My reader Julianne writes to ask if I have covered the “Spaceship Moon” hypothesis. I have not, so, by special request, today I’ll present a brief overview of this and related theories about artificial satellites in our solar system.
Regular readers will remember that in the 1960s, the Soviet Union promoted the ancient astronaut theory as a way of secularizing religion and undermining Western confidence in scientific and religious truths, particularly Western faith in the angels and miracles of Christianity, which could now be read as aliens and high technology. This reached its high point in 1966 when the Soviet scientist I. S. Shklovskii published with Carl Sagan Intelligent Life in the Cosmos (based on Shklovskii’s earlier 1962 work), which speculated about the possibility of ancient astronauts, especially the Babylonian creature Oannes, as reported by Berossus.
Skhlovskii also speculated on another idea: that the second moon of Mars, Phobos, was an artificial satellite. He based this on flawed measurements of the moon’s acceleration, which seemed to indicate that Phobos was so light it had to be hollow and therefore artificial. Correct measurements, taken in 1969, showed this not to be the case. Phobos is, in fact, a natural object, though porous; however, the spaces within the moon are very, very small—most are less than a meter in diameter.
But the artificiality claim for Phobos set other Soviet scientists to thinking. Felix Zeigel (sometimes transliterated as Feliz), a Soviet cosmologist, took to Soviet television in 1967 to argue the case for UFOs, wrote a famous article about the subject, and pressured the Soviet government to investigate the UFO phenomenon. The Soviet government denied this request in 1968 (authorizing a debunking article in a major publication) and began moving away from the extraterrestrial craze at the very same time that Erich von Däniken and Peter Kolosimo were reviving it in the West, largely on the back of Soviet research.
Despite the change in Soviet attitudes toward aliens, researchers Mikhail Vasin and Alexander Shcherbakov published a new speculation in Sputnik magazine (not in a Soviet science journal), the same magazine that famously published Vyacheslav Saizev’s lengthy ancient astronaut article (the one data-mined endlessly by Western ancient astronaut writers) in 1967. This new speculation claimed that the moon was hollow and therefore an extraterrestrial spaceship.
They speculated that the craters of the moon were too shallow for their size and therefore represent meteors breaking through the crust and hitting the twenty-mile-thick hull of a massive internal spaceship. This is, more or less, the only actual evidence they have for a spaceship within the moon. The rest of their “evidence” (the chemical composition and age of moon rocks, etc.) does not provide any direct evidence of the internal conditions of the moon.
Vasin and Shcherbakov explicitly state that Shklovskii—who would very shortly be known to have been wrong about Phobos—was their inspiration for their speculation. Like Shklovskii, they relied on bad data; both seismic data and inertia observations yield calculations showing a solid moon, one perhaps even denser than the earth itself.
Even though Vasin and Shcherbakov were members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, their hypothesis did not find particular favor. That same year, the Soviet Academy of Physics denounced the UFO/ancient astronaut claims of Felix Zeigel as “fables,” signaling that the shift in Soviet attitudes that began in 1968 was complete. The Soviet government would no longer provide official support for fraudulent claims of extraterrestrial beings. After all, if the West—now in thrall to Erich von Däniken and the New Age—was turning to ancient astronauts and un-reason as a way of “saving” the “truth” of religious texts, then the secular, atheist Soviet Union would now take the opposite position. There would be no more Soviet ancient astronauts, lunar spaceships, or artificial Martian moons. Those were the now to be but the fantasies of the decadent West.
The clock struck thirteen, and they had always been at war with East Asia.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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