SETI bioastro: Distortions and misconceptions over "space fireflies"

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Thu Apr 20 2000 - 10:21:45 PDT

Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 09:50:28 EDT
Subject: Re: Distortions and misconceptions over "space fireflies"
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Circluated for comments and posting, as you please.


DATE: April 19, 2000

ITEM: Mistreatment of Carpenter words and opinions regarding John Glenn's
"fireflies" in "Smoking Gun" video and magazine article.

1. Narrator (~6 minutes into tape) refers to "curious anomalous objects in
orbit around earth", continues: "John Glenn likened them to fireflies, and
for a time, NASA actually believed they had stumbled across living critters,
according to one of its retired astrronauts, Scott Carpenter."

2. Stubbs on same tape at 44:30: "We have an astronaut making the comment, on
the 25th anniversary of the moon flight. He says, it's hard to believe, but
he says it's a FACT that we thought that John's fireflies -- again, Glenn's
fireflies -- were living critters. Now at no time -- I've read everything --
at no time have I ever heard that before, that NASA concluded originally that
the fireflies were alive."

3. Magazine article, March-April 2000, p. 8, account of Stubbs's comments:
"And we have an astronaut making a comment on the 25th anniversary of the
Moon flight where he says, 'It's hard to believe, but it's a fact, that we
thought that John's fireflies were living critters'." [JimO: Note quotation

4. Oberg's original note (March 20): refers to 'preposterous' allegation that
astronaut Scott Carpenter 'admitted' that NASA for a long time thought that
the 'fireflies' that Glenn reported were 'living things'. I called it "a
silly idea -- that Carpenter would say such a thing", and asked for
documentation outside of somebody's vivid imagination.

5. Reply from Callaghan, March 21: we will "respond with the video
documentation that is absolutely proof positive that what we claimed was said
is the truth, and nothing but the truth."

6. Carpenter's actual quotation, as subsequently posted at ufomag website:
"It's hard to realize this now, there were so many unknowns in the early
days, and this is a fact of the matter, we were really not sure, after John
flew, whether or not there were critters, living critters up there somewhere."

7. Oberg responded that "the tape segment allegedly proving this is pitifully
ambiguous, doesn't even mention the fireflies, so I suggest it was

8. UFOMAG's reply: "[Oberg] challenged that we couldn't produce any evidence
to support our quotation of Scott Carpenter. We did, and [Oberg] conceded the
fact. Suggest [he] put that one to bed."

9. Not hardly! To repeat, Carpenter's posted quote in paragraph 3 (note that
the transcript is not posted on the site, just the WAV file for playing,
which is a lot harder for most visitors) does not mention 'fireflies' at all,
and states NOT that people 'thought', 'believed', or 'concluded' anything,
but that they were not sure one way or the other about life in space
somewhere. The alleged quotation (paragraph 3) as printed in the magazine
inside quotation marks is clearly fraudulent and UFOMAG's stubborn
misrepresentation of it is indefensible on rational grounds.

10. As for the big picture, aside from any genuine perplexity about the
phenomenon at the time it occurred, NASA very quickly realized that the dots
were ice particles coming from the spacecraft's water spray boiler, which
discarded waste heat from the avionics (the space shuttle has a similar unit,
called a 'Flash Evaporator', mounted at the base of the tail). Carpenter
himself confirmed this a few months later when on his flight he was able to
create swarms of 'fireflies' by banging on the side of his capsule, where the
water spray boiler was located. The observed motion of the particles, falling
below and pulling ahead of the spacecraft, was exactly what is expected from
high-drag low-mass ice crystals. Today there is absolutely no basis in
reality to honestly portray the phenomenon as in any way mysterious.

KSC Project Mercury Web site URL:

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