BEFORE my date with Redell, I went over all the material I had, hoping to find some clue to the space visitors' planet. It was possible, of course, that there was more than one planet involved.
Project "Saucer" had discussed the possibilities in it! report of April 27, 1949. I read over this section again:
Actually, astronomers are largely in agreement that only one member of the solar system beside Earth is capable of supporting life. That is Mars. Even Mars, however, appears to be relatively desolate and inhospitable, so that a Martian race would be more occupied with survival than we are on Earth.
On Mars, there exists an excessively slow loss of atmosphere, oxygen and water, against which intelligent beings, if they do exist there, may have protected themselves by scientific control of physical conditions. This might have been done, scientists speculate, by the construction of homes and cities underground where the atmospheric pressure would be greater and thus temperature extremes reduced. The other possibilities exist, of course, that evolution may have developed a being who can withstand the rigors of the Martian climate, or that the race--if it ever did exist--has perished.
In other words, the existence of intelligent life on Mars, where the rare atmosphere is nearly devoid of oxygen and water and where the nights are much colder than our Arctic winters, is not impossible but is completely unproven.
The possibility of intelligent life also existing on the planet Venus is not considered completely unreasonable
After the discussion of solar-system planets, the Project "Saucer" report went on to other star systems:
(After publication of our findings in True, several astronomers said that many planets may be inhabited. One of these was Dr. Carl F. von Weizacker, noted University of Chicago physicist. On January 10, 1950, Dr. von Weizacker stated: "Billions upon billions of stars found in the heavens may each have their own planets revolving about them. It is possible that these planets would have plant and animal life on them similar to the earth's.")
After narrowing the eligible stars down to twenty-two the Project "Saucer" report goes on:
If the speed of light was not an absolute limit, almost any space journey would then be possible. Since there would be no resistance in outer space, it would be simply a matter of using rocket power in the first stages to accelerate to the maximum speed desired. In the latter phase, the rocket's drive would have to be reversed, to decelerate for the landing.
The night before my appointment with Redell, I was checking a case report when the phone rang. It was John Steele.
"Are you still working on the saucers?" he asked. "If you are, I have a suggestion--something that might be a real lead."
"I could use a lead right now," I told him.
"I can't give you the source, but it's one I consider reliable," said Steele. "This man says the disks are British developments."
This was a new one. I hadn't considered the British. Steele talked for over half an hour, expanding the idea.
The saucers, his informant said, were rotating disks with cambered surfaces--originally a Nazi device. Near the end of the war, the British had seized all the models, along with the German technicians and scientists who had worked on the project.
The first British types had been developed secretly in England, according to this account. But the first tests showed a dangerous lack of control; the disks streaked up to high altitudes, hurtling without direction. Some had been seen over the Atlantic, some in Turkey, Spain, and other parts of Europe.
The British then had shifted operations to Australia, where a guided-missile test range had been set up. (This part, I knew, could be true; there was such a range.) After improving their remote-control system, which used both radio and radar, they had built disks up to a hundred feet in diameter. These were launched out over the Pacific, the first ones straight eastward over open sea. British destroyers were stationed at 100-mile and later 500-mile intervals, to track the missiles by radar and correct their courses. At a set time, when their fuel was almost exhausted, the disks came down vertically and landed in the ocean. Since part of the device was sealed, the disks would float; then a special launching ship would hoist them abroad, refuel them, and launch them back toward a remote base in Australia, where they were landed by remote control.
Since then, Steele said, the disks' range and speed had been greatly increased. The first tests of the new disks was in the spring of 1947, his informant had told him. The British had rushed the project, because of Soviet Russia's menacing attitude. Their only defense in England, the British knew, would be some powerful guided missile that could destroy Soviet bases after the first attack.
In order to check the range and speeds accurately, it was necessary to have observers in the Western Hemisphere--the disks were now traversing the Pacific. The ideal test range, the British decided, was one extending over Canada, where the disks could be tracked and even landed,
If the account was right, said Steele, a base had been set up in the desolate Hudson Bay country. Special radar-tracking stations had also been established, to guide the missiles toward Australia and vessels at sea. These stations also helped to bring in missiles from Australia.
Some of the disk missiles were supposed to have been launched from a British island in the South Pacific; others came all the way from Australia. Still others were believed to have been launched by a mother ship stationed between the Galapagos Islands and Pitcairn.
It was these new disks that had been seen in the United States, Alaska, Canada, and Latin America, Steele's informant had told him. At first, the sightings were due to imperfect controls; the disks sometimes failed to keep their altitude, partly because of conflicting radio and radar beams from the countries below. Responding to some of these mixed signals, Steele said, the disks had been known to reverse course, hover or descend over radar and radio stations, or circle around at high speeds until their own control system picked them up again.
For this reason, the British had arranged a simple detonator system, operated either by remote control or automatically under certain conditions. In this way, no disk would crash over land, with the danger of hitting a populated area. If it descended below a certain altitude, the disk would automatically speed up its rotation, then explode at a high altitude. When radar trackers saw that a disk was off course and could not be realigned, the nearest station then sent a special signal to activate the detonator system. This was always done, Steele had been told, when a disk headed toward Siberia; there had previously been a few cases when Australian-launched disks had got away from controllers and appeared over Europe.
I listened to Steele's account with mixed astonishment and suspicion. It sounded like a pipe dream; but if it was, it had been carefully thought out, especially the details that followed.
At first, Steele said, American defense officials had been completely baffled by the disk reports. Then the British, learning about the sightings, had hastily explained to top-level American officials. An agreement had been
worked out. We were to have the benefit of their research and testing and working models, in return for helping to conceal the secret. We were also to aid in tracking and controlling the missiles when they passed over this country.
"And I gather we paid in other ways," Steele said. "My source says this played a big part in increasing our aid to Britain, including certain atomic secrets."
That could make sense. Sharing such a secret would be worth all the money and supplies we had poured into England. If America and Great Britain both had a superior long-range missile, it would be the biggest factor I knew for holding off war. But the long ranges involved in Steele's explanation made the thing incredible.
"How are they powered? What fuel do they use?" I asked him.
"That's the one thing I couldn't get," said Steele. "This man told me it was the most carefully guarded secret of all. They've tapped a new source of power."
"If he means atomic engines," I said, "I don't believe it. I don't think anyone is that far along."
"No, no," Steele said earnestly, "he said it wasn't that. And the rest of the story hangs together."
Privately, I thought of two or three holes, but I let that go.
"If it's British," I said, "do you think we should even hint at it?"
"I don't see any harm," Steele answered. "The Russians undoubtedly know the truth. They have agents everywhere. It might do a lot of good for American-British relations. Anyway, it would offset any fear that the saucers are Soviet weapons."
"Then you're not worried about that angle any more?"
Steele laughed. "No, but it had me going for a while. It was a big relief to find out the disks are British."
"What's the disks' ceiling?" I asked, abruptly.
"Oh--sixty thousand feet, at least," said Steele. After a moment he added quickly, "That's just a guess--they probably operate much higher. I didn't think to ask."
Before I hung up, he asked me what I thought, of the British explanation.
"It's certainly more plausible than the Soviet idea," I said. I thanked him for calling me, and put down the phone. I was tempted to point out the flaws in his story. But I didn't.
If he was sincere, it would be poor thanks for what he had told me. If he was trying to plant a fake explanation, it wouldn't hurt to let him think I'd swallowed it. When I saw Redell, I told him about Steele.
"It does look like an attempt to steer you away from the interplanetary answer," Redell agreed, "though he may be passing on a tip he believes."
"You think there could be any truth in the British story?"
"Would the British risk a hundred-foot disk crashing in some American city?" said Redell. "No remote control is perfect, and neither is a detonator system. By some freak accident, a disk might come down in a place like Chicago, and then blow up. I just can't see the British--any more than ourselves--letting huge unpiloted missiles go barging around the world, flying along airways and over cities. Certainly, they could have automatic devices to make them veer away from airliners--but what if a circuit failed?"
"I go along with that," I said.
"I don't say the British don't have some long-range missiles," Redell broke in. "Every big nation has a guided-missile project. But no guided missile on earth can explain the Mantell case and the others we've discussed."
I showed him the material I had on the Nazi disk experiments. Redell skimmed through it and nodded.
"I can tell you a little more," he said. "Some top Nazi scientists were convinced we were being observed by space visitors. They'd searched all the old reports. Some sighting over Germany set them off about 1940. That's what I was told. I think that's where they first got the idea of trying out oval and circular airfoils.
"Up to then, nobody was interested. The rotation idea uses the same principle as the helicopter, but nobody had even followed that through. The Nazis went to work on the disks. They also began to rush space-exploration plans--the orbiting satellite idea. I think they realized these
space ships were using some great source of power we hadn't discovered on earth. I believe that's what they were after--that power secret. If they'd succeeded, they'd have owned the world. As it was, that space project caused them to leap ahead of everybody with rockets."
When I asked Redell how he thought the space ships were powered, he shrugged.
"Probably cosmic rays hold the answer. Their power would be even greater than atomic power. There's another source I've heard mentioned, but most people scoff at it. That's the use of electromagnetic fields in space. The earth has its magnetic field, of course, and so does the sun. Probably all planets do.
"There's a man named Fernand Roussel who wrote a book called The Unifying Principle of Physical Phenomena, about 1943. He goes into the electromagnetic-field theory. If he's right, then there must be some way to tap this force and go from one planet to another without using any fuel. You'd use your first planet's magnetic field to start you off and then coast through space until you got into the field of the next planet. At least, that's how I understand it. But you'd be safer sticking to atomic power. That's been proved."
Most of our conversations had been keyed to the technical side of the flying-saucer problem. But before I left this time, I asked Redell how the thought of space visitors affected him.
"Oh, at first I had a queer feeling about it," he answered. "But once you accept it, it's like anything else. You get used to the idea."
"One thing bothers me," I said. "When I try to picture them, I keep remembering the crazy-looking things in some of the comics. What do you suppose they're really like?"
"I've thought about it for months." Redell slowly shook his head. "I haven't the slightest idea."