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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: It's February eighth, 1956, and this just in. Soviet intelligence is reporting the sighting of several spacecraft over the USSR. The Soviet news agency TASS says the unmanned craft look like large teardrop-shaped objects. Cameras and radio equipment have been found on board, along with measuring devices and controls. Soviet officials claim the vehicles are U.S. spy satellites. But a spokesman at the U.S. State Department termed the whole affair a, quote, "mystery wrapped in an enigma."

Well, as it turns out, all the fuss was about a bunch of weather balloons.

(Music up and under: The Fifth Dimension: "Come Fly Away In My Beautiful Balloon")

CURWOOD: The project, affectionately called "Moby Dick," was meant to record climate changes around the world. But forty-five years ago, the Russians wouldn't buy it. And to avoid a confrontation, the U.S. eventually banned launches of the balloons over Soviet territory. Now that the Cold War has thawed, weather balloons are launched twice a day from more than a thousand sites around the world, including the former Soviet Union. The helium-filled balloons can cover 250 miles and reach heights of 90,000 feet before they burst and send recording devices parachuting to the ground. Russians, by the way, aren't the only ones to mistake weather balloons for suspicious spacecraft. Each year, hundreds of U.S. citizens report seeing UFOs that turn out to be weather balloons.

(Music up and under: Mark Snow, "The X-Files Theme")

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

(Music up and under: Mark Snow, "The X-Files Theme")



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