Rocketman rumors

By Phil Plait | February 4, 2008 8:37 pm

Final Update, I should think (Feb 5): The story I outline below is almost certainly false. My source, Jonathan McDowell, who runs Jonathon’s Space Report, is a noted expert on satellites, orbits, and such, and he throws the flag on this one. Here is his complete email to me:

Complete nonsense.
As the X-Prize competitors have shown, such a project is not trivial and could not be realistically carried out in secret. Greenland’s not a great site for this anyway. Chinese TV report has not made it onto the wires here. “being successfully tracked” implies still up, which implies orbital, and that’s clearly beyond the state of the billionaire art. No evidence of such an entrepreneur Neil Abraham in a quick google search. Contrast e.g. “Nick Corfield”, “Charles Simonyi”…etc etc.

I conclude, a deliberate and utter fabrication.

I agree with Jonathon. This is some sort of story being spread deliberately. Some people think it has to do with the movie Iron Man, but the characters name in that flick is different. So I’m not sure what this is all about, but I am pretty sure it’s not true.

Update: My source – an expert in these things — has called this story "complete nonsense". I am posting this now to try to stop this from getting bigger; but as yet I do not have permission to use my source’s name. When my source contacts me again, I’ll post more.

There is a rumor going around that an American billionaire has built his own rocket, launched himself into space, and has apparently been lost.

I know nothing beyond the info in that linked article. It sounds ridiculous, but years ago there was a guy who was planning on doing just such a thing (though he was not a billionaire). I have serious doubts, of course, but I have some friends who may know more about this, and I’ve sent out email. When I get more info, I’ll post it here. If any BABloggees have heard anything, let me know! Leave a comment here.

Edited to add: It occurs to me that the website linked has the URL of memes.org, so I wonder if this is a fake story designed to see how rumors spread. Well, I noted above that it sounds like baloney to me, and I have feelers out to track anything down. Maybe, if this is a joke, we can staunch it quickly. :-)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Time Sink

Comments (59)

  1. Well, there’s a Dr. Neil Abraham who’s all into quantum physics at DePauw … but if he got his B.S. in 1972, he’s probably not 67, and I don’t know any billionaire physics profs.

    http://www.depauw.edu/acad/physics/abraham.asp

  2. Gary Ansorge

    I expect, between the early warning systems of the USA, Russia, China, Great Britain and France, if there was ANY rocket going up that had not previously been announced, they would certainly know about it,,,and the possibility of such was one reason the US put so many road blocks in the way of commercial space craft manufacturers. They just didn’t want anyone to have the capability of launching anything that might possibly be ,,,misused.

    GAry 7

  3. Matt N

    “Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.”

    ….Sorry, it had to be said.

    Likewise, I suspect any unauthorized rocket launch would have created a much bigger stir across this country and others.

  4. Hm, one of the commenters said they bookmarked the following URL last week:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/strange/mysterious-greenland-rocket-launch-causes-havoc

  5. Ian

    Googling for the DoD statement turns up nothing, which isn’t a favorable sign.

    Jamie: Is there any reason to think that URL ever actually linked to anything?

  6. Geoff

    I just checked DePauw’s student newspaper and found no word of any missing teacher, let alone a physics professor in space… I call hoax.

  7. Gary F

    I was just looking at Google Maps, looking for the rocket base that’s supposedly in Greenland, and I found this strange looking feature. What could cause this?

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=50.6%C2%B0W,+67.0%C2%B0N&ie=UTF8&ll=66.999129,-50.604883&spn=0.002691,0.010042&t=h&z=17&om=0

  8. Gary F

    Apparently there’s a base in Greenland from which sounding rockets have been launched in the past, called Sondre Stromfjord. Wikipedia gives its coordinates as 67°00?38?N 50°42?33?W. Rocket launches are recorded on Wikipedia dating as late as 1987. I put the coordinates into Google Maps to get the following link, you can see airstrips and some buildings.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=67%C2%B000%E2%80%B238%E2%80%B3N+50%C2%B042%E2%80%B233%E2%80%B3W&ie=UTF8&ll=67.012574,-50.696433&spn=0.00538,0.020084&t=h&z=16&om=0

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sondre_Stromfjord

  9. chris rattis

    Google’s News archives have nothing other than second site reposting the same article that Phil linked to.

    Gary F,
    To me, it looks like an impact point. I’m definitely going to show that to my gf later, since she has a Masters in Geology.

  10. Gary F

    Apparently there’s a base in Greenland from which sounding rockets have been launched in the past, called Sondre Stromfjord. Wikipedia gives its coordinates as 67°00?38?N 50°42?33?W. Rocket launches are recorded on Wikipedia dating as late as 1987. I put the coordinates into Google Maps to get the following link, you can see airstrips and some buildings.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=67%C2%B000%E2%80%B238%E2%80%B3N+50%C2%B042%E2%80%B233%E2%80%B3W&ie=UTF8&ll=67.012574,-50.696433&spn=0.00538,0.020084&t=h&z=16&om=0

  11. Veron

    I think there’s confusion about the television broadcasts from a few weeks back because the European stations were saying that some kind of armageddon cult had launched a rocket apparently with someone on board from an abandoned facility in greenland….But then suddenly the reports just vanished….and a few days after that, chinese state television started complaining about an illegal launch by the americans but in a different location. But it seems to me that the GPS coordinates are the same, but someone can’t read. lol

  12. Gary F

    Apparently there’s a base in Greenland from which sounding rockets have been launched in the past, called Sondre Stromfjord. Wikipedia gives its coordinates as 67°00?38?N 50°42?33?W. Rocket launches are recorded on Wikipedia dating as late as 1987. I put the coordinates into Google Maps to get the following link, you can see airstrips and some buildings.

    http://tinyurl.com/24c9xg

  13. DaveS

    Wouldn’t Greenland be a relatively horrible place for a space shot?

  14. Gary F

    Apparently there’s a base in Greenland from which sounding rockets have been launched in the past, called Sondre Stromfjord. Wikipedia gives its coordinates as 67*00?38?N 50*42?33?W. Rocket launches are recorded on Wikipedia dating as late as 1987. I put the coordinates into Google Maps to get the following link, you can see airstrips and some buildings.

    http://tinyurl.com/24c9xg

  15. Gary F

    Apparently there’s a base in Greenland from which sounding rockets have been launched in the past, called Kangerlussuaq. Wikipedia gives its coordinates as 67*00?38?N 50*42?33?W. Rocket launches are recorded on Wikipedia dating as late as 1987. I put the coordinates into Google Maps to get the following link, you can see airstrips and some buildings.

    http://tinyurl.com/24c9xg

  16. Gary F

    Sorry about the multiple posts! It kept giving me errors, and I didn’t think it had gone through!

  17. davidlpf

    It goes under cool if it did happen but probably did not happen. Greenland is probably a good place for sounding rockets that go up and come right down because there are few people for the debris to come down on.

  18. Veron

    The Guangming Daily published this, although it’s pretty un-conclusive to me. Maybe if it could be somehow cleaned up.

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2382/2243692532_23f93d0f89.jpg?v=0

  19. Veron

    I think there’s confusion about the television broadcasts from a few weeks back because the European stations were saying that some kind of armageddon cult had launched a rocket apparently with someone on board from an abandoned facility in greenland….But then suddenly the reports just vanished….and a few days after that, chinese state television started complaining about an illegal launch by the americans but in a different location. But it seems to me that the GPS coordinates are the same, but someone can’t read. lol

  20. Dziban

    Wow. Apparently, nobody has heard about Steve Fossett. This millionaire (billionaire?) and pioneer aviator went missing on September 3rd, 2007, while flying a small plane solo in the Nevada desert. This is quite obviously a hoax built upon his disappearance.

    I’m truly amazed nobody figured this out immediately. Bad show.

  21. @Ian: I’m not sure, it doesn’t seem to follow the BBCs URL naming conventions, so it may just be someone being an idiot.

    Here’s an idea, why don’t we call Dr. Abraham and ask him if he’s missing?

  22. This smells like viral marketing.

    Let’s see if the Iron Man movie is about Tony Stark battling a curious reclusive billionaire who shot himself into space and came back as a xenophobic psychopath with the power to raise an undefeatable golem army from any natural materials in his immediate environment. And Tony has to battle not only the aforementioned xenophone and the golems but the Chinese military, from whom said billionaire stole much of his technology and facility resources.

  23. Shane

    Dziban, well obviously that is the cover story. I think the story similarities are striking. Billionaire aviators missing in the middle of nowhere within days of each other. No wonder they couldn’t find Steve Fossett after one of the biggest searches in history. Did anyone think to look in orbit?
    Steve Fossett seemed to be one of those publicity shy retiring types who obviously staged his disappearence so he could quietly fly to Greenland to launch himself into space without the full public glare of the media and government scrutiny. Probably done in by them Van Allen belts… :)

  24. Dziban says: “Apparently, nobody has heard about Steve Fossett. This millionaire (billionaire?) and pioneer aviator went missing on September 3rd, 2007, while flying a small plane solo in the Nevada desert. This is quite obviously a hoax built upon his disappearance.”

    So he really lashed his Cessna to the top of a home made rocket? Sounds like “First Contact” :-)

    This showed up on our rocket club discussion list. I made the comparison to Wan-Hu, the Chinese magistrate some centuries ago who strapped a bunch of black powder rockets to his sedan chair to see if he could go visit his ancestors. He definitely did that. Mythbusters even did a show on that one.

    - Jack

  25. mike cray

    when I read ” launched himself into space, and has apparently been lost ”

    holy cow i burst out laughing and laughed so hard I fell off my chair !!!!!

    Thanks phil .. had to go to a funeral today and I needed a smile!

    note to self : next time there is one don’t go.

  26. Shane

    Happened to see Top Gear (English revhead tv show) last night and the lads attached a small car to rocket, a la the space shuttle, and promptly launched it into a Scottish hillside with spectacularily hilarious results.

  27. Shane

    And said Top Gear rocket launch can be seen in a multitude of sites on intertubes. Unfortunately I can’t get to a direct link at the moment but if you google “Top Gear Reliant Robin rocket launch” you should get a few hits.

  28. Phy

    And I was just watching “The Astronaut Farmer” on tv the other day…

  29. davidlpf

    Has anyone checked with the mythbusters and see if they are in Greenland with a rocket.

  30. Troy

    Perhaps the billioniare will meet Andy Griffiths (Salvage 1), Wang Hu (Original Rocket Man), and Captain William “Buck” Rogers (Beaty, beaty, beaty, beat) during his adventures.

  31. kebsis

    I know it’s silly, but the ‘my unnamed source must contact me in the future’ stuff in that post is gonna drive some woowoo’s crazy :)

  32. Overstroming

    Could someone really design, manufacture, transport to Greenland and successfully launch a manned rocket without being noticed? Seems like a story for April 1 to me.

  33. What a ridiculous rumor. I’m waiting for information.

    Do you know everyone with mind power? I don’t. If you answer is not, click here and going up my counter.

    (The blog is a Spanish one; si alguien quiere traducir la entrada que me mande un correo).

  34. SirJonah

    I hear this “Dr. Abraham” de-orbits, crash lands on the island, then teams up with Locke. But then he gets eaten by the smoke creature.

  35. Perry Stalcis

    Well, I bet it wasn’t Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen – he’s so fat we’d have had several solar eclipses by now if it was him….

  36. Sergeant Zim

    I almost wish I was still working a 2nd shift job, and could listen to Coast to Coast on the way home. A story like this will be fodder for George Noory and Art Bell for YEARS – especially if it remains unconfirmed, or is shown to be bogus.

    Has anybody checked with Hoagland, or McCanney about this – we know those guys ALWAYS have the straight poop…

  37. A J Holmes

    did a search for FENOA and found this:-

    http://members.lycos.co.uk/mimifoto/cctv-illegal-launch.jpg

    Not sure if it’s related and it seems to be the wrong way round.

  38. Greenland?!?! I thought the whole idea behind rockets was to lauch them as close to the equator as possible. Substantially less thrust (almost 20 %) is needed that way because you’re also utilizing the Earth’s spin to give you ‘extra’ lift.

    Was the billionaire Bill Gates? Man, I hope so. I really don’t want Microsoft getting their grubby little hands on my Yahoo email.

    And IF it was Bill Gates, did the rocket use a Windows Vista operating system? No wonder it got lost!!

  39. alfaniner

    Well, duh. He was just helping Bigfoot get back to his family on Mars!

  40. I distinctly remember a 60 minutes (or some such show) article a few years ago about a guy who had bought a Titan II missile or something from the US government and was trying to become the first private astronaut. That was somewhere in the US, though, and as I recall he couldn’t get the necessary permissions to launch the thing.

  41. Donnie B.

    I really, really like the idea that this is a viral marketing scheme for “Iron Man”.

    But I hear he’s burnin’ out his fuse up there alone.

  42. Stu

    What a disappointment. For a while there I actually believed that someone had managed to design and build a multi-million dollar spaceship in absolute secret, then launch and fly it into orbit without any of the dozens of spy satellites or hundreds of thousands of airline pilots, amateur astronomers, satellite trackers, UFO spotters or intelligence guys around the world spotting it. I actually believed that in an age when everyone knows everything, when everyone has a mobile phone with a camera on it, when space advocates ferret out stories and exclusives with almost obsessive passion, that something this huge, this enormous, could be kept secret -

    Sorry, got distracted there, I just heard a rumour that Elvis has been seen flying a UFO over Brigadoon, with Lord Lucan and Glen Miller as his co-pilots. Apparently they plan to land it on the Loch Ness monster’s back before giving Bigfoot a lift to the Face on Mars. I’ll check and let you know if it’s true… ;-)

  43. TheBlackCat

    Brilliant. Someone secretly launches a man-sized sub-orbital or low-orbit rocket within spitting distance of the U.S. coast, northern Europe, AND Russia and possibly in range of northern China as well. An excellent way to start a nuclear war.

  44. JackC

    Dang it, Phy beat me to the Astronaut Farmer note :-) I was too…..

    JC

  45. Santiago

    It shouldn’t be a surprise but the story is absolutely bogus. It’s written by someone who didn’t have the slightest idea about orbital mechanics. It seems to me that they are assuming that once you’re “in space”, you can just float off and go wherever you want, regardless of the fact that once you leave Earth’s atmosphere you’re still stuck in a gravity well, and if you want to stay up in space you have to be in orbit.

    He could have reached escape velocity, but then the rocket would have been enormous, on the scale of a Saturn V or N-1 (the article mentions the rocket is 30 metres tall, anyway) and far, far away of what any one man could accomplish. So if he hasn’t returned to earth, he must still be in orbit, in which case he could hardly have disappeared. The US alone monitors LEO intensely. Heck, at LEO you could see the guy at night if you were in the right place.

    Completely bogus article. A sub-orbital hop to space would have been much more believable, but then the story would have lost much of its punch.

  46. NGC 3314

    BTW – the point of a sounding-rocket site in Greenland comes from all the geophysics folks like to do involving the geomagnetic field and its interaction with the aurorae, and Greenland spends most of the time under the northern auroral oval. I remember seeing one team working with an experiment where a rocket was to be launched into an aurora from there, and then deploy a material (barium?) which ionizes quickly in sunlight so they could use it to follow the local field lines as it diffused (with a very sensitive intensified camera and narrow-band filters, located in such distant climes as the Canary Islands).

  47. Quiet_Desperation

    Oh darn! I was *so* hoping it was an announcement of a sequel to Disney’s Rocketman. We need more fart jokes in sci fi flicks. [/end sarcasm]

  48. KaiYves

    “I’m not the man they think I am at home, no, no, no, I’m a Rocket Man!”

    Somebody had to say it.
    I think this is either an outright hoax, an experiment in memes, or viral marketing.

  49. Hey, if a millonaire can build a secret missile-launching base inside a volcano in Japan in the 1960s without anyone noticing, why couldn’t one do the same thing in Greenland today?

    Or are you saying that You Only Live Twice wasn’t a documentary?

  50. jbecker

    checked all space and important headlines on xinhua. this is chinas official english language news agency. there is nothing on nor a mention of unusual rocket launches from anywhere. Nor is there any mention of china protesting greenland or any other nation!

  51. Still, it’d make a great B movie, especially if the billionaire returned to earth several years later with spooooky Mind powers! And a super evolved chimp. And a robot. Ooh! and a sexy daughter who falls in love with the conspiracy theorist who gets proven right when all the so-called experts doubt his predictions of eminent death by mind rays!

  52. Tom H

    i admit, i do find it unsettling that last week the story was everywhere and this week it is nowhere. that genuinely is spooky…. although it got me thinking: everyone assumed that when that internet cable got severed in the Middle East that it was the middle east and china that got cut off from the west. Dude, maybe it was the West that got cut off from the middle east and china??

  53. nerthus

    So umm, Am I the only one who went to the home page of the website linked and saw this?

    “Everything you see below is written by the memebers of Memes.org. Memes is a collaborative site. All articles are produced by us, for us. When you join Memes, you can post articles right away. Please be a part of our site! You’re encouraged to register and participate in meme-making along with us. We can’t wait to read you.”

    It seems pretty obvious this is fake. I mean, on the actual article it has a track button (http://memes.org/node/692/track) so you can see all the websites that have picked up on the meme. This one seems to be quite successful thanks to Phil; badastronomy.com pops up quite a few times.

  54. Bob the Owl

    From the link: “… using only a home-made rocket and without the assistance of any major space agency it was reported by the SFTR last week.”

    Am I the only one unsure about “the SFTR”? I hunted around and can’t find much more than the South Florida Trail Riders, a Fender amp, and some production company in California.

    …and Keith: cast Bruce Campbell and I’d watch it. Hahaha

  55. Buzz Parsec

    Actually there is something extremely suspicious about the so-called rocket launching site in Greenland. Did anyone else notice the runway isn’t straight? Have you ever seen a runway that wasn’t straight as an arrow? (Okay, maybe some of the grass strips on the sides of mountains in “Air America”, but not a real concrete runway.) This must be an alien runway. A lot of the Nazca lines aren’t straight either, so there’s your proof. Also, I didn’t see any stars in the picture, and the flag wasn’t waving. Oops, wait, there’s a knock on the door… Black helicopter just landed in the front yard… Aaaarrrrrggghhhhh!

  56. Vixen Chick

    I can see the headline now:-

    “Greenland man makes it into space”

    Classic.

  57. Eric

    oh, sorry bout all that guys. ya that was me.
    I took a few days off work for this flu and I had to go to this way far pharmacy to get my flu pills. so uhh, i know i dropped a couple tiles on the way back in so sorry bout the roof and the old lady. you know who you guys are that im appologizing too. Cheerio!

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