CCNet 47/2001 - 26 March 2001

"I do not believe that any claim made by Mr. Gregory Nemitz or
anybody else - including the sales by the hitherto respectable Archimedes
Institute of parcels of lunar land that they do not own in the first
place - will be recognized internationally until or unless Mr Nimitz or
the representatives of the Archimedes Institute can prove that they have
first settled the land in question, and that they have regular vehicles
travelling to and from it. This may all seem a far cry from the business of
the Cambridge Conference Network, but it must be in our interest to
establish that nobody owns anything they are not settling on and don't
have regular vehicles visiting, otherwise Spaceguard may find itself in
trouble in court if it - or others supported by it - try to deflect
some dangerous body some lunatic claims he owns."
--Andy Nimmo, 26 March 2001

"The smooth deorbiting of Mir drew a mixed reaction, with some
Communists in parliament calling for the ouster of the country's
space chief only to hear the prime minister publicly praise space
officials for engineering a trouble-free demise of Russia's manned
space-exploration program."
--Simon Saradzhyan, Moscow Times, 26 March 2001

"The Space Frontier Foundation called the destruction of the
historic Mir space station an unnecessary waste of a still useful and
historic building in space, and laid the blame for its demise on NASA
Administrator Dan Goldin. The group says the US pressured the Russians and
worked against efforts by Americans who wanted to save the facility.", 23 March 2001

    Michael Paine <>

    Andrea Milani <>

    Moscow Times, 26 March 2001

    Andy Nimmo <>

    E.P. Grondine

    Andy Smith <>

    Michael Paine <>

    Los Angeles Times, 25 March 2001


From Michael Paine <>

From Albuquerque Journal, 25 March 2001

By John J. Lumpkin
Journal Staff Writer

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE - They are not exactly combat astronomers, but
they are part of the military's war effort in space.

At a lonely outpost near Socorro, members of Detachment 1 of the Air Force's
18th Space Surveillance Squadron scan the sky nightly, tracking pinpoints of
light that are satellites in high orbits.

The military observatory is primarily an intelligence-gathering operation,
acknowledged Master Sgt. John "Jabbo" Moore, the detachment's commander. The
site can track foreign military and civilian satellites after they are
launched, giving the United States a clue what other countries are up to in

Because satellites follow specific orbits, all it takes is a set of numbers
and some math to locate them at any given time. The original numbers
describing the orbit of a particular satellite are also easy to get: They
can be derived from the flight path of the rocket or shuttle that put it
into orbit in the first place.

But sometimes the satellites aren't where they are supposed to be. The
original numbers might not be exactly right, creating inaccurate
predictions, or the satellite can fire its thrusters to move to a different
orbit. Because moving into a new orbit spends valuable fuel, satellite
controls rarely take such action lightly.

The detachment's massive optical telescopes are essentially wide-angle
lenses, making it easier to find satellites that have wandered away from
their expected position. The two main telescopes at the site have a 40-inch
aperture and cost around $10 million each. The site has an auxiliary scope
that is less powerful but can examine a wider field of view.

The two big scopes can sense light bouncing off a soccer-ball-sized object
20,000 miles away, making visible just about any significant object in high
orbit, Moore said during a recent tour of the telescope complex.
"You just can't hide a satellite," he said.

Staffing the station are the single master sergeant and 18 civilian computer
operators and technicians, at least one of whom is a rancher from nearby

The complex, which opened in the early 1980s, is one of three "ground-based
electro-optical deep space surveillance" sites, operated by the United
States around the world, giving the military full coverage of the Earth's
sky. The others are on Maui and Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean.

Typically, headquarters in Colorado provide Moore and his crew with a list
of hundreds of high-orbit satellites, from 3,000 to 22,000 miles above the
Earth's surface, to track nightly.

Obsolescence might come for the site when space-based optical sensors are
put into orbit, Moore said.

Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Journal


From Andrea Milani <>

The second issue of Tumbling Stone, the online newsletter, a joint
initiative of NEODyS (me and my coworkers at the University of Pisa and
elsewhere) and the Spaceguard Foundation (A. Carusi and his coworkers at CNR
Roma and elsewhere). The first issue was somewhat experimental, with
some shortcomings (such as: too many papers by myself!), and can be also
inspected from the same site.

The purpose of this initiative is explained in the editorial by Carusi in
the first issue:

"It is dedicated to a better understanding, in the field of
Near-Earth-Objects, of the meaning and importance of announcements
concerning these bodies, their relationships with our planet, and the degree
of hazard they may represent for mankind. We feel that such an information
tool is needed for non-specialists."

Tumbling Stone is an hypertext-style information service, which can be
accessed at the web address

The main idea is to make the concepts of NEO science accessible, by
providing news and comments written by a collaboration between professional
scientists and science journalists, by providing a dictionary of technical
terms, links to other sites, images and graphics illustrations, etc.

Comments and contributions are welcome; please write either to me, or to
Carusi or to <>.

Yours Andrea Milani


From Moscow Times, 26 March 2001

Anger and Praise Greet Mir's Successful Deorbit

By Simon Saradzhyan

Staff Writer KOROLYOV, Moscow Region - The smooth deorbiting of Mir drew a
mixed reaction, with some Communists in parliament calling for the ouster of
the country's space chief only to hear the prime minister publicly praise
space officials for engineering a trouble-free demise of Russia's manned
space-exploration program.

Retired cosmonauts Vitaly Sevastyanov and Svetlana Savitskaya joined with a
third Communist deputy to demand that President Vladimir Putin immediately
sack Russian Aviation and Space Agency chief Yury Koptev over the deorbiting
of Mir.

The 15-year old station could have continued its flight at least until 2002
if the government had not made a "political decision" to sink it, the three
wrote in a draft resolution they intended to submit to the State Duma.

The decision was lobbied for by Koptev, who "misled" the government on the
feasibility of extending Mir's life and thus should bear personal
responsibility for its "early liquidation," according to the resolution.

It ends with a call to the president and government to have Russia
participate in the international space station "on a commercial basis" while
diverting the state's ISS funds to build another Russian station.

Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov chose to ignore the appeal of the
Duma's angry champions of the perished station.

"Kasyanov has expressed satisfaction that the operation went well ... and in
accordance with the deadline set by the government," the prime minister's
press secretary Tatyana Razbash told reporters in Moscow on Friday.

Supporters of Mir failed in their attempt to engineer a nationwide
commemorative action Friday. The Moscow-based Mir support foundation, of
which Savitskaya is a senior member, had called upon Russians to observe a
minute of silence at 10 a.m., about an hour after Mir fell to Earth.

The foundation appealed to Moscow's leading radio stations to observe this
minute of silence while calling on drivers across Russia to honk their

None of five radio stations monitored Friday morning observed the minute of
silence, and no cars honked as they roared past a turn leading to Mission
Control in Korolyov
Copyright 2001, Moscow Times



From Andy Nimmo <>

Dear Dr Peiser,


While I am no kind of lawyer, as President of Europe's longest running
space-politics group, the Space Settlers' Society, as you'll appreciate, I
have to keep some sort of eye on what is happening in that field. Back in
December 1999 I was asked to address ASTRA, the Association in
Scotland To Research into Astronautics, on the question of ownership of
off-Earth territory. Regarding Mr. Gregory Nemitz's claim to own Eros - and
indeed, anyone else's claim to own anywhere else off Earth, the following
extract of my talk at that time, may be of some interest:


According to Alan Wasser, a member of the Boards of Directors of the
National Space Society and the US based space activist group ProSpace, in an
article on a new US law it would seem that he is proposing, entitled, "How
To Get Private Enterprise To Pay For Permanent Space Settlements" the main
distinction between the Outer Space Treaty of the 60s and the UN Moon Treaty
of the 70s & 80s, is that the Outer Space Treaty specifically prohibits
nations on Earth from claiming sovereignty over space locations or objects
in such locations off Earth, while it is the Moon Treaty which prohibits
private property in these locations.

Accordingly, if you are a citizen of a nation that signed the Outer Space
Treaty but didn't sign the Moon Treaty, such as UK, US, Russia, China or
Japan, your nation may not be able to go grab a piece of Moon, but you can,
as an individual.

He says, "While the U.S. cannot grant land ownership in space, it could
grant recognition to a claim, made by a privately funded settlement, of
private land ownership around its base."

The proposed law would disavow any claim of U.S. sovereignty but direct all
U.S. courts and agencies to immediately grant full legal recognition to a
land claim of up to a specified size made by any private entity which has
established a genuine permanent human space settlement that meets the
specified conditions. Of course, to maintain a permanently inhabited
settlement would require at least one ship going back and forth between the
Earth and the settlement. The most important condition in the law would be
that the settlement, and passage on that ship, must be open to any peaceful
person who is willing to pay for it.

With U.S. recognition of their land ownership, the investors who paid to
establish a settlement (most likely to be a consortium of multi-national
companies) could start recovering their investment by selling sections of
their land, back on Earth, just as soon as the settlement was
established. If the land grant is made large enough, that could represent a
very big incentive, even if the value of each acre of land was not great.

The proposed law calls for recognition of a Lunar claim of up to 600,000
square miles, approximately the size of Alaska, about 4% of the Moon's
surface. At even a very conservative ten dollars per acre, that would be
worth 4 billion dollars. Because of the added cost of getting to Mars, and
its greater size, a Martian claim could be up to 3,600,000 square miles,
roughly the size of the United States, worth 23 billion dollars at even $10
per acre. If that proves insufficient to promote the development of a
privately funded settlement, there is plenty of room to enlarge the grants.

Of course, once a true settlement is established, with regular transport
open to any paying passenger, Lunar or Martian land will be worth much more
than it would be now, when there is no way to reach it.

Once established, a privately funded settlement will have many ways of
producing income, such as selling transport and services to scientists,
explorers and tourists and exporting raw materials and manufactured
products. None of those could justify the cost of developing affordable
human access to space in the first place, but once that is done to win the
prize of the land grant, they will pay the settlement's operating costs and
eventually make a profit. A dozen teams are competing for the ten million
dollar X Prize. How many will try for a prize worth at least
four billion dollars?"

He goes on to say,

"Think of private ownership, officially recognized by the U.S. government,
of a claim the size of Alaska, centred on the south pole's crater of
permanently frozen water and the mountain on its shore with the almost
permanently sunlit top, (which Ben Bova, in his wonderful new book
"Moonrise" was kind enough to call "Mt. Wasser"). That would be worth a
fortune even now, with no way to get there. How many times more than that
would such a claim be worth, once there really is a permanent settlement on
the mountain?"

He also says, "Clearly, an internationally recognized private property
regime is urgently needed as soon as possible, but it will be much easier if
the U.S. initiates and administers the process until an international body
is formed to do it, rather than trying to get a new international agreement
first. The legislation urges other countries to adopt similar laws and
guarantees U.S. recognition of claims by citizens of all countries which
agree to reciprocity. It instructs the State Department to try to negotiate
new treaties making the same rules international law. It automatically
defers to any such international agreements as soon as they are ratified by
the U.S. It pledges to defend extra-terrestrial properties by imposing
sanctions against aggressors."

He warns however, "Several people have proposed claim registries, mining
patents and other mini-awards that aren't real ownership but would, in
effect, hold claimants' places in line. But why would we want to give
someone a land grant for some small step and allow them do nothing more for
the next twenty years except stop anyone else who is ready to settle and
develop the land? The existence of a permanently inhabited settlement is the
economic point of no return for development. Only then is it easier to
justify going forward rather than delaying expenditures."

And he concludes, "Some people object to the idea of anyone "owning" land
beyond the Earth because they want it all to be "the common heritage of
mankind". This feeling was much stronger in the days before socialism was
proven to achieve only uniform poverty. In space, too, what no one owns, no
one cares for or develops. Clearly, mankind as a whole would benefit greatly
if private enterprise developed cheap human access to space and offered it
to any peaceful person willing to pay a fair price for it, regardless of
nationality. It is well worth making ownership of a mere 4% of the Moon's
surface a prize for doing that."

The main problem I see in this is that it could cost 4 billion dollars to
set up that initial settlement on the Moon, with a ship travelling to and
fro between it and Earth. The Martian proposition sounds a lot better. A
settlement on Mars the size of the United States could well justify even the
greater expense of initial settlement, as the ship going to and fro from
Earth could be put in an inexpensive cyclic orbit, whereby the ongoing
running costs would become negligible.


So far as I am aware, that law hasn't yet been enacted, however even if it
has, I do not believe that any claim made by Mr. Gregory Nemitz or anybody
else - including the sales by the hitherto respectable Archimedes Institute
of parcels of lunar land that they do not own in the first place - will be
recognized internationally until or unless Mr Nimitz or the representatives
of the Archimedes Institute can prove that they have first settled the land
in question, and that they have regular vehicles travelling to and from it.

This may all seem a far cry from the business of the Cambridge Conference
Network, but it must be in our interest to establish that nobody owns
anything they are not settling on and don't have regular vehicles visiting,
otherwise Spaceguard may find itself in trouble in court if it - or others
supported by it - try to deflect some dangerous body some lunatic claims he
owns. No matter if his claims are groundless, the legal delay could be fatal
in enormous measure.

Best wishes,
Andy Nimmo


From E.P. Grondine

Hello Benny -

I read Peter Snow's notes on Maori impact legends with great interest, and
I'm sure all CC participants are very thankful for his sharing with us his
work in this area.  I hope that we will soon be able to see the legends in
full, perhaps as an essay for the CC.

A cautionary note is in order, though, to those working with impact myths in
general. When first working on these impact tales it is tempting to lump
legends together. (This is something I know all too well from experience.)
The sad truth is that there are likely to be  memories of at
least several separate major impact events remaining in any peoples'
culture. Add in the transmission problems, the recording problems, the later
revisions and editions, and the task of sorting them out becomes difficult
in the extreme.

Peter's note, for which I am most thankful, provides an immediate case in
point. He notes that the Maori associated at least one Earth impact event
with a lunar impact as well, and I repeat those parts of his note here to
speed the discussion along:

"One poem and one dirge exists which relate the destruction of the
Moa Hunter culture with the splitting of the horns of the moon which
fell to earth causing this mayhem. Rock art exists today which depicts
men fleeing from falling chevrons, which have the horns of the chevron
split. A further petroglyph exists which shows a man hands upheld in fear
looking at a new moon with the lower horn of the moon split (We tend
to walk upside down here in the antipodes).

"Other motif or logo type petroglyphs exist which support a
catastrophe. I will describe one, which depicts a Lizard on a crescent,
on a crescent with a split horn. The lizard is the representational form of
the God Tumokomoko, the god of starvation, death, and devastation; the new
moon represents the God of Evil, Whiro; and both of these influential gods
then rest on a crescent with one of its horns split."

Peter currently associates these with the 1178 CE lunar impact, but similar
tales associating an Earth impact event with a lunar impact exist among the
peoples of South America, and were noted to the Conference by Bob Kobres a
while back. Again, to speed the discussion along, I repeat that part of
Bob's note here:


"The people were all sound asleep. It was midnight when an Indian
noticed that the moon was taking on a reddish hue. He awoke the
others, "The Moon is about to be eaten by an animal." The animals preying
on the Moon were Jaguars, but these Jaguars were spirits of the dead.
The people shouted and yelled. They beat their wooden mortars like drums,
they thrashed their dogs, and some shot at random with their guns. They
were making as much noise as they could to scare the Jaguars and force
them to let go their prey. Fragments of the Moon fell down upon the
earth and started a big fire.

"From these fragments the entire earth caught on fire. The fire was
so large that the people could not escape. Men and women ran to the
lagoons covered with bulrushes. Those who were late were overtaken by
the fire. The water was boiling, but not where the bulrushes grew. Those
who were in places not covered with bulrushes died and there most of the
people were burnt alive.

"After everything had been destroyed the fire stopped. Decayed
corpses of children floated on the water. A big wind and a rain storm
broke out. The dead were changed into birds. The large birds came out
from corpses of adults, and small ones from the bodies of children.


"Long ago Moon was attacked and wounded, and thus the Great Fire
originated. As soon as people noticed blood on Moon, they started to chant
and to shout and they struck their dogs to make them bark. Men
discharged their rifles in the hope that the monster which was preying on
Moon would be frightened and relinquish his prey, but all this was of no
avail. Moon was far away and his weapons broke because his spear and his
club were carved of soft yuchan wood (Chorisia insignis) instead of
hard palo mataco (Achatocarpus praecox).

"A fragment of Moon fell down and caused a fire. Everyone rushed to
a lagoon where abundant bulrushes grew. As the fire was spreading
over the surface of the earth burning the grass and the trees,
people entered the lagoon. Those who had taken refuge among the bulrushes
were saved, but those who had remained in the open places perished in the
boiling water.


"Sun (ahewa) is a big, fat woman who walks across the sky and every
evening enters a fissure between the sky and the earth. At the time
of the winter solstice she [Sun] is a young swift-moving girl. As a
result, days are short. At the summer solstice she is an old woman who
walks slowly and with difficulty. That is why summer days are long and why
the Sun disappears late.

"Moon (aworc'k) is a pot-bellied man whose bluish intestines can be
seen through his skin. His [Moon's] enemy is a spirit of death, the
celestial Jaguar. Now and then the Jaguar springs up to devour him.
Moon defends himself with a spear tipped with a head carved of the soft
wood of the bottletree (yuchan, Chorisia insignis), which breaks at the
first impact. He also has a club made of the same wood which is too light
to cause any harm.

"The Jaguar tears at his [Moon's] body, pieces of which fall on the
earth. These are the meteors, which three times have caused a world fire.
The bloody Moon is almost entirely devoured by Jaguar. Men, however,
are afraid, and they beat their drums, strike their dogs, shout, and
make all possible noise to frighten the celestial Jaguar and force him to
relinquish his prey. Finally, he weakens and Moon can disentangle himself
from his grip. Moon seizes his weapons and puts Jaguar to flight. After a
little while, Moon grows and again becomes a pot-bellied man. The eclipse
is over. Jaguar also bears a grudge against Sun, but Sun's weapons are
made of iron and she is fearless."

So we have here another set of tales relating lunar impact to Earth impact,
but these tales  coming from locations far removed from Peter's hypothesized
viewing area for the 1178 CE event.

Some preliminary comments on the South American tales are in order. The
introduction of guns is clearly a later (post European contact) addition to
the South American tales. Bruce Masse and Bob Kobres both see these tales as
associated with the Rio Cuarto event (ca. 2100 BCE), while Oscar Alfredo
Turone of the Asociacion Hatum Pampa has collected similar tales from the
Wichi and Vilela tribes of Chaco, and associates the tales with the later
Campo de Cielo impact event (ca. 2000 BCE); Masse, on the other hand, has
collected similar tales from throughout South America.  To my knowledge the
problem of association is currently unsolvable, as little is known about the
emigration of peoples into the region following its devastation in the Rio
Cuarto impact event, but perhaps this problem may yield to future analysis.
For the time being I note that one of these myths distinctly relates that
there were 3 major impact events, but in at least 2 of the cases the
association of Earth impact and lunar impact precedes 1178 CE by several

Trying to get further clues in a different direction, one faces the problem
of identifying the constellation Jaguar. Here you end up in working with
ancient astronomical systems and their transmission and development, and I
must frankly admit to having absolutely no skill with those of the Pacific,
South American, and Central American cultures.  It was suggested to me that
Jaguar might be Cetus, but another person pointed out that in that case
there was no intersection with the Moon.  If anybody here has any idea of
what the situation being described in the South American tales actually was
I would certainly enjoy hearing about it.

About the only other things I can add to the analysis of these tales at this
point is that it is clear that there were trans-Pacific contacts (even
though the lizard and jaguar are distinctly different); somewhere there are
probably detailed records and analysis of South American and Central
American astronomical systems; the Bishop Museum in Hawaii has detailed
records and studies of Pacific astronomical systems; and I would be
delighted if someone were to pick up the tab for a trip to Hawaii so that I
could access the Bishop Museum's materials.

Finally, for New Zealand, there were impact tsunami and there were impact
fires, and you have the problem of the memories of separate impact events
being joined together as they were handed down over the ages; without the
tales in full at hand, it is impossible to sort them out. Add in the need
for the study of tsunami remains and their dating, and the recovery of
Carbon 14 datable material from the petroglyph sites, etc. -  It all sounds
familiar: masses of scattered material, the need for specialists to work
with it, and no money - I'm pretty sure that Peter, like nearly everyone
else studying historical impact events, is subsidizing his research out of
his own pocket, and I'm also pretty sure that the elected leaders of the
government of New Zealand have little idea of the hazard to them posed by

In closing, I want to emphasize that perhaps if we had the original Maori
tales at hand it would be possible for us collectively to form a better
estimate of exactly what occured, and when, by each of us bringing our
separate skills to bear on the problem.  While it is not clear whether the
event(s) involved an impact on the Moon and the ejection of debris from the
Moon to the Earth, or if it (they?) involved the simultaneous impact of a
fragmented impactor, from a first look it seems that our Russian colleagues
were quite right in raising the issue of the consequences of future lunar
impacts for us here on the Earth .



From Andy Smith <>

Hello Benny and CCNet,


We appreciate the quality of the technical effort associated with the
retirement and burial of MIR and we share in the World's regret, for the
loss of this outstanding and pioneering system.

We were so impressed with the way this activity was conducted that we are
adding impact prediction to our list of important asteroid/comet emergency
(ACE) preparedness technologies. We are especially interested in how impact
prediction accuracy is related to warning-time or time-to-impact. The better
and the earlier we are able to make these predictions, the more time we will
have for the emergency evacuation of the impact zone(s). Input to CCNet, on
this, would be very useful.


When we first learned of the recommendation, by the U.S. National Research
Council (NRC), to include this impressive 6.5 Meter, wide-angle (3 degree)
instrument, as a priority  "major initiative" for this decade, we were
impressed and delighted. This instrument could reduce the time required to
find most of the 100,000 or so NEO (larger than 300 meters) from about 300
years (our present forcast) to about one decade. The report (Astronomy and
Astrophysics in the New Millennium) can be found at:

The priorities and costs are discussed in the Recommendations (page 37,
etc.). The analysis is
summarized, starting on about page 60. The entire report is on the Web.

Unfortunately, the priority, for this important item, has fallen from #2 to
#5, on the list of 7 major initiatives (page 37). The highest priority has
been given to the Next Generation Space Telescope ($1 Billion price tag).

We think it is important to build at least one of these STAT or LSST
facilities, as soon as possible, and it clearly should be used, largely, for
NEO hunting...during the critical first decade of system life.

With the support of the existing and outstanding asteroid/comet hunting
teams and facilities and a good orbiting system, we could make a major
improvement in the level of planetary protection and emergency readiness.
RAMA is out there and coming...without doubt.

We feel the facility should be an open international facility. We will ask
our legislative friends to support this budget item and we encourage all
CCNet participants to do the same. It is our understanding that preliminary
sighting and design efforts are underway.


We are making progress in organizing the AC presentations and panel
discussions for the
International Space Development Conference (ISDC2001), the SPACE2001 and the
SPACE2002 conferences. These meetings will be held here in Albuquerque, in
May and August of 2001, and in March of 2002, respectively.

The workshops are intended to provide information to the global technical
and policy-making communities and to the public. We are also seeking to
advance the open discussion of planetary protection.

The Planetary Protection Alliance (PPA), now being formed, will hold
business meetings, at each of these conferences. The May meeting will be
held in the Hilton Hotel Conference Room, starting at 2 PM on Monday, 28 May
2001. It will follow the ISDC2001 sessions and meetings. Agenda items are
invited and the meetings will be open to all.

While the Alliance will focus most of its' attention on asteroids and
comets, it will also seek to identify and address emergency preparedness for
all extra-terrestrial dangers (gamma irradiation, etc.).

A beautiful pair of 10 foot long mammoth tusks was recently found, here(New
Mexico), and dating and other tests are now underway, by our Natural History
Museum. We are watching closely for connections to the 8,000 BC (approx.)


Andy Smith


From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

Has anyone spoken to Ted Turner about funding for Spaceguard? What is a
"UN-related project"?

Michael Paine

Nature News 22 Mar 2001

Coral campaign gets massive funding boost
[WASHINGTON] The International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), which
campaigns to protect coral reefs, received a $10 million grant from Ted
Turner's United Nations Foundation (UNF) last week. ICRAN - a coalition of
academic, private and government organizations - intends to use the money to
fund sites for demonstrating coral-reef management in the Caribbean, East
Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific. Educational programmes based at
these sites will provide information on conservation practices in the hope
of reversing the worldwide decline of coral reefs. The UNF was created in
1997 to distribute the $1 billion pledged by entertainment mogul Turner for
United Nations-related projects. This is its largest environmental donation
to date.


From Los Angeles Times, 25 March 2001

By MYRNA OLIVER, Times Staff Writer

"We have studied the Earth," he assured anybody who would listen, "and found
it flat." That plane Earth, he insisted, is of unknown dimensions, a disc
with the North Pole in the center and impenetrable Arctic ice 150 feet high
all the way around. The sun and moon, each 32 miles in diameter, circle the
disc at a steady height of 3,000 miles, with so-called rising or setting
only an optical illusion.

Charles K. Johnson, irrepressible advocate and president of the
International Flat Earth Society for nearly three decades, has died. He was
76. Johnson died March 19 in Lancaster, near Hi Vista, where he had moved
the iconoclastic society's headquarters in 1972 after he succeeded the late
Samuel Shenton of Dover, England, in the presidency.

The ever-quotable Johnson also wrote and published the entertaining if
somewhat eccentric Flat Earth News, which once boasted 3,500 subscribers.

His Flat Earth Society has ambiguous historical roots but is in spirit
related to the Universal Zetetic (investigative) Society founded in England
in 1832 by Sir Birley Rowbotham, who wrote "Earth Not a Globe." Advocates
have traditionally used carefully chosen Bible passages to substantiate
their assertions, supplemented by purportedly scientific observations of
bodies of water.

About 1888, England's Sir Walter de Sodington Blount and his wife made a
series of experiments on a canal called Old Bedford Level, proving, they
said, that the Earth had no curvature. Almost a century later, Johnson and
his late Australian-born wife and chief adjunct, Marjory, checked the
surfaces of Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea. Like the Blounts, they couldn't
see any curve either, thus reassuring themselves that the Earth is flat.

Johnson was 8 and living in San Angelo, Texas, when he made his commitment
to the flat Earth theory. He spun a globe in his class, concluded that what
his textbook said about gravitation was absurd and gazed at a nearby lake,
observing no curve.

"Obviously water's flat, isn't it?" he said in a Times interview in 1992.
"They're trying to tell you this water's bent!"

Asked why don't people fall off if the Earth if flat, Johnson would
patiently explain, "There is no edge. As far as we know, it's endless."
"Australians," he once elaborated in the Flat Earth News, "do not hang by
their feet underneath the world!"

Before moving 20 miles east of Lancaster to a Mojave Desert cabin with its
own generator and water tank, Johnson had worked 25 years as an airplane
mechanic in San Francisco. He ran the Flat Earth Society within a figurative
stone's throw of Edwards Air Force Base, a crucible for National Aeronautics
and Space Administration programs.

But he was unfazed by aeronautics or the space program. He discounted filmed
walks on the moon beginning with Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind"
on July 20, 1969, snorting: "Anyone flying that far would freeze to death."
Johnson insisted that the moon missions and the whole space program were a
hoax scripted by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and filmed at
Meteor Crater in Arizona.

When the space shuttle Columbia first landed next door at Edwards in 1981,
he scoffed: "This airplane landed, but it's just a simple, stupid old
airplane carried piggyback and dropped over Lancaster. . . . It hasn't
orbited the Earth--that we know."

Just as glibly, Johnson dismissed the scientists who first convinced human
beings that they were clinging to a spinning globe: Polish astronomer
Nicolaus Copernicus, who 500 years ago theorized that the planets revolve
around the sun and that the global Earth turns on its axis; Italian
astronomer Galileo Galilei, who used a telescope to prove that Copernicus
knew what he was talking about; and England's philosopher mathematician Sir
Isaac Newton, who established the laws of gravity and motion.

"Scientists consist of the same old gang of witch doctors, sorcerers,
tellers of tales, the 'priest-entertainers' for the common people," Johnson
said in the Flat Earth News. " 'Science' consists of a weird, way-out occult
concoction of gibberish theory-theology . . . unrelated to the real world of
facts, technology and inventions, tall buildings and fast cars, airplanes
and other real and good things in life."

To the surprise of most historians, Johnson had his own list of flat Earth
believers. "Moses was a flat-Earther," he said in several interviews. "The
Flat Earth Society was founded in 1492 BC (biblical scholars date the Exodus
to 1491 BC) when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and gave them
the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai." Presumably, had the Earth been round,
they would have fallen off before reaching the biblical promised land.

Jesus believed in a flat Earth, Johnson said, because he ascended to heaven,
and if the Earth were a ball, "there [would be] no up nor down." Christopher
Columbus was a flat Earth believer too, Johnson told The Times, discussing
events of 1492: "He had enough sense to know that if the world was a ball,
he would have fallen off."

And in the 20th century, Johnson said, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston
Churchill and Josef Stalin all believed in a flat Earth because they
advocated formation of the United Nations and "took the flat Earth map as
their symbol."

Readily welcomed to speak at Antelope Valley chapters of Kiwanis, Rotary and
Elks clubs, the distinguished-looking Johnson was reminiscent of a Marcus
Welby or a well-groomed Ernest Hemingway. His scholarly appearance, coupled
with his fame, landed him a commercial for Dreyer's ice cream.

In 1992, filmmaker Robert Abel interviewed Johnson for an educational
project, concluding he was "obviously a nut" but nevertheless admirable for
his passion and dedication to a principle despite rampant criticism and
ridicule. "It makes you kind of a loner, you know," Johnson told the
filmmaker. "Everyone likes to be liked, but you can't be liked. You have to
make up your mind to do without that . . . because people stay away. . . .
They don't want anything to do with a controversial idea."

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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