Local Folklore, Strange Events & Unsolved Mysteries From Florida's Space Coast

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UFOs Surround Cape Canaveral Rocket Tests- 1961

Since the late 1950s, Brevard has been a place from which humans have reached out from the Earth to outer space.  Aptly known as the Space Coast, even its area code, 321, was given as an homage to the countdown sequence that has seen so many craft launch out toward the stars.

Some believe that, at least on occasion, it may have been reciprocated; that outer space has seen fit to reach back.

Take for instance an account of a mysterious object that appeared during the test launch of a Polaris rocket in January 1961.

The rocket launch began normally enough, at 12:14AM.  Suddenly, alarms at mission control indicated that another object was approaching the rocket at high speed.

640px-Polaris-a3The object took up a position directly beside the rocket, appearing to pace its flight, something approximately as wide in diameter as the rocket was in length.  A much stronger radar target, the tracking devices diverted from the Polaris and locked onto the unidentified object, which was later described by an observer as being disc shaped, 20 to 25 feet across, and 6-8 feet tall.

Radar continued to track the unknown object for about 14 minutes, before it reduced speed and was no longer pacing the rocket.  Finally, it veered away and disappeared from sight.

Later examination of the radar equipment showed there had been no technical failure, the object appeared to have been solid, and under controlled operation.

Only some months later was the incident disclosed by the Air Force to the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, with no official conclusion as to what it might have been.

 

Four months later, another unidentified aerial object orbited a subsequent launch there.

This one appeared at 9:57AM, and was tracked on radar for over 30 minutes, according to reports collected among the files of Project Blue Book.  The object first showed up 60 seconds before the scheduled launching of Polaris missile test #1352, making repeated orbits of several miles around the launch site.

640px-Polaris-a1

Described as “approximately the same size as a C54 aircraft” by a radar operator, it moved at speeds ranging from 150 to 600 knots.  A flight was scrambled to intercept the object, and was able to lock on for two minutes, before “the unknown took evasive action and disappeared, preventing full accomplishment of the intercept.”

One observer stated that “the action of the UFO indicated a current knowledge of the missile launch countdown,” in that it would move beyond the range of radar during periods of hold, and zoom back in when the count was resumed.

Command at Patrick Air Control & Warning believed the unidentified object to have been a foreign aircraft, based on its evasive behavior, but no visual confirmation  was made of exactly what kind of craft it was, if  indeed it was a craft.

Six months later, another potentially anomalous object was reported seen during the test launch of a Titan missile, on September 7.

This object was seen only briefly, ascending vertically across the scope of a tracking camera following the launch of the Titan.  Observed at 8:37PM, the object was only visible to ground operators for a few seconds, but nonetheless considered unusual enough to warrant a report and subsequent attempt at analysis.

Reconstructing its trajectory later, it was determined that the “bogie,” referred to had never been in dangerously close proximity to the Titan, alleviating concerns by personnel who were by that time perhaps growing alarmed by the number of unidentified aerial objects surrounding launches that year.

The official analysis supplied by superiors after the fact was that the object observed was “very probably a star,” specifically Gamma Piscium.

Astronomer and UFO specialist J. Allen Hynek, reviewing the report later, scoffed at this attempt at explanation.

“Gamma Piscium is a relatively faint star, and quite stationary. It is absurd to think that a person professionally qualified to track missile launches would be puzzled by one particular star out of a great many,” wrote Hynek.

 

What was the cause of these repeated reports of unusual and unidentified objects around the launches in Cape Canaveral that year, if in fact they shared a common cause, as opposed to being unrelated incidents with varying explanations?

It has often been observed that sightings of unidentified flying objects seems, over the past century or more, seem frequently to coincide with the site of military activity or the emergence of new technology.  If it were indeed to be consciously operated craft in these instances (as would seem to be the case in at least one if not more of the 1961 incidents at Cape Canaveral) there remain multiple possible interpretations that could be applied:

  • Foreign military/spy craft or equipment
  • U.S. experimental aircraft or technology, classified and unbeknownst to other agencies or departments that may encounter them
  • Extra-terrestial interest in terrestrial military/technological activity
  • Some other unknown

 

Whatever the cause, or whatever your beliefs with regard to the broader subject of Ufology, these incidents remain an interesting sidenote to the early history of Cold-War era missile testing in Florida’s Space Coast.

Sources:

NICAP Files

Project Blue Book

Hynek, J. Allen.  The Hynek UFO Report, Souvenir Press, 1998

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