Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine

June-July '91



In 1976 the Viking 1 orbiter. flying some 1,100 miles above Mars, photographed a region called Cydonia. Close inspection of one frame revealed what looked like a human face gazing soulfully into eternity. A Viking project scientist showed the image to the press, dismissed it as a trick of light and shadow, and the Face On Mars was forgotten-for a while.

Three years later, Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar. computer imaging specialists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, analyzed a computer enhancement of The Face and decided it merited a serious look. Science raspberried them, but it was too late. A new subculture had been born. Today. two groups-the Mars Project in

Santa Cruz, California, and the Mars Mission in Wytheville, Virginiaexist solely to push the idea that The Face and nearby structures may be monuments left by a long-vanished intelligent civilization.

Of the two groups, the latter, founded by science writer Richard Hoagland, is the more energetic. Hoagland wants NASA to reshoot Cydonia when the Mars Observer returns to the planet in 1993, and he pursues this vision with zeal reminiscent of Burt Lancaster in The Rainmaker. Like many people involved in missionary work on behalf of fringe topics, Hoagland believes he's being thwarted by higher-ups intent on muffling the truth. In this case, the higher-ups are

at NASA. In a 1989 letter to Representative Robert Roe, then

chairman of the House Committee on Science. Space, and Technology, Hoagland charged that "political obstacles, within...NASA have blocked serious consideration of this evidence for 13 Years." The latest alleged outrage involves the cancellation of a documentary called "Hoagland's Mars" at was produced by NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hoagland's version of what happened goes like this:

In March 1990 he was invited to speak to a group of Lewis employees. During that visit, Lynn Bondurant, educational programs chief, interviewed him about The Face with a documentary in mind. Hoagland was pleased to learn that Bondurant would "give our work a fair airing, putting it in context of the history of Mars explorations." The program was scheduled for a January 6, 1991 satellite transmission for PBS stations, says Hoagland, when NASA "pulled the plug." Why? Because "the planetary science community hit the roof. They were absolutely furious that this subject was going to be legitimized." Now, Hoagland says, the program is being recut to "put me in the same camp as Percival Lowell-as a well-meaning buffoon."

A source close to the production says the program is being revised "to present other views on The Face." That's probably a good idea, because the script I have doesn't present the full pageantry of Hoagland's ideas. It covers his belief that the arrangement of The Face and surrounding structures reveals encoded mathematical constants, but it fails to mention his wilder extrapolations. Hoagland and geomorphologist Erol Torun argue in a self-published paper that the constants give a startling insight into planetary physics. The theorizing gets pretty dense: "The 'tetrahedral geometry' revealing an equivalent higher-order mathematical topology: i.e., a vorticular 'two-torus' energy flow...."

The bottom line is this: the entities who built Cydonia were trying to tell the universe about a "new physics" that may involve "a hitherto unknown relationship between two of the four basic forces of the Universe-gravity and electromagnetism: i.e., a 'Unified Field.'"

Coincidentally, the miracle math of Cydonia comes into play in a minddevice called the N-Machine, which Hoagland enthusiastically promotes. Invented by physicist Bruce de Palma (brother of Hollywood director Brian), the N-Machine, as Hoagland puts it, "generates more energy out of the interaction between 'space' and the hi-speed rotation of a spinning mass than [is] required by the motors that mechanically rotate those masses." Hoagland dares to say that from which most physicists recoil: "We may be talking about energy coming from nothing." He has been flogging this miracle device on "For The People." an overheated radio talk show in Cedar Key, Florida Hoagland and Chuck Harder. the show's host. get pretty imaginative. After cancellation of "Hoagland's Mars," Harder said, "I gotta believe one of the reasons...'Hoagland's Mars' has been put on ice has got to be because of the Middle East thing.... Once your program would be transmitted...the press would jump on it, and it might steal some of the thunder from Bush's 'project.'"

Hoagland replied. "Well, it's even more disturbing than that.... 'Hoagland's Mars' is the opening gun to a whole new way of life that taps a virtually inexhaustible energy source for the benefit of mankind. We are about to go to war...over a resource that is really useless."

Hoagland: buffoon or Einstein of the 1990s? Only time will tell. For those wanting a closer look, Hoagland's own version of "Hoagland's Mars" -with all the theories-is available from Curley and Company, Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

-Alex Heard