This video clip and the accompanying conspiracy theory is a personal favorite of mine. Supposedly, at least one joint American-Soviet mission to Mars took place in the early sixties. This sounds insane, but there’s video proof to back it up.
The video consists of a spacecraft (Marscraft?) descending on the surface of what looks a lot like Mars. Voices chatter in English and Russian, saying typical mission control-type commands to the craft’s pilots. They make their landing without incident. Upon landing, something moves beneath the sterile-looking Martian soil, just as the video fades to static.
This video looks real. It was not produced on digital media for upload to YouTube. There are no Blender or Maya 3D composites to give it away. And it was clearly created on sixties-era video or film and converted for upload. The fonts on the readouts look right. This video is damn near perfect.
Except for the audio, that is.
Per NASA’s web page, and the basic laws of physics, there is a twenty-minute radio delay between Earth and Mars. The two planets are so far apart that it takes light–and radio signals–about twenty minutes to go back and forth between the two planets. So it would take forty minutes for a ground controller on Earth to ask an astronaut (Marstronaut?) a question and get an answer back. In the video, the communication is instantaneous.
The time lag is not something a secret technology could overcome. In fact, this situation perfectly illustrates the difference between an engineering problem and a physics problem. In an engineering problem, something is theoretically possible, but needs a clever solution to make it work in the real world. In a physics problem, it is simply not possible to do something, without a revolutionary change to our understanding of how the universe works.
Now, people might insist that there’s a secret Ansible technology at work. People who know more than I do about physics have argued that it might be possible to move something faster than light by exploiting loopholes in the laws of physics. However, these loopholes would have other implications. If you could send a signal faster than light, you could also send it back in time. It would take layers and layers of paranoia to believe that the US and Soviet governments had the kind of technology to send messages back in time and history played out the way it did.
However, the best argument against the authenticity of this video is tracking down the source.
The video was created as part of a larger program in 1977 as an April Fool’s prank. UK television has a long history of pulling stuff like this. The BBC spaghetti tree hoax is probably the best known example of this. The video was a part of “Alternative 3,” a part of the fictitious series called Science Report. The video was aired only once. It was intended for air on April first, 1978, but the producers could not secure the time slot. Instead, it was shown on the 20th of June of that year.
Alternative 3 is a fascinating hoax in its own right. The video began by exploring a number of mysterious disappearances of astronomers, engineers, and physicists across the world, dubbing the phenomena “The Brain Drain.” Through the pseudodocumentary, the audience is gradually led to the conclusion that scientists had determined that pollution was leading to catastrophic climate change. Three alternatives were proposed:
- The First Alternative: Drastically reduce the human population.
- The Second Alternative: Create vast, Doctor Strangelove-style underground shelters
- The Third Alternative: Populate Mars via a way station on the Moon.
The filmmakers found a [not real] NASA astronaut Bob Grodin, played by actor Shane Rimmer of Thunderbirds fame, who said he accidentally stumbled across a secret base on the moon. Meanwhile, a Professor Ballantine managed to give a colleague an encoded video cassette before his mysterious death. After locating the proper decryption equipment, the filmmakers discover the video of the Mars landing.
Alternative 3 was a hoax. The various actors were credited at the end of the video. It was a well-made hoax, up there with Orson Well’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast hoax. Many people called the TV station, asking about the video. They were promptly told about the hoax. It was intended as a prank.
In the age of the internet, this section of Alternative 3 has taken on new life. Different people have uploaded it around the web. My favorite version is set to Russian rock music and has a random clip of monkeys at a bar about halfway through.
The clip from Alternative 3 is a fun little video. Unless you catch the lack of a radio delay, you’ll never spot a problem with the video. Like a lot of conspiracy theories, it’s entertaining, and tells a story that makes you wonder, “what if?” If nothing else, you can probably punk your friends with it.