In 1977, Anglia TV in the UK broadcast an edition of its popular Science Report strand that uncovered a story so colossal it would change the world.
The episode was titled Alternative 3 and began with an investigation into a string of mysterious disappearances amongst top scientists. What followed was sensational.
The scientists, the show discovered, had been recruited into a top secret clandestine space program, designed to build a base on Mars in anticipation of a forthcoming ecological catastrophe on Earth.
Anglia TV was immediately bombarded with calls from alarmed viewers. The alarm was unwarranted they were told because, like Orson Welles’ War of the World in 1938, Alternative 3 was in fact a hoax.
Produced in a documentary style, and originally intended to be broadcast on April 1st, the program was a skillful fiction written by award-winning screenwriter David Ambrose.
Although relatively obscure, Alternative 3 has had an enduring impact since it was first broadcast in 1977. Many now believe the fictional events portrayed in the show subversively reflect reality.
It has inspired hundreds of conspiracy theories about secret space missions, bases on the Moon and Mars and even off-world fleets of advanced spacecraft.
The fictional Alternative 3 culminates with the reporter decoding a video tape which reveals footage of a joint US/USSR mission to Mars in 1962. Could there be any truth in such an amazing notion? Are the space programs of the global superpowers really far more advanced than is admitted to the public?
In 2001, British hacker Gary McKinnon claimed to have found astonishing evidence that such an out of this world program really does exist. Hacking into top secret Pentagon military computers, McKinnon says he found a crew manifest file detailing ‘non-terrestrial’ officers.
Perhaps this was, at last, the smoking gun that proved Alternative 3 wasn’t entirely fictional. Could the secret space program portrayed in the program be real?
Parallel space programs
As far as the general public are concerned, the American space program is run by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Signed into existence by Dwight D Eisenhower in 1958, NASA was primarily a civilian organization built upon earlier military space programs.
It’s many high profile projects like Gemini, the Apollo moon missions, and the Space Shuttle were subject to much publicity and public scrutiny.
Despite this, the US Air Force continued to operate an almost entirely unknown, vast and clandestine parallel space program even after the formation of NASA.
This program rivalled, if not exceeded, the ambition of Apollo and the Space Shuttle. It operated under almost total secrecy, its scale, scope, and objectives were obscure and only the occasional low-key press release hinted at its existence at all.
Could the USAF's secret military space program be closer to the one proposed in Alternative 3? And was their technology and progress far more advanced than NASA’s public space missions?
The USAF has long since run black projects that were so secret the public, and sometimes even congress, were completely unaware of their existence.
Various aircraft, such as the F-117A Nighthawk, were financed, developed, built and operated under total secrecy. The Nighthawk’s existence wasn’t revealed publicly until 1988, some 11 years after its first flight.
Could they have similar top secret space projects that remain entirely unknown to the public? A look at those plans that were acknowledged reveals a curious pattern.
In the late 1950s, the USAF spent billions of dollars on Dyna-Soar, an advanced, reusable space plane. They then quietly announced its cancellation in 1963.
In the mid-60s, they canceled plans for a space station called the MOL — manned orbital laboratory.
Project Horizon was an ambitious plan for a manned moon base that predates NASA’s first moon landing in 1969. It too was discretely canceled before it could come to fruition.
In 1989, the New York Times reported that the Air Force had shut down yet another planned manned space program, with a staff of 32 astronauts and a space shuttle launching facility in Colorado.
Until the announcement, which appeared in just one newspaper, the existence of this massive, non-NASA space project was completely unknown.
It doesn’t seem credible that the USAF would spend so many hundreds of billions of dollars on multiple manned space programs and then quietly mothball them all with no results.
Could it be they were never canceled at all but continued in secret? And were there other, even more secret black projects we still know nothing about?
If so, these programs would have been far more advanced than anything NASA publicly achieved and move the prospect of the kind of secret space program envisaged in Alternative 3 closer to fact than fiction.
A curious diary entry by president Ronald Reagan in 1985 suggests such a possibility may not be so far-fetched.
In the diaries, published long after his presidency, Reagan recounts a meeting at the White House with several top space scientists.
On page 334 he states — “It was fascinating. Space truly is the last frontier and some of the developments there in astronomy etc. are like science fiction, except they are real. I learned that our shuttle capacity is such that we could orbit 300 people”.
Presuming Reagan wasn’t simply confused or mistaken, this claim is impossible without the prospect of a secret space program.
America’s space shuttle has a capacity of 8 people, and only 5 were ever built. The U.S. does not, and never has had, at least officially, the technology to put 300 people into space.
The science fiction reference seemed apt. However, in 2001, a computer hacker from the UK found evidence that cast this obscure entry in Reagan’s diary in a sensational new light.
In 2002, Scottish computer enthusiast Gary McKinnon was accused by the US government of the “the biggest military computer hack of all time”.
Under the guise of ‘Solo’, McKinnon hacked into dozens of Pentagon, USAF, and NASA computers between 2001 and 2002.
US prosecutors sought his extradition and charged him with 7 counts of computer-related crime which could have seen McKinnon receive a 70-year prison sentence.
His roll call of alleged crimes was impressive: disabling critical systems at a navy airbase not long after 9/11, bringing down an entire network of 2000 US Army computers and copying, changing and deleting classified data.
McKinnon himself maintains his actions were not malicious and he was merely searching for evidence of UFOs and suppressed free energy technology. If he can be believed, what he found was incredible.
The first find was spreadsheet detailing a list of USAF officers, with their names and ranks. What was interesting about this was the file was titled ‘non-terrestrial officers’.
Based on what else he found, McKinnon does not think this is a reference to aliens, but human officers serving in space.
Also in the file was information about ship-to-ship transfers. What made this file doubly strange was none of the ship names, or indeed officers, seemed to exist.
McKinnon was aware of the case of Donna Hare, an ex-NASA employee who said the agency had a department in building 8 at the Johnson Space Centre whose job was to airbrush UFOs out of space images.
McKinnon found an unguarded computer at building 8 and looked for evidence to corroborate Hare’s story. Incredibly, he says he found it.
There were a series of folders on the computer labeled ‘raw’ and ‘processed’. Inside the raw folder, he found an image of large, silvery, cigar-shaped craft pictured in orbit over the northern hemisphere.
Could this be a spacecraft developed by a secret space program of the kind proposed in Alternative 3?
Critics of Gary McKinnon’s case question why he didn’t download or screen capture any of these images. The hacker himself also admits he was often high on marijuana and drunk when he hacked the computers.
Caveats aside, McKinnnon had provided some tantalising evidence in support for a secret space program. But it was still weak.
Was there anyone else to corroborate his claims?
Some ex-employees of NASA, the military, and its defense contractors have come forward in recent years with evidence that supports the secret space program theory.
Whilst some of these whistleblowers tell stories so bizarre and incredible they have to be discounted, others are more credible.
In 1965, Sgt Karl Wolfe was a young electronics expert at USAF tactical air command at Langley in Virginia.
One day he was called over to an NSA facility to examine a fault in some photographic equipment. The lab was processing images of the moon’s surface taken by the lunar orbiter.
One thing immediately struck Wolfe. There were hundreds of scientists from all over the world at the facility, speaking dozens of different languages. Wolfe felt this peculiar, especially at the height of the cold war.
He got talking with a photographic technician processing the lunar orbiter images. The man appeared disturbed. “We’ve found a base on the backside of the moon”, he said.
Wolfe was stunned. The technician then showed him contact prints that showed the base. Wolfe observed large domes, towers and what looked like radar dishes.
The fictional Alternative 3 suggested the secret space program had built a moon base as a staging point for a mission to Mars. Was this it?
Donna Hare tells a similar story. As a NASA contractor in the 1970s, she encountered an employee whose job it was to airbrush UFOs out of NASA photos.
Intrigued, Hare sniffed around for more information. She heard chatter that the Apollo astronauts had observed artificial structures and even spacecraft on the moon.
John Schuessler spent 36 years as an aerospace engineer at Boeing and worked on numerous NASA projects. He too recalled seeing Apollo images containing UFOs.
However, when accessing NASA’s official photo archive of the mission, he was unable to find the photos. The numerically indexed images had been removed from the collection.
Perhaps the most unlikely whistleblower for a secret space program is the military of France. In 2007, Col. Yves Blin of the French Department of Defence announced some very intriguing data gathered by their Graves space radar system.
Some 20–30 satellites were detected that appeared not to exist. The U.S. Defense Department maintains a list of all satellites in orbit, including the classified military satellites of other countries, and none of these were listed.
These mysterious satellites were, then, almost certainly launched by the U.S. themselves. Whilst not evidence for Alternative 3, it did prove the existence of a clandestine space program of a kind.
Whatever the purpose of these satellites, they would require a large infrastructure back on earth — facilities, funding, technology, staff, rockets and launch pads, all operating in secret.
Is it too much of a stretch to suppose this infrastructure had achieved far more than just launching satellites? Could it have been responsible for the UFO’s and structures observed on the moon by some witnesses?
Projects such as Horizon and Lunex envisaged military bases on the moon that predated Apollo. Officially they were shut down but did they in fact continue to operate as deep black projects?
The idea that the US military may have secretly established a base on the moon is far-fetched but not so outrageous as to be entirely dismissed.
But in Alternative 3, a moon base was simply a staging point for a mission to Mars. In terms of scale, ambition and complexity this would be far in excess of a moon base.
However, in 2010, evidence that such a mission has already occurred came from the most unlikely source.
Laura Eisenhower, the great-granddaughter of former president Dwight D Eisenhower, says she was approached in 2006 to take part in a mission to the red planet.
She was told she would be joining a base on Mars, set up as a survival colony in the event of a catastrophe on Earth. This was then, the exact same scenario proposed in Alternative 3.
Eisenhower’s incredible story was ridiculed by most people. However, she seems sincere and no doubt believes what happened was genuine. The possibility that she was the target of some kind of hoax or intelligence operation cannot therefore be dismissed.
Alternative 3 is a very skilfully produced piece of television, weaving together news stories from the headlines of the time into a fiction credible enough it has convinced many it is fact.
As its name suggests, Alternative 3 was the third of three proposed schemes to avert a forthcoming ecological catastrophe on Earth.
The first two of these proposals, at least, were directly based on real projects undertaken in the United States.
Alternative 1 was to use nuclear bombs to blow holes in the stratosphere from which greenhouse gases could escape. Whilst it may sound absurd, a controversial experiment in 1950s did fire nuclear missiles into the atmosphere.
Project Argus was ostensibly set up to measure the effects of radiation on Earth’s upper atmosphere and involved the detonation of 3 nuclear warheads hundreds of miles over the south Atlantic ocean.
Alternative 2 was to build a vast network of underground tunnels and bases in which a select group of people could maintain the human race.
Over a hundred such installations exist in the North America alone. Bases such as Site R in Pennsylvania and Mount Weather in Virginia are so vast they have their own rail networks, hospitals, and television studios.
One of the most potent ideas in Alternative 3 was the prospect that mankind was on the verge of an ecological cataclysm. This was a worrying concept at the forefront of the public consciousness when the program was broadcast in 1977.
Alarmist stories had begun to emerge about both global warming and global cooling. Dire warnings of extreme weather and environmental chaos were all over the newspapers.
Much of Alternative 3 was, then, based in fact. Could the more outrageous aspects of the plot be true too? Author Leslie Watkins came to believe so.
Watkins was hired to write a novelisation of Alternative 3 in 1978 that greatly expanded upon the story presented in the TV show.
After its publication, he received hundreds of letters from what he regarded as credible sources confirming the basic premise behind of the book.
The book is fiction based on fact. But I now feel that I inadvertently got very close to a secret truth.
Watkins decided to use some of the evidence sent to him to begin a non-fiction sequel to Alternative 3, but backed out after he came to suspect his phone and correspondence was been monitored by the intelligence services.
Watkins started to believe he had stumbled upon something deep and very dark. In 1989, he wrote, “the book is fiction based on fact. But I now feel that I inadvertently got very close to a secret truth”.
Follow the money
Critics of the idea of a secret space program point out the vast amount of money that would be required to mount such an operation.
Whilst the U.S. military has long run black budgets, the amount of unaccounted money that would be required to construct bases on the Moon and Mars would be eye-wateringly vast.
Such a program would completely dwarf the Apollo moon missions, which cost, in current prices, $110 billion dollars.
Could such huge sums be generated ‘off the books’? Bill Sweetman, editor of Defense Technology International, estimated the U.S. military black budget to be $50 billion in 2010.
To put that into context, NASA’s budget in the same year was just $17 billion. So huge amounts of money are available, but much of that is already spent on conventional black military projects — planes, missiles, bombs and so forth.
Other sources of revenue would still be needed beyond the traditional black budget dollars. And even if such funding could be secured, could it really be spent without anyone noticing?
A project on the scale of Alternative 3 would generate millions of financial transactions, employ 10s or 100,000s of people and involve hundreds of technology and engineering companies.
Could this really be done under absolute secrecy, without more people coming forward and admitting involvement? It’s doubtful that what would effectively be the biggest undertaking in human history could really be kept so secret.
Where’s the hardware?
If a large spaceship was really orbiting over the northern hemisphere as McKinnon claimed, wouldn’t it be noticed?
There are hundreds of satellites in orbit from dozens of countries around the world, yet none appeared to have detected the presence of such a craft.
Nor have any of the millions of amateur astronomers on Earth observed the craft with their telescopes.
An orbiting space ship and bases on the Moon and Mars would require hundreds of launches from Earth to construct, all of which would have to occur in complete secrecy and remain unobserved by anyone.
Furthermore, countries with a traditional enmity to the West such as Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran have all launched their own satellites and probes to both the Moon and Mars. How could the craft and the bases be concealed from them?
Alternative 3 proposes that governments from around the world would conspire together, but this would suggest that the evident hostility of such rival countries is actually a public charade.
Could it really be that the Cold War, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon on more than one occasion, was a sham and the U.S.S.R. and U.S. were secretly working together all along?