James Oberg is a NASA
contract engineer who is widely recognized as one of the leading Western authorities on the history of the Soviet
space program and an expert on orbital rendezvous techniques.
In many ways Oberg is the Carl Sagan
of space engineering. He's worked in the trenches at NASA as an engineer (Johnson Space Center
in Houston 1975-1997) but he has a talent for bringing his area of expertise to the masses. He's big, friendly, engaging, and surprisingly telegenic
for an engineer in his fifties. He speaks English, French
, and Russian
and has used his language skills and friendly demeanor
to gain access to the heart of the Russian and European space establishments. He's in the golden rolodex
. He gives testimony before congress. He appears on PBS
, cable news, and the Discovery channel
. He writes for a wide range of publications about space engineering.
Oberg is probably best known for authoring Red Star in Orbit
, a history of the Soviet space effort up until 1981. In 1991, PBS transformed his book in a documentary series. HBO has optioned Red Star in Orbit
for some future made-for-TV miniseries.
Oberg is also a proud, card-carrying member of CSICOP
. He was part of a small maelstrom
of controversy in 2004 when it was revealed NASA had contracted him to write a book that finally takes on the "moon landings were a hoax" crowd. The book was to address the hoax "proof" point by point and showing why the thesis is based on a poor understanding of basic physics.1
Oberg was to be paid $15,000 for the book. Critics felt that if NASA made it an official publication it would give credibility to the hoax theory.2
Oberg himself declared he'd write the book on his own dime.
What's fascinating about Oberg is his involvement as a skeptic in the world of UFO nuts. For years, and to this day, he's been a regular haunt on newsgroups like alt.alien.visitor
. With humor and a vast store of knowledge he takes on the "they're up there!" UFO crowd. It's quite a joy to watch the wild eyed UFO nuts accusing Oberg of being a NASA/CIA stooge
, falsely attributing quotes to him, and generally just raging at someone who not only doesn't share their point of view but does not share it based on a sound body of historical and technical knowledge they lack
. The man has patience. He seems to best the UFO fringe time and time again. It's a joy to watch.
"Why are there no stars in moon photos! Hoax!" "Well, because stars are very faint and when you have to use a fast shutter speed
to take a photo of a shiny moon surface, star light is too faint to show up on the film." "The radiation in the Van Allen belt
is too dangerous! No nuclear safety organization would let a human be exposed to that level of radiation! The astronauts should have been microwaved to death! Hoax!" "Well, yes, the levels can be high and prolonged exposure would be fatal. But a rocket ship goes rather quickly through the belt. Even then the Apollo astronauts were exposed to a solid dose of radiation during their travel. But you know what? They accepted the risks of future cancer as the price to pay for science. So what are your complaints exactly?"
An odd stance considering NASA, in an effort to shut the Face on Mars
Crowd the fuck up, raised the Cydonia
region to Priority One for imaging by the Mars Global Surveyor
. It was the first part of Mars imaged. Then again, when the Mars Global Surveyor's high resolution photos revealed the face to look exactly what geologists
were saying all along, an eroded mountain top, the Mars Face crowd didn't exactly go away. They just spun a series of conspiracies and started "finding" pyramids and cities around the face... So maybe NASA was learning from previous experience. Spending $15,000 on a rational
analysis would settle nothing for those with their minds made up. It would end up making it seem the lunatics are running the asylum
. To get your "science" to the front of the line, all you have to do is shout and pee your pants enough.