In a long-sought breakthrough that many thought would never come, NASA officials publicly promised on November 24, 1997 that the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft would take high resolution photos of the controversial landforms in the Cydonia region of Mars "at every opportunity."
If the promise is fulfilled, it would mean that the question of possible artifical structures on Mars will almost surely be settled, one way or another, within approximately two years.
Dr. Mark Carlotto, one of the top experts on the Cydonia landforms, announced the breakthrough at the recent World UFO Forum in Brazil. Carlotto was one of six scientists representing the Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR) who met with two top NASA officials on November 24 in Washington, D.C. to discuss the new agreement. Carlotto said he left the meeting feeling entirely satisfied that NASA's promise was genuine.
Background on the long effort by SPSR to influence NASA's thinking on the Cydonia landforms is posted on the website of SPSR co-founder Professor Stanley V. McDaniel [see http://www.mcdanielreport.com/brkthru.htm]. Excerpts from McDaniel's text follow, accompanied by comments of Dr. Carlotto.
Professor McDaniel writes:
In 1993, a group organized under the title Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR), includ[ing] all the academically or professionally qualified researchers who had worked on the Mars anomaly question since the Viking missions of 1976. These were joined by a number of new scientists with an interest in the Cydonia area of Mars. The group emphasized an interdisciplinary approach to planetary SETI (the search for signs of intelligence on planets of the solar system). Included were not only image processing specialists, geologists and astronomers, but also representatives of archaeology, philosophy, physics, anthropology, and International Space Policy.
This group had two main purposes: to extend the boundaries of Mars anomaly research using all available existing data, and to put the question of the Mars anomalies into a carefully reasoned scientific framework that could be appreciated by the larger scientific community.
But as we moved past mid-1997, it seemed increasingly clear that NASA had no serious interest in this area. Although Administrator Daniel Goldin stated in late 1996 that NASA would attempt to photograph the Face using the Mars Global Surveyor, his comments seemed focused only on the single object, made no reference to priorities, and did not specify whether he referred to the low-resolution mapping camera or the high-resolution narrow angle camera. This situation was complicated further by statements of Asst. Administrator Alan Ladwig, who was reported as saying that although the MGS would photograph the Face, high resolution images would be "unlikely." Again only the Face, and not the entire area, was mentioned.
Dr. Horace W. Crater of the University of Tennessee Space Institute sent letters to NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin asking for an opportunity for scientists to present the results of their research to NASA for evaluation. Dr. Crater's requests, answered by Asst. Administrator Wesley Huntress, were refused. Mr. Huntress appeared to have misunderstood these requests as a proposed research project rather than as an offer of information that might be useful in re-evaluating NASA priorities. A total of five letters were exchanged with no progress being made.
This negative situation was not helped by the pronouncements being made on his web page by Dr. Michael C. Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, who is the principal investigator for the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) camera. Dr. Malin continued to present his long-standing view that any interest in Cydonia is solely the purview of "tabloid" sensationalism and bad science. The appearance was that Dr. Malin, even though he is actually a private contractor, was the primary NASA spokesperson where the anomalies are concerned. SPSR members were not convinced, however, that Dr. Malin's personal views necessarily coincided with the perspectives of all NASA scientists.
SPSR therefore continued its efforts to assure NASA that there exists a legitimate body of research deserving of attention. Dr. John E. Brandenburg, one of the original Mars anomaly researchers, contacted the Acting Director of Solar System Studies at NASA, Dr. Carl Pilcher, requesting a meeting to present our case. On Thursday, November 20,  Dr. Pilcher's secretary called back. Dr. Pilcher had agreed to a meeting with SPSR scientists on [Monday], November 24.
Dr. Mark Carlotto's statement at the Brazil UFO Forum follows:
"A group of us met with NASA [officials] at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. They included myself, Professor Stanley McDaniel, Dr. Horace Crater, [Vincent] DiPietro, who is one of the early investigators, Dr. John Brandenburg, who has come up with some radical theories about Mars' atmosphere and the evolution of life on Mars, and Dr. David Webb, a former advisor to President Reagan on space policy.
"We briefed NASA management on our work, and it was clear that they had not seen it [before]. It was clear that all they had seen were the Parade Magazine articles by Carl Sagan [arguing against anomalous structures on Mars], the sensational articles in the grocery checkout line -- 'Voice of Elvis Presley coming out of Face on Mars' -- and nonsense like that. They had not seen our work.
"And they seemed impressed.
"The whole purpose of the meeting was to not only brief them but also to get a commitment from them to image these objects at the highest possible resolution at every opportunity, because their promises in the past have been very murky.
"The first thing they did was to say that they will unequivocally, on every attempt over Cydonia, image these objects at the highest possible resolution, and they will make the data available.
"Moreover, they said that they are in fact very interested in these objects, for two reasons. There are two groups in NASA. One group believes that [UFO researchers] are all wrong, and they want to prove it. So they want to take these pictures to prove that you're wrong, so you'll go away. The other group -- and our sense is that it's a small but growing group within NASA -- believes that we have some interesting data, and they want to take a closer look at it.
"So, either way, hopefully we'll get the pictures, and perhaps in the next year we'll find out."
Dr. Carlotto told CNI News editor Michael Lindemann during a private conversation that he regards the odds of finding artifical structures on Mars as somewhere between "1000 to 1 and 100,000 to 1" in favor of the structures. Obviously, if Carlotto's optimism proves out and NASA admits such a finding, the question of intelligent life on other worlds will be settled in one stroke. Thus, the stakes in this new NASA commitment are very high.
Professor McDaniel adds further detail:
The meeting in Dr. Pilcher's offices at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C. was cordial and welcoming. Drs. Pilcher and Boyce were most attentive as research summaries were presented by DiPietro, Carlotto, and Crater. The NASA officials showed a great deal of interest in the image processing results of Carlotto and DiPietro. Copies of peer-reviewed scientific papers by the researchers were handed to Dr. Pilcher. At the close of the meeting, Dr. Pilcher stated that he was impressed by the seriousness of SPSR research.
In answer to our questions, Dr. Pilcher assured us that re-imaging the entire area of Cydonia in question with the MGS high-resolution camera, using the camera "strip" capability on every pass over the area during the mapping phase of the mission, is now "official NASA policy." He stated that Glenn E. Cunningham, MGS mission director at JPL, was in full agreement with this policy and that Dr. Malin had accepted the policy.
All of the SPSR members were greatly impressed with Dr. Pilcher's evident sincerity, particularly in the light of the considerable interest the NASA officials were showing in the research results. It was clear to us all that some or perhaps most of this research material was previously unknown to NASA.
The MGS mapping phase is expected to begin about one year from now. There is a possibility that some images could be obtained prior to then, and Dr. Brandenburg urged NASA to take such "contingency" images due to the possibility that the spacecraft, with a damaged solar panel, could fail. [We] hope that NASA engineers can maintain the health of the spacecraft long enough to complete the mission and deliver the desired images.
At long last, the legitimate Mars anomaly research has been brought to the attention of rational, perceptive administrators and scientists within NASA. It is clear that Dr. Malin's personal views regarding the anomaly question are not official policy, and that NASA has decided to be fully responsive to the concerns of the public and of SPSR scientists that high resolution images must be obtained. This is the responsible policy that Administrator Daniel Goldin called for in November of 1996, and Dr. Pilcher has now given us assurances that this is the operative policy for the global surveyor mission.
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