The Tether Incident

My journey to skepticism has been long and troublesome. Like most people though, I had to realize this retroactively. I always considered myself an intelligent person and expressed earnest interest in what science had to offer. However much like the cab driver described by Carl Sagan in his tome of critical thinking Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, my sincerity had been hijacked by the misinformation of popular culture.

My world-view was filled with mysticisms regarding everything from lost technologies of Atlantis to the Loch Ness Monster to alien visitations and to unassisted human flight powered by the mind. Not that I held specific ideas about any of these things, just that a twisted sense of wonder had given me the ability to construct a universe of uncertainty and hidden worlds. I largely believed things based on whether or not I liked them. If something appealed to me, I would accept it uncritically.

This sort of fanciful thinking was no doubt facilitated by my religious upbringing. When you believe in a world of angels, demons, plagues, virgin conception, parting seas, prophecy, resurrection and talking snakes it’s pretty damn easy to throw in a chupacabra if you are so inclined. So when the lenses of faith finally melted away, spawning a wave of self-examination of my beliefs, just about everything else faded with it. But one thing still had a vesitigal tether still attached.

Alien visitation had always captured a particularly large amount of my attention. As a kid I would read books of stories of encounters, abductions and crop-circles. I knew that most were hoaxes or just mistaken people, but that small percent that remained “unexplained” captured my imagination. I often would try to summon potentially telepathic aliens with my mind to try and persuade them to let me check out their spaceship. Eventually as I grew older my skepticism increased, but I maintained that it was at least possible. Then I saw footage on television that completely convinced me.

It was an unscrupulous UFO documentary hosted by Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation). Most of it I dismissed but then they ended with footage of something called “The Tether Incident.” NASA was conducting an experiment “called the Tethered Satellite System (TSS- 1R) and it’s purpose of this was to attempt to generate electricity by utilizing Earth’s magnetic field.” The tether broke off and swarms of alleged UFOs began to fly around it, or so the show claimed. This is roughly the same footage with the same “observations” made in the show :


For a long time I was totally convinced that these were Alien ships. The way it was presented, and perhaps my on credulity, offered no other explanation. I mean, look at those things! Calculating for scale based on the way they move behind it and the known length of the tether puts some of these bad boys at almost 3 miles in diameter! Of course when my true skepticism finally sunk in I knew these couldn’t be aliens, but my brain could conceive of no rational explanation. So I forgot about it for a while, allowing myself to simply not know what they were and be ok with that.

Then for whatever reason it popped into my head and I remembered we have this interwebs thing where you can look up stuff like this. So I very quickly stumbled upon this website:

http://www.space-video.info/shuttle/columbia-sts75.html

Hosted there is a more complete version of the video and upon watching it unedited the truth becomes very clear. First of all, the video is of horrific quality. If I hadn’t known this was of space I would have been certain this was a poor microscope recording of a petri dish. As soon as you see the camera zoom in and out it’s very evident that the so-called UFOs are actually pretty small bits of debris close to the camera that get greatly magnified because of their proximity. The other important aspect to note is the astronaut recording the event (who is also probably observing through a window) never says anything to the effect of “JESUS CHRIST THERE’S A GODDAMN FLEET OF FLYING SAUCERS OUT HERE!!!!”

That, for me, pretty much settles it.

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