Guest Column for USA TODAY

July 13, 1988


By Richard C. Hoagland

Humanity has always wondered if it is alone in the Universe. Now, as the USSR launches its most ambitious unmanned mission, we may be on the eve of finding out.

After half a decade of quiet deliberations, the Mars Project -composed of multi-disciplinary scientists representing a broad swath of scientific thinking -- announced last week our initial findings: Some striking, enigmatic objects photographed in 1976 by NASA's unmanned Viking may represent the long-abandoned ruins of an ancient technical society, arrayed across the planet. Because the next NASA craft capable of providing answers to this question is not returning to Mars for five years, we have turned to our Soviet collegues for a possible earlier answer via their current "Phobos" mission to the Martian moons.

Our tentative conclusions have been arrived at only after five years of applying a variety of state-of-the-art analytical techniques, ranging from systems analysis of the inecplicable geometric pattern of the "artifacts" to intensive computer image-enhancements of the objects themselves -- including 3-D digital reconstructions and "fractel" pattern analysis of the most controversial object, a mile-long, 1500-foot high humanoid "face."

The probability that there are actually intelligently designed artifacts lying on the planet Mars is small -- but is not zero! The Soviet Union, via its current Phobos mission, is in a unique position to turn this small probabiity into a stunning confirmation.

The implications of Soviet confirmation of intelligently designed artifacts on a neighboring world, ranging from near-term geopolitical considerations to technological and scientific fallout from examining first -hand possible extraterrestrial structures on another world, only serves to underscore a dismal fact: the present disarray of U.S. space activity and plans.

The USA, out of sheer prudence, must be a player in the game.

Ideally, in keeping with the grand vision that took us to the Moon, we should take an immediate leadership position in verifying our own data.

Or, at least cooperate in some meaningful way with others attempting to verify the Viking photographs. Given the possible consequences of not acting, how is it "scientific" not to look?