The year is 1899, and Nikola Tesla is checking the signals that the massive radio tower he’s built on the roof of his Colorado Springs laboratory, which also happen to be his house. He receives mysterious signals and decides that they’re from Mars. But others later claimed that the signals actually came from an enigmatic 13,000-year-old alien object orbiting the Earth.
Tesla, a Serbian-American engineer and electrics pioneer born in 1856, was obviously early on the alien scene. But the belief in and search for extra-terrestrial life became increasingly popular from around the middle of the 20th century. And a range of people from serious scientists to crank conspiracists have followed the pursuit.
In popular culture, the idea of alien life is inextricably linked with UFO sightings. Perhaps the most famous of those was what’s known as the Roswell Incident. That takes us back to a 1947 newspaper headline. The message emblazoned across the front page of the Roswell Daily Record on July 8 read, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.” The UFO had crash-landed at the ranch.
The R.A.A.F. – Roswell Army Air Field – was in New Mexico. That headline and the story attached to it soon went national, seemingly tapping into the American zeitgeist of the day. And the report was certainly sensational. A Roswell Daily Record reporter even tracked down eyewitnesses.
A Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot had been sitting outside the front of their home in Roswell around 10:00 p.m. when they saw something brightly lit speeding through the night sky. According to Mr. Wilmot, the flying object traveled at 1,500 feet at a speed of between 400 and 500 mph. And it was saucer shaped: a classic UFO.
And if this report wasn’t sensational enough, the story developed its own legs and was embellished to an extraordinary extent. A 1980 book, The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, claimed that government personnel had actually removed two dead aliens from the crashed ship. And then the U.S. government had covered the whole incident up.
The fact that back in 1947 government officials announced that the purported alien spaceship was actually a weather balloon that had crashed did absolutely nothing to discourage conspiracists in their lurid theories. And the phenomenon that we mentioned earlier, the allegedly 13,000-year-old satellite circling Earth, has also been grist to the mill for conspiracy theory fans.
As you’ll remember, Nikola Tesla in 1899 first heard strange radio signals coming from space. But at the time he didn’t know what it was that he’d heard. In all probability, the noises he heard were radiation signals from pulsars, a phenomenon not understood until 1968. Pulsars are distant neutron stars.
Later, others decided that Tesla had been the first person to track what has come to be called the Black Knight Satellite. Tesla himself believed that he’d received signals from sentient alien life on Mars. In 1923 he told the Albany Telegram, “I have a deep conviction that highly intelligent beings exist on Mars. While experimenting in Colorado… I obtained extraordinary experimental evidence of the existence of life on Mars.”
“I had perfected a wireless receiver of extraordinary sensitiveness, far beyond anything known, and I caught signals which I interpreted as meaning 1–2–3–4,” Tesla continued. “I believe the Martians used numbers for communication because numbers are universal,” he concluded.
Others have theorized that Tesla might have been listening in on space storms on Jupiter or some kind of deep space radio waves. But then there were those who from sometime around the mid-20th century began to believe that Tesla had actually picked up signals from the Black Knight Satellite.
Just where the Black Knight story started is decidedly murky. It seems to have originated from a variety of sources and facts that have been spun together to make a whole. For example, in 1954 a UFO maven, Donald Keyhoe, claimed that the U.S. Air Force had identified two satellites orbiting Earth.
According to Keyhoe’s assertion, these satellites were circling the planet before the Russians had launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. Some dismissed Keyhoe’s assertions, pointing out that the former Marine Corps pilot had a newly published book about UFOs to sell.
Another possible contributor to the growth of the Black Knight Satellite story may have been the fact that there was an actual Black Knight rocket project that ran from 1958 to 1965. This was a British affair. Although the rocket was used for tests, it never actually propelled a satellite into orbit.
Then in 1960 Time magazine ran a story about a strange dark object that had been detected in orbit. The weird thing was that the object was on a polar orbit, but as far as was known U.S. and Soviet satellites of the time were all on an equatorial orbit. Some said this was the Dark Knight. But it later turned out to be a secret U.S. satellite on a photo-reconnaissance mission.
Next, along came a Scottish sci-fi author, Duncan Lunan, with a mind-boggling theory. Lunan said that the mysterious radio signals picked up by Tesla and later researchers could be a 13,000-year-old space craft orbiting the Moon. Lunan later denied that he was the one who had started the Black Knight story. However, he certainly seems to have contributed to it, even if unwittingly.
Then what the conspiracists considered to the strongest evidence yet that the Black Knight Satellite exists came along in 1998. A photograph taken during the Space Shuttle’s first flight to the International Space Station showed a mysterious black object suspended in space in the background.
And as far as the conspiracists were concerned this was it, an actual photograph taken by a NASA space mission of the Black Knight Satellite. At last, here was definite evidence that there really was a 13,000-year-old satellite from another galaxy circling the Earth.
Sadly for the conspiracists, it turned out that there was in fact an explanation of what the enigmatic object was. Journalist James Oberg, who often writes about space, interviewed Jerry Ross, one of the astronauts who’d been on the mission to the International Space Station.
Far from being the Black Knight Satellite, the object in the photo was a thermal blanket. Ross and a colleague had been on a space walk to fit the blanket around a metal component on the exterior of the space station. They’d lost their grip on the blanket and it had floated off into space. Of course, if you’re determined to believe in the Black Knight Satellite, you can always dismiss this perfectly rational explanation as yet another U.S. government cover-up.