• Home Page
  • UFO Topics
  • UFO Photos
  • UFO Cases
  • Sighting Reports
  • Report a Sighting


Response to NASA's James Oberg's Analysis of STS-48 Video

Michael Bara, Lunar Anomalies Homepage

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Several years ago, NASA employee James Oberg apparently wrote via E-mail an extensive rebuttal of Richard C. Hoagland's analysis of the STS-48 video. This rebuttal has made the rounds of various web sites and newsgroups, and has been used as an example of the supposedly "faulty" nature of Hoagland's research. As near as I can tell, this rebuttal has gone completely unchallenged. After a quick perusal of Oberg's letter, I felt it was drastically flawed on several points. The following is my response to Oberg's rebuttal.

Several years ago, NASA employee James Oberg apparently wrote via E-mail an extensive rebuttal of Richard C. Hoagland's analysis of the STS-48 video. This rebuttal has made the rounds of various web sites and newsgroups, and has been used as an example of the supposedly "faulty" nature of Hoagland's research. As near as I can tell, this rebuttal has gone completely unchallenged. After a quick perusal of Oberg's letter, I felt it was drastically flawed on several points. The following is my response to Oberg's rebuttal. I have included the complete text as I have obtained it from the internet. The original posting is in normal text, my counterpoint will appear bracketed and in bold. - M.B.

Oberg's original rebuttal is reprinted here in normal text, while the author's (Michael Bara) response will appear bracketed and in bold font.

SUBJECT: UFO's and the Shuttle FILE: UFO45 PART

I am posting the following file that I received from James Oberg, a well-known writer on the space program. He is discussing the same videotaped footage from NASA's STS-48 mission that has been endlessly shown as a supposed "UFO." Richard Hoagland, a major promoter of the "Face On Mars," claims that NASA cameras accidentally caught a secret "star wars test". Here is Oberg's rebuttal.

James Oberg, Rt 2 Box 350, Dickinson, TX 77539
Re: Did STS-48 view a "Star Wars" test?

The STS-48 mission was the 43rd shuttle launch, the 13th flight of OV-103 Discovery, with the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS). The crew was John Creighton, Ken Reightler, Jim Buchli, Mark Brown, and Sam Gemar. It was launched from KSC Pad A at 2311GMT Sep 12, 1991 (twilight),landed at EAFB on Sep 18, 0738GMT ght), duration 5d08h27m. The orbit was inclined 57 degrees to the equator at an altitude of about 570 km, second only to the 616 km altitude of the Hubble deploy mission a year and a half earlier. Due to radar experiments with the deployed UARS satellite, I was present in the control room for two planning shifts (my job was as "Guidance and Procedures Officer" for actions related to orbital rendezvous, such as the planned checkout of the radar which had shown performance anomalies on several earlier missions).

I have reviewed the videotape by Richard Hoagland alleging that the notorious STS-48 videotape shows a "Star Wars" weapons test against a target drone with astounding propulsion. In my judgment, the facts, analysis, and conclusions presented by Mr. Hoagland are entirely wrong.

Is the object really very far away? Hoagland's argument depends on proving that the object is at or beyond the physical horizon, "1713 miles away". Proving this depends on optical analysis of the image and of its motion. All of Hoagland's analysis is invalid. First, Hoagland alleges that the videotape shows the object suddenly appearing at the edge of the Earth, as if it had popped up from behind the horizon. But a more cautious viewing of the tape shows this is not accurate. The object does NOT rise from "behind the horizon". It appears (arguably, it becomes sunlit) at a point below the physical horizon, just slightly below, to be sure, but measurably below the edge of the Earth (the "limb").

[The tape is at best inconclusive. A frame by frame viewing appears to show the object partially obscured as it rises from "behind" the solid horizon, but due to the poor quality of the recording, a categorical answer cannot be known. The object is right at the horizon, not "measurably below" as Oberg claims. A subjective argument by Oberg, not verifiable and inconsistent with the pop-up effect. He can't argue that Hoagland's interpretation is subjective and his is fact.]

It has been suggested (Dipietro) that the object's sudden appearance is due to sunrise. This is plausible. I suggest a variation on this, that the object became visible when it moved up out of the shuttle's shadow just after sunrise. Since the video was taken near sunrise, the shuttle's shadow was pointing back nearly parallel to Earth's horizon, and the ground was still dark (bright ground reflection later lights up debris even if they are in the shuttle's sun shadow). This would require that it be close to the shuttle. The proximity to the horizon line would be coincidental.

[The shadow argument is completely destroyed by the fact that another bright object crosses the screen from right to left, passing nearly the same point at which the "target object" first appears, and remains visible. This is a proof that no such "shuttle shadow" exists. This reinforces Hoagland's claim that the object rises from behind the physical horizon, since there is no counter mechanism to explain a close by object suddenly becoming visible.]

Note that the bright light in upper left is some sort of camera anomaly and is not an electronic horizon marker as alleged by Hoagland. There is no such thing as an electronic horizon marker.

[It certainly is a marker of some sort. It moves with the camera as it repositions to take in the display, stopping right on the physical horizon. If the camera were set to record a pretimed "event" it would allow the perfect placement of the camera. Another coincidence along with the "target object"popping up right at the horizon dead center in the screen? If it is an anomaly, what was the anomaly found to be when the camera was returned to earth? Where is the report concerning this camera malfunction and the action taken to correct it? What is the camera manufacturers explanation for this convenient anomaly?]

Is the object behind the atmosphere? Hoagland argues that analysis of the imagery shows the object is physically behind the atmosphere. But I disagree. It is NOT seen through the atmosphere: First, consider the brightening effect. Computer analysis is shown which alleges that the brightening of the object while below the airglow layer is analogous to the brightening of stars setting behind the airglow layer. This allegedly implies that the object, like the stars, is behind the airglow layer. This argumentation is false because it posits the wrong causation mechanism for brightening ("passage of the light through atmosphere"). This should be obvious since at the airglow altitude (40-60 miles) the atmosphere is already extremely thin and the lapse rate (the drop in pressure per rise in altitude) is already much reduced over the value at lower altitudes (that is, crossing the "airglow boundary" does NOT significantly change the atmospheric density the light ray is passing through). If density WERE the true cause of brightening, the effect would markedly peak at a lower altitude (as soon as the beam rose above total obscuration), then drop rapidly as atmospheric density dropped, and show NO NOTICEABLE CHANGE in dimunition rate as it crossed the airglow layer because the density of traversed air wouldn't change much either at that region. The actual connection for the object's brightening is the absolute brightness of the airglow layer in the background. The object is brighter when it is against a bright background, just as stars are brighter. This is not an effect of a light ray transiting the airglow region and somehow being strengthened. Instead, I believe it is an effect on the camera optics of the summing, pixel by pixel, of all brightness within the field of view. A bright object with a dark background will not throw as many photons on the individual pixels of the camera as would a bright object with a half-bright background. The camera's vidicon system will respond to light in the background by brightening the small point-source objects observed in that region, either lying behind or crossing in front of that background. Repeat: crossing in front of that airglow. This is confirmed by other checks. Observers can note that other drifting point-source objects, clearly starting well below the horizon line, also brighten as they traverse the airglow region.

[Carloto has shown ( Journal Of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 9, No.1) that the brightening is the result of light sources adding, not a defect or anomaly in the camera optics. His argument about other objects "starting well below the horizon" and brightening as they cross "in front of " the airglow boundary shows 2 dimensional thinking and in fact supports Hoagland's argument. The horizon is relevant only to the target object, since it appears to come from behind it. The other objects could be much closer to the shuttle, only appearing in this 2 dimensional video tape to traverse the airglow layer. There are several objects that cross the airglow layer which do not brighten, and none besides the "target object" which do, so I am unclear as to what portion of the tape Oberg was watching. If Oberg's analysis is correct, then all the objects which cross the airglow must brighten, including the 2 "projectiles". They do not.]

NOTE: Hoagland's argument that the dimming beyond the airglow disproves NASA's contention that the object is nearby and sunlit, since as it gradually rose "higher into the sunlight" it should brighten, not dim, is false. Once in full sunlight, no further brightening occurs. Sunrise only lasts as long as it takes for the sun (0.5 degrees wide) to rise above the horizon, at the orbital angular rate of 4 degrees per minute (that is, 360 degrees in a 90-minute orbit), which comes to just 7-8 seconds, which anybody should have been able to figure out. Of course this is different from ground rates, which depends for the sun's angular motion on earth's rotation rate (4 minutes per degree, 16 times slower than spaceship orbital rate). This argument reveals Hoagland's unfamiliarity with basic orbital flight conditions and implications. Notice that no mention is made by Hoagland of the clear absence of expected refractive effects of being behind the atmosphere. As is known by anybody who's watched sunset/moonset at a flat horizon, the atmosphere creates significant distortion in the bottom .2-.4 degrees of the image. The lowest layers demonstrate a vertical compression of 2:1 or greater. This is also shown on pictures of "moonset" from orbit. If the STS-48 object were really travelling nearly parallel to the horizon but somewhere behind the atmosphere, this would be visible by analyzing its flight path. As it rose its line of travel would markedly change as atmospheric refractive effects disappeared. This does not happen, which strongly suggests that the object is NOT behind the atmosphere.

[Oberg argues that Hoagland's statement that the object should brighten as is "rises into the sunlight" is false because no brightening takes place after the object is in full sunlight. He does not address the significant and indisputable dimming of the target object just after it crosses the airglow boundary. According to Oberg's own reasoning, this should not occur. The target object starts below the airglow boundary, increases in brightness as it crosses the boundary, and then dims noticeably and continues dimming. It should resume its previous level of luminosity and stay constant until it is out of frame, according to Oberg's (small object, close to the shuttle) model. Since it does not, optical effects cannot account for the brightness increase as the target object crosses the boundary. Hoagland's model is the only one which matches the bright\brighter\dim\dimmer behavior of the target object. It should also be noted that Oberg does not mention the two "projectiles" which cross in front of the camera. They also do not brighten as they cross the airglow layer but do significantly dim after crossing it. Again, inconsistent with Oberg's claims but entirely supportive of Hoagland's. Oberg also fails to mention that the "projectiles" come from BELOW the shuttle, almost 90 degrees from the direction of the "target objects" post flash path. Obviously, a blast from a thruster could not account for two such disparate flight paths. Dr. Jack Kasher (Journal of UFO Studies Vole 6) points this out as one of 5 separate "proofs" (completely distinct from Hoagland's analysis) that the target object and other visible objects are not near the shuttle. I'm not surprised he excludes any mention of the "projectiles" from his "analysis", since they basically destroy his argument.

The absence of "refractive effects" is almost certainly due to the poor quality of the image. Some distortion is plainly visible at high magnification, but the quality of the tape makes this an inconclusive point. Oberg also again fails to understand the 3rd dimension. The fact that the "target object" pops up seemingly from behind the horizon does not mean it is at low altitude. As a vehicle followed the Earth's curvature at high altitude, it would show little or no "refractive effect" since as Oberg himself pointed out, the atmosphere is quite thin.]

Since the arguments for great range to the object all fail, the conclusions based on angular motion converted to physical motion also fail. What is the "flare" in the camera that precedes the change in motion of all the objects? I believe the flare in the lower left camera FOV is an RCS jet firing, not per Hoagland an electromagnetic pulse effect. There are several reasons: it does not look like any known electromagnetic video interference; it looks just like previously seen RCS flares; and the Hoagland counterargument about an alleged need for pointing changing is not valid. First, while it is true that EMI can affect electrical equipment, such pulses would not lie in any localized region of a television screen but would blitz the whole image. Anybody whose TV has ever been blitzed by lightning knows that the effect does not confine itself to the corner nearest the lightning. Also, far more sensitive electronic equipment aboard the shuttle, including computers which were counting the pulses of individual cosmic rays striking their circuits, were not affected by the event (otherwise, the entire television transmission would have been knocked out). So Hoagland's explanation is magical and unrealistic.

[As I have shown, the arguments for great range are alive and well. As for Hoagland's statement about EMP, he was only conjecturing on what the flash might be, not making a categoric pronouncement. Oberg again relies on distorting Hoagland's statements to make his point.]

Second, the optical appearance of RCS jet firings is well known and familiar to experienced observers, and they look just like the flash in question. These have been observed and videotaped on every shuttle mission, from the crew cabin, from payload bay and RMS cameras, and from cameras on nearby free-flying satellites, and from ground optical tracking cameras as well.

[It has been established (Kasher) that 2 vernier rockets (L5D and R5D) did fire during the noted "flashes" (there are 2). However, he also showed that neither could have caused the movement of the target object due to trajectory (noted above) location and velocity of the verniers. Kasher has also shown that the target object begins to accelerate some 1.2 seconds after the firing of the L5D, making the minimum distance to an "ice particle" nearly 2 miles. At this distance, an ice particle would have to be enormous to be visible, and the blast would not account for the observed acceleration due to dissipation. Further, he shows from NASA telemetry that all the verniers fired at least twice during the duration of the tape (including L5D and R5D) and no similar flashes were visible.]

Third, Hoagland's argument that the line of travel of stars down to the horizon should have been kinked by the jet firing is plain ignorant. During attitude hold coast periods, the shuttle autopilot maintains a "deadband" of several degrees, slowly drifting back and forth and, when the attitude exceeds the deadband limit, a jet is pulsed to nudge (NOT "shove") the spaceship back toward the center of the deadband. The angular rates induced by these 80-msec pulses are as follows:

ROLL .07 deg/sec
PITCH .10 deg/sec
YAW .05 deg/sec

Note that the star motion would have changed direction ONLY IF the orbiter's pointing attitude was shifted to the right or left. If shifted up or down, only a slight change in star motion rate would occur (this appears to be the way the jet plume is actually directed) but so would horizon motion, so it would have to measured as absolute screen position. If shifted in or out, no change at all would be observable. This is all based on pure geometric considerations overlooked by Hoagland. After ten seconds, even in the worst case (pitch motion inducing pure crossways angular motion), the star track would only have diverged a single degree from the former straight line. This is visually undetectable on the images shown by Hoagland. So the fact that he sees no change in the star motion tracks does not disprove that the pulse was an RCS jet.

[Oberg's claim here is somewhat deceptive. He does not inform the reader that there are 2 kinds of attitude adjuster rockets, the main adjusters (870 pounds of thrust) and the verniers (24 pounds). He gives the timing and angular adjustment rates only for the tiny verniers, which I have already shown could not account for the behavior of the objects on the video. If Hoagland were referring to the main adjusters (likely since his tape was made before Kasher's paper and without the benefit of access to the STS-48 telemetry) than his claim is far from "plain ignorant". Indeed, Oberg's assessment that only a single degree divergence would occur is also wrong. If the main adjusters had fired, a 6.3 degree divergence would be visible and measurable regardless of the orientation of the camera relative to the rocket firing (Kasher). So, we have now disproved that either the main adjusters or the verniers could account for the object movement.]

Video Encryption: Hoagland alleges that since STS-48, all external STS video has been encrypted and will be viewed only after NASA review and approval. I have checked with a NASA Public Affairs official, and have personally verified, that things (as usual) are not quite what Richard Hoagland alleges. On STS-42, the second flight after STS-48 (the STS-44 DoD mission went between them), the International Microgravity Laboratory (Spacelab) science group requested that medical video imagery from the cardiological studies (sonogram images) be treated as privileged medical information, as all previous audio conversations with doctors had been. NASA discovered that having to continuously reconfigure the White Sands TDRSS site and the TDRSS satellites back and forth for encrypted video transmission was a laborous process. Rather than spend all that time, it was decided to go into encrypted mode continuously and decrypt the raw video at NASA Goddard for immediate release over the "NASA Select" circuit. Normally, when there was shuttle video, the White Sands to Goddard raw video link had been unencrypted, and the Goddard relay to "NASA Select" required no further processing; but when medically-privileged video was to be transmitted (a new innovation on STS-42, planned for years), complex encryption processes had to be initiated on the shuttle, on the TDRS satellites, at White Sands, and at Goddard. The procedure for constant encryption was implemented to avoid the cost of many switchovers between modes. But the NASA Select video from Goddard was to continue to be decrypted except for the medical transmissions, which were to be openly announced on the audio feed, just not piped into a million homes and schools nationwide. Since then, the NASA Select video (originating at NASA Goddard, and containing other sources of video, too) has continued to be transmitted as before, with the only change that the White Sands to Goddard link (which viewers could previously observe when it was active) is now encrypted. There is no hint from air-to-ground conversations that anything other than the new (and long scheduled) medical video imagery is being interrupted. And although it is encrypted, the White Sands raw feed can be observed to tell if there is a video signal or not on the feed, so I am told.

[An explanation of nothing. Hoagland never said anything about STS video being "viewed only after NASA review and approval". Oberg's answer does not in anyway address the issue of external video scrambling, nor does he mention the 1 minute delay now on NASA select TV broadcasts.]

Conclusion: The standing explanation, that the objects are near the shuttle, are sunlit, and are affected by the plume field of an RCS jet firing, remains valid.

[Hardly. Oberg's rebuttal relies on false reasoning, misrepresentation of facts and exclusion of contradictory data to build his weak case. He relies heavily on subjective opinion and prejudicial language to try to discredit Hoagland's analysis, which remains valid. The RCS jet/ ice crystals argument is utterly disproved by 2 distinct analyses (Hoagland/Carloto and Kasher).]

P.S. Hoagland made a number of other factually erroneous comments about live planetary image transmissions. He says that all previously NASA planetary probes transmitted live imagery. Actually, only fly-by probes did that, particularly the fly-by probes which had slow transmission rates which took many minutes to build up each image. Probes orbiting other planets (Venus and Mars, for example), do not (and I believe, never HAVE) transmitted live imagery, since they are frequently occulted by the planet's mass. Each orbit's imagery is stored and dumped over a short portion of each orbit, and the imagery data is initially decoded over the next hours and days. Live coverage of the actual image transmission would usually be blank, but for a few minutes every few hours would show images flipping across the screen at a very fast rate, if there was enough computer power to decode them in this "real time" speed. There is no practical reason why computers have to be built so powerful to keep up with the high- speed dump rate for a few minutes, then rest idle for the next several hours. Outside of avoiding whines about censorship, there's no reason to do so.

[Given the widely held perception of NASA's less then full disclosure regarding the search for extraterrestrial life, I would think that "avoiding whines about censorship" would be a priority for the agency. Unfortunately, Oberg's rebuttal only reinforces the concept of an arrogant, intellectually decayed space agency in need of a vast overhaul. He shows in this last paragraph his utter contempt for the public which pays his salary and he should feel duty bound to serve.]

Robert Sheaffer - Scepticus Maximus - sheaffer@netcom.com Past Chairman, The Bay Area Skeptics - for whom I speak only when authorized!
"Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial."

["Debunkers who wrap themselves in the mantle of skepticism are still debunkers by any other name."]

Copyright Michael Bara, May 1997 - This article may be freely reproduced and distributed as long as the URL address is included in the text.

Read more articles on this topic:

STS-48 Space Shuttle Video