NASA tape re-ignites UFO controversy White specks seen near shuttle

January 03, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

In UFO circles, Don Ratsch is the man who started the latest controversy over whether alien creatures are circling Earth in spaceships.

The 53-year-old truck driver has been intently watching developments in Unidentified Flying Objects since 1966, when a neighbor knocked on his front door one warm summer night and casually asked him if he wanted to see some UFOs.

"I walked outside and looked up, and sure enough, there were two moving, bright objects in the sky that looked like stars," he recounted during a recent interview from his Dundalk home.

"One slowed down to let the other catch up," he said, "and then they sped off."

He started reading about UFOs. In 1970, he chaired a symposium on the subject in Baltimore. He belongs to the Mutual UFO Network, which has 4,000 members.

In September 1991, he was watching the Dundalk Community College station on Comcast cable. The college's satellite dish can pick up signals from NASA. On this particular night, the station showed pictures taken from the shuttle Discovery, which was circling 355 miles above Earth.

Mr. Ratsch noticed two white dots (on Mr. Ratsch's oversize TV screen they were about the size of a large match head) moving on a straight line from right to left between the shuttle and Earth.

They moved rapidly across the screen, made a sudden, sharp right turn and disappeared over the horizon. A split-second later, they were followed by a streak of white light.

Mr. Ratsch thought this unusual. He made copies and sent them to his UFO club and to Vincent DiPietro, an engineer at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt. Both parties also thought this was unusual.

As the tapes circulated, they started attracting the attention of the media. Last June, "Hard Copy," a syndicated TV program, showed the film. That same month, Larry King featured the tape on his CNN show and produced two experts to argue the pros and cons of the two white dots and their hard-angle turn. In July, Channel 45 interviewed Mr. Ratsch.

Mr. Ratsch and others believe the white dots represent UFOs; the white streaks are "star wars" weapons the U.S. military fired at the UFOs.

NASA says the dots are debris from the space shuttle, and are only a few feet from the shuttle's cameras. The dots took their sudden right-angle turn when the shuttle fired its thrusters to change direction and pushed them into a right angle.

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