have taken about 50-100 years to complete based on what the Nazis understood about the proposed Nazi manned space program. Some have doubted the ability for the Nazis to actually construct the Sun Gun and its actual effectiveness.

Next Time on FWS...
Throughout the scope of human history, stories have been told of special objects handed down by gods, strangle women lying in ponds, and travelers. These objects were magical and given the owner powers beyond normal humans. This idea has altered throughout the centuries and today, it has taken the form of alien technology from the stars. In the next installment of What We Fight Over, FWS will be looking at the topic if alien technology will be the genesis of future wars or if it alright has been...

12 March 2018

The Masterworks: the Best of Military Science Fiction (TV)- SPACE: ABOVE and BEYOND (1995-1996)

During the 1990's, science fiction was increasingly popular on the American small screen and each major network (there were four at the time) was developing science fiction shows to feed the trend throughout the 1990's. The titan of sci-fi TV was Star Trek, but rapidly, FOX was catching up with the X-Files, Sliders, and Millennium. Then in 1995, FOX would green-light the military sci-fi plot from X-Files alumnus James Wong and Glen Morgan. That show, Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) would only last one season out of a planned three to five seasons, but its impact would endure for years onward. We can see the DNA of SAAB, in HALO, BSG, and even my own writings. For this and many reasons that I will explore and explain why FWS has awarded the title of Best Military Science Fiction Television show to Space: Above and Beyond.

What is “Space: Above and Beyond”?
You *could* be forgiven if you had never heard of Space: Above and Beyond (AKA “Space: 2063") given its limited run back on FOX stations back 1995-1996 and reruns on SyFy Channel. Created by two X-Files veterans, James Wong and Glen Morgan, the show was envisioned as a throwback to World War II combat dramas, classic Military SF books like The Forever War, and classic WWII books that had the 21st-century space-based conflict rooted in the grim realities of war. At the time, it was one of the most expensive shows on network TV, with episodes costing between $1.5 and $2.4 million. The one-season show took place in 2063-2064 detailing the actions and lives of the 58th space aviator squadron, the “Wild Cards”, of the US Marine Corps during the Chig War.
The primary base-of-operations of the 58th was the US Navy space carrier, the Saratoga and they were under the command of Colonel T.C. McQueen. The show embraced an “X-Files” air framed with current USMC culture that did not avoid the tough topics associated with war, coupled with then cutting-edge CGI SFX. Over the course of the 24 episodes, we saw the 58th fight on ground across many exo-planets with various atmospheres and in the cockpits of the SA-43 Hammerhead endo/exo attack jets, along with piloting the ISSAPC tactical transports. As the war deepened and alter, so did the core characters with lasting impact for what happened to them. While some attempts were made to save the show, it was too little, too late causing SAAB not to be renewed for the second season and many of us to wonder about the cliffhanger. In 2005, a barebones DVD boxset was released with an expanded international DVD set being released in 2012 for Region 2 with a documentary.

Making the case for Space

The Characters
There are the core six characters of SAAB that all of the action revolves around and while the showrunners original envisioned Lt. Nathan West’s quest to find his girlfriend that was taken by the Chigs, abut ll of the cast grew to make SAAB richer and much more compelling. All of them are written as real people with strengths, weaknesses, vices, and virtues that all add to the richness of the show. I grew to love the 58th and when the show ended and some died, I took it personally. While many of the other runners-up to the title of best MSF show have compelling and beloved characters, they are more sci-fi cardboard when compared to SAAB or BSG…maybe it’s because our flaws make our fictional characters more true and relatable than others that are too perfect and polished.
Many, even at the time, pointed out that casting and writing brought out the best in the material and the world of 2063/2064. It was also a show that allowed their characters to be three dimensional that can be seen in Col. McQueen and Cpt. Shane Vansen. McQueen is a true warrior was created to fight for natural-born in the AI Rebellion, and he struggled with the loss of family and bitter racism before being reborn into an elite space marine pilot of the 126th. Just when you think you know McQueen, you discover another side. That was the case with Vansen, who appears to be a more typical wounded tough chick trope character...but then you discover her love of pool and just everything packed into the episode "Never No More".

Realistic War in Space
Just taking a sample of SAAB episodes allows you to see the hard reality that the 58th and the rest of the cast live under. during the war The war in space is brutal with Earth losing for the first six months against a truly alien enemy. However, it is not all bullets and funerals, there are poker games with colorful drinks that are designed to distance yourself from the next mission briefing. Above it all, you have your buddies that watch your six as you watch theirs. I was impressed by the other touches of projecting the realities of war in outer space that drawn from common issues expressed by soldiers since the Roman Legions: bad food, the quest for good toilet paper, trying to keep up with Football and events back home, good luck charms, and Christmas far away. This made the show just that more human and real in a way that most other MSF shows save for maybe BSG, could not replicate. This came from the frame-of-reference that Glen Morgan and James Wong were using to create the mood of the war in 2063/2064 via the actual historical account of war and noted military science fiction literature. It also helps that the creators used the war in the Pacific as a template for the Chig War.

The Mystery of the Chigs and AeroTech
A mystery is an important component in any fiction setting, especially in sci-fi. I can still remember the mystery of Borg, the shadowy motivations of the conspiracy in the X-Files, the Fremen, what the ship at the bottom of the ocean was in Sphere. Given the X-Files DNA in Space: Above and Beyond along with being on the same network, there were several mysteries built into the central story and even some characters. The two largest were the megacorporation of AeroTech’s motivations for starting a war between the Chigs and the Earth along with just who the hell the Chigs were. These were nice additions to the standard science fiction model and it made SAAB just that richer when the payoff came, which was pretty good. It was also cool when Millennium used AeroTech as well and connected them to Operation: ODESSA.

Real Honest Emotions and Actions
While I am a reformed Trekkie, I would be lying to you if I thought that the majority of Star Trek characters were remotely realistic or even honest in their emotions/humanity most of the time. When those more real moments came in Trek, they are often compelling, especially when it is Captain Picard (seriously how great of an actor is Patrick Steward?). SAAB was packed with humans being humans, and it made the emotional impact just that much more real than most other sci-fi stories. While there were spaceships, FLT, and alien worlds, when Shane brutally stabs a AI soldiers with her combat knife over and over for the truth of why her parents were murdered, that is the real meat of the series. Most of us would do the same thing and that reflects the honest motivations and actions of the characters. As Colonel McQueen asks: “Who Am I”? And that is the most human of all questions, especially a soldier during wartime.

A Breed Apart from Trek and Wars
At the time of SAAB’s television run, Star Trek dominated the airwaves and other networks were building shows to capitalize on the sci-fi trend and even news was leaking about a big screen adaptation of Starship Troopers. For most sci-fi fans, they framed SAAB under the Trek and Wars perspective and SAAB was not them nor was it designed to be so. The studio wanted a cross between the X-Files and Top Gun, and Morgan and Wong packaged SAAB to appeal to parts of this request. The show was nothing like any sci-fi on at the time, even X-Files, and it made the THREE Trek shows seem totally lacking and stiff and to me, SAAB was just a breed apart and compelling as hell when the gritty portrayal of a future war that is fought in the alien mud.

The 2063/2064 World of SAAB
World building is one of the key most elements in science fiction and while SAAB had a rough time establishing some elements of their world, like FTL, the reason for the In-Vitros, and the lack of international military units; it was good once it gelled together. The use of classic Country & Western music, modern clothing, set design, classic literature, and pulling stories from military history was a masterstroke. The way all of these elements fit together to form a flavorful world of 2063/2064, even in the armored hull of the Space Carrier Saratoga, is just so organic and good that it impresses me each time to the point that I used it has an example for my own military sci-fi writing.

The Impact of SAAB
There was nothing like SAAB before it came onto the airwaves in 1995 and it became a primary inspiration for other science fiction works like HALO: Combat Evolved and the 2003 Reimaged Battlestar Galactica along with a number of creators in the genre. Often impact is due to the mastery of a work to inspirit others, and SAAB has been an influence to creators in vast ways along with being an example of how good military science fiction can be.

It's About the Soldiers, not the Captain, the Tech, or the Ship
Quite often the primary cast of characters in a science fiction show are the senior staff of the starship or space station with some characters from the local hangouts of the main characters thrown in. This followed up by the ship or space station has a primary character as well along with some sort of technical issue or some android searching for its inner humanity being a foundational element. These factors can muddy the waters of showing a future war in deep space and SAAB thankfully did not make this mistake. SAAB is not about the Saratoga space nuclear carrier, the space attack jets, or the senior staff of the 'Toga, but the Marines of the 58th squadron, who were just one of a dozen squadrons onboard the American warship. While the commander of the vessel was featured along with some important senior-level civilian and military personnel they were not the heart of the show, that belonged to the 58th was along with Colonel McQueen. Military organizations are vast entities with millions of people involved and all of them have stories to tell of their time in service and heroic deeds they did during times of war and peace. We only see hints of these service personnel in a few episodes of Trek like "Lower Decks".

The Runnings-Up

The 2003 Battlestar Galactica Series
There are many that would challenge SAAB’s award and importance with the 2003 masterful reboot of the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and I have to say that I nearly awarded Ronald D. Moore’s BSG with the title. Give the impact, production value, acting, scope, and compelling narrative; it was a hard choice. However, while the show is firmly centered on the Colonial military in all aspects and the Galactica, in some ways, the war between the 12 Colonies and the Cylons was over the moment the show began.
There are some rich space combat sequences that are some of the finest in military sci-fi, the show itself is about redemption, what it means to be human, the duality of being human, loyalty, and the forces at work behind the scenes in the universe. The show is brutal in tone and nearly unforgiving until the end. Unlike many, I actually really like the ending and respect the choice made by the survivors and the writers. When compared to SAAB, which was an influence on BSG, the show’s metaphysical aspects overrun the survivor’s tale and the quest for Earth and the internal drama of the characters spill over time and time again. It is so damn close to being the very best live-action military sci-fi show that it is nearly a shadow to SAAB.     

Deep Space 9
That are those that claim that DS9 is the best Trek show, and they could be right, but others have claimed it is the best Military SF show…and they are wrong. While DS9 broke all kinds of new ground when came to Trek, it was lacking in its ability to showcase a military sci-fi storyline. While DS9 dealt with a brief Klingon War and the bloody Dominion War, Trek seemed unable to bring a reality to the war and the involvement of the Wormhole aliens was just too much along with Sisko’s breakdown. I grew tired of the storyline and the drama has been sucked out. While it was a brave attempt, it failed to live up to the promise. I decided to compare several episodes of DS9 and several of SAAB…and there was no real comparison. The cardboard characters of DS9, the shallow emotion impact of the combat, and the “reality” of life during wartime all pale in comparison to SAAB. I never felt it, never believe it, and while some scenes were cool, especially for Trek, it could not equal what SAAB was laying down and it seems hollow. To me, Enterprise did a much better job of a “Trek War” scenario than DS9 with the Xindi story arch.

Babylon 5
If there was a second runner-up to BSG, it would be B5. During my high school days and early college, I watched B5 from season 2 onwards and I loved it. While the other space station 90s sci-fi show, DS9 had superior special effects, bigger budget, and the name Trek behind it, B5 just outdid them when it came to showing war in space and having more charm and heart. There were many episodes that were solid sci-fi TV with true emotions and compelling events. When the show switches from the Shadow War and moves to the B5 crew attempting to liberate the Earth Alliance from Clark, there were some damn fine moments that have stayed with me. The TNT funded TV movie “In the Beginning” is the best military science fiction TV-movie by far and it is damn good television whatever the budget. However, they are not all stellar episodes, and when B5 wasn’t good, it was damn cheesy with plenty of unpolished elements. When comparing it to SAAB, it just cannot overcome that show and it is why it is a runner-up. 

Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis
The longest-running and most successful military science fiction TV show of all time is undoubtedly Stargate SG-1 and it has been told me over and over again that it is the best MSF television show. I’ll be honest here, I’ve never seen much of SG-1 until the invasion of the Ori and I have never been a big fan of the original 1994 film. While I respect SG-1 and have liked some of the episodes I’ve seen, it is not serious enough in tone for the title of best live-action military sci-fi television show. One of the elements I respect the most is how they took the best pieces of the film and used them to establish a new universe of SG-1 that was much better than the original film, which is very rare in TV shows based on films.
One of the measures of that success was that SG-1 forged a loyal fan (Gaters) base that was every bit as dedicated as Trekkies and that cannot be dismissed. I’m a little odd in that I watched much more of Atlantis than SG-1, and I’m a bigger fan of the Atlantis than SG-1 due to the setting, the core characters, and stories...maybe not the Wraith space vampires though. Much like my take on why SG-1 does not rank above BSG or SAAB, Atlantis is just too similar to SG-1 for Atlantis to achieve breakaway velocity for its parent work to be more than a runner-up in itself.

 If SAAB Was So Great Then Why was it Cancelled?!
Every runner-up TV show that was under consideration for the Award of "Best of Military SF television show" had one major advantage over SAAB: they ran for more than one season and that begs the question: if SAAB was so great, than why was it canceled? Time and money is the simplestlist answer to that question. FOX was hoping to replicate the mega-success of the X-Files and take advantage of the popularity of sci-fi TV with a series of shows and FOX is not patience especially with shows costing them a ton of money show. FOX had wrapped a great of these collective hopes and goals into SAAB. The television and sci-fi press did a number of articles on the show and there was positive feedback from the critics, the fans, and some good ratings…but it was not to the level that FOX needed to justify the cost. To their credit, FOX pour a great deal of money in SAAB and the show looked great, but FOX crippled the show by fitting it into the post-Football Sunday night time slot.
This TV night is known by many as the “graveyard” of timeslots and the bleed over from longer-running games caused the targeted audience to go elsewhere for their sci-fi entertainment. I was forced to tape SAAB on my VHS due to often working at MacDonald’s on Sunday nights due to my college schedule and often football would run over into my precious show and I would miss about a quarter of SAAB and FOX did not re-air the episodes to make up for the cut-ins. Seriously, I did not see the show complete until I bought the DVD set in 2005!
Adding to this was that some TV markets did not even air the episode or moved it around, losing even more fans because they simply could not find it. Given that this was the mid-90s, the internet could not overcome the jumping around of SAAB, causing the audience to not find their show, despite the positive reaction to sci-fi fans online. So, FOX gives a bad timeslot for much of the run of SAAB for the show die in and then couple the low rating with the massive expense of the show ($1.5-$2.4 million). FOX was displeased with their Space-Top-Gun- meets-the X-Files show not performing to the same level and it looked like the hangman’s noose for SAAB by March of 1996. Still, it wasn’t clear to the production that they would not be renewed, causing the cliffhanger never to be resolved at the time of filming.
For the last five episodes of SAAB, FOX switched the show from its 7pm timeslot to Fridays as a lead-in to the X-Files to evaluated if the show should be renewed or not. However, only two episodes were aired at the new timeslot and the last two episodes of the entire series were oddly switched, without notice or promotion, to Saturday evenings. It seems that FOX made the go-no-go call within those two episodes. There were rumors that the Sci-Fi Channel was eyeballing SAAB for themselves, but nothing came of it, and the show disappeared into the mists of time. There have been other rumors that Ronald D. Moore originally pitched to the SyFy Channel a rebooted of Space: Above and Beyond along with his vision of rebooted BSG and BSG got the call for a pilot.

This show came at a critical time in my life. 1995-1996 were turbulent years and I can say that SAAB got me through some of those trying times. During my last year in high school, I was enrolled part-time in college at the same time, taking Jeet Kune Do, working at MacDonald’s, and watching my father’s business implode along with parents’ relationship. Science fiction and my friends got me through these events, and I credit the realistic nature of SAAB of helping. At the time of SAAB’s run, I also became involved with a co-worker going into the Army, and she was just as brassy and ballsy as Vansen.
Being aware of the show since the teaser trailers on FOX during the X-Files, I could not wait to see the fulfillment of what “Space: Above and Beyond” was. Within the first two episodes, I was hooked and I became my favorite show of that time. I would re-watch the episodes over and over, rapidly becoming a major influence on my life and writing. I fully understand that this influence has colored my view of the show and its impact, but I cannot choose anything else than SAAB for the best live-action military science fiction TV show. I still watch the series from time-to-time on the basic DVD boxset and each time, I am drawn back into the world of the Chig War and the 58th. Always faithful, my friends.

Next Time on FWS...
From much of early years of life, I wanted nothing more badly than to be an astronaut. I would have done nearly anything to be on a shuttle mission and it was a hard day when I realized in 4th grade that my math skills would never allow me to journey into space...never fully recovered from that childhood trauma. Being a social studies teacher and a lover of space, I very much enjoy the history of space flight and exploration including some conspiracy theories associated. So, next time we will be exploring 20 military space oddities and mysteries that are drawn from real history and conspiracy theories.


-FWS Own Forgotten Classics Blogpost:

-Beyond the Bitter End:

-Space: 2063 Ready Room