Case 51

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

5 December 1963

Investigator: Hartmann

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PLATE for this Case

During a daytime launch of a Thor-Agena rocket, several tracking cameras independently recorded a bright, star-like object apparently passing the missile. The object has been conclusively identified as Venus.


Time: 1:54 p.m., PST

Location: Complex 75-1-1, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Camera data: UFO clearly shown in films from site TS1O, with a 16mm Mitchell camera using a 12 in. lens (frame rate: 24 FPS). Two identical cameras with 6 in. lenses did not show the UFO. Certain other films are also alleged to show the UFO but were not examined.

Weather conditions: Deep blue sky with scattered thin clouds. On the film sequence that shows the UFO, the sky is clear, but from the other two sites, at that moment, thin clouds were present, through which the rocket was still clearly recorded.

Sighting, General Information:

The sighting was reported by R. M. L. Baker (1) as an example of an unidentified object with potentially discriminatory tracking data. Baker had received a copy of the tracking film through contacts at Vandenberg (2), and subsequently brought it to our attention.


The tracking camera films were supplied to the project by the U.S. Air Force, and a 16mm copy of the three sequences described above was examined. It was noted that at the moment the UFO is visible, the rocket was moving down in the sky on a southerly course toward the horizon. Clouds drifted upward across the screen as the


rocket passed them. The UFO had a similar motion, suggesting that it might be fixed in the sky, rather than "moving up past the rocket." This, plus the fact that the smaller lenses under poorer conditions did not record the object, in turn suggested the possibility that the object might be Venus, which reaches sufficient brilliance to be seen by the naked eye in a clear, daylight sky. Plate 41 shows a sample frame.

Classified tracking data made available (3) predicted the altitude and azimuth of the rocket as seen from "radar site 1," near the launch pad. From certain considerations related to the film, we know the absolute time of the passage of the UFO to within a few seconds, and the predicted tracking data give positions at similar intervals. Fig. 7 shows a plot of the predicted path of the rocket, seen from "site 1" compared to the actual position of Venus. It can be seen that the rocket should have passed within 2 deg of Venus within a few seconds of the time that the UFO was observed. The predicted data can be taken as very accurate, but the actual position of the camera site TSlO, some 5,000 ft. east of the pad, was probably east of "radar site 1," so that parallax would shift the rocket's path to the right by probably not more than 1 deg.

Conclusion & Summary:

At precisely the time that the UFO was recorded, the missile was less than 2 deg from Venus, and Venus was thus within the camera frame. The UFO image has precisely the properties expected for Venus. This compelling evidence leads to the conclusion that the UFO was Venus.

We have heard many allegations, sometimes detailed and more often apocryphal, of UFO's being "observed," "tracked," or "photographed" during rocket tests at military bases. Many such "sightings" have been reported at White Sands Proving Ground in the last 20 years. In most reports there is insufficient detail to be checked. This case, before the films were located, had all the earmarks of such a report: an "object" was recorded on several different,


independent cameras a mile or more apart. If assumed to have been near the rocket, the object would have been properly interpreted as very bright. A number of individuals had knowledge of the sighting, and therefore a number of rumors of a UFO passing near a rocket launched at Vandenberg could have been generated.

The analysis of this case leads to the suspicion, in the absence of better data, that most if not all such allegations may be based on similarly inconsequential circumstances.

Sources of Information:

Baker, R. M. L., Jr. An Introduction to Astrodynamics, New York: Academic Press, 1967.

Interview with R. M. L. Baker, Jr. (W. K. Hartmann and Roy Craig, 21 September 1967).

Classified Air Force Documents.