Nasa's Unexplained Files (2012) s04e03 Episode Script

A Presidents Close Encounter

NASA's mission is to explore the unknown.
What we know about the universe is a tiny fraction of what's actually out there.
In the search for answers, it launches its scientists into space, its craft beyond the limits of the solar system.
We have no idea what's out there.
There might be dangers lurking in the darkness.
We've run across more mysteries than discoveries.
We don't know what it's gonna throw at us next.
Evidence of life on a frozen moon When we saw this activity on enceladus, i stopped calling it a moon.
I started calling it a world.
A mysterious object flies on a collision course with a dangerous asteroid So what is it? Is it an alien spacecraft? And close encounters of the presidential kind.
The guy who saw and reported the ufo was the future president of the United States.
These are Disaster strikes Russia's mir space station.
He's coming in way too fast.
Immediately start yelling, "brake, brake, brake!" He slams into the solar panels.
The impact rips a hole in the hull.
Oxygen is leaking from the station.
It's a serious, serious problem.
They've got minutes to find the breach and fix it, or they're dead.
In 1997, NASA astronaut Mike foale joins two cosmonauts on a joint u.
/russia mission on board the mir space station.
Mir is the pride of the Russian space program.
It's also the only operational manned space station.
Though the cold war is over, the Russians keep tight control on all aspects of the mission.
In secret, they decide to try out something they have not told NASA about.
On this mission, Russia decides on its own, unilaterally, to test its manual docking system.
Moscow's mission control orders mir's crew to turn off the automated docking system on the resupply vehicle and attempt to re-dock it manually.
They're putting the mir in danger.
Michael foale doesn't know what's about to happen.
Cosmonaut vasily tsibliyev is tasked with the procedure.
He decouples their unmanned cargo ship, progress, and sends it out into space before trying to steer it back remotely.
On the progress vessel, there's a camera.
So you're seeing the view as if you're sitting in the progress space ship as it comes in.
In addition to the camera, a radar feed gives tsibliyev speed and distance readings from the incoming craft.
But the guidance system is rudimentary.
The feed from the cameras keeps cutting out.
Russian mission control decides that the radar is interfering with the video feed.
They're asked to turn it off.
But the radar the thing that is calculating the speed and distance from the mir.
Without the radar, tsibliyev must depend entirely on the poor video feed.
The video feed isn't exactly hd.
The angle of the approach means that, on progress' camera, mir appears indistinguishable from the clouds below.
He's really not quite sure if he's looking at the spaceship or if he's looking at a cloud.
It's a very, very difficult task.
And i tell you, i don't want to be doing that task.
It's way, way too difficult for most people to handle.
He's basically flying blind.
Foale and the other cosmonaut try to assist tsibliyev by pointing manual range finders out the station's windows.
He's trying to drive it in from a distance Firing thrusters, people looking out porthole windows trying to tell him how the vehicle's reacting.
But their view of the approaching ship is blocked by mir's solar panels.
The progress vehicle's coming in, coming in, coming in.
All of a sudden, it's right on top of them.
Immediately start yelling, "brake, brake, brake!" It's too late to do anything.
The progress hits a solar panel.
That immediately gets the space station spinning.
But then a large clunk sound as it literally hits a module and then finally careens off into space.
Suddenly, the decompression alarm goes off, which means that the mir has been punctured and air is escaping into space.
The crew realize they are in mortal danger.
Precious air is hissing out into space through the breach.
Right away, you do a quick calculation.
Is this a small leak? Do we have 24 hours before it's gonna be life-threatening? When they did that calculation, they've got less than 5 minutes.
The crew scramble to locate the source of the leak.
The life-sustaining atmosphere is bleeding out.
They only have minutes to repair it or they're dead.
The team discover the air is whistling out of a tear in the side of the spektr science module.
Their only choice is to seal off the module and to do it quickly.
There's a lot of wires going through the hatch.
Mir's wiring is a mess of poorly-rigged cables, snaking between modules, blocking the air-locked doors.
If they take the time to unplug it, they're dead.
Finally had to cut it, you know, sparks flying.
The crew close the hatch, preserving their precious oxygen supply.
Now they have a whole new set of problems.
The craft is spinning uncontrollably.
The solar panels that power the station aren't catching the sun.
Critical equipment is starting to shut down.
Power is running out.
The crew has no way of contacting ground control.
They're cut off from all help.
Mir is out of power.
It's starting to get dangerously cold.
It's effectively dead in space.
Unable to power mir's thrusters, the crew has no way to stabilize the spinning craft.
They've got to stop that spin, or it's all over.
June 1997.
An experimental docking maneuver involving the mir space station has gone badly wrong.
The collision leaves it spinning out of control.
NASA astronaut Mike foale and his Russian crew mates come up with a desperate plan.
Their only option is to fire the thrusters of the soyuz shuttle to counter the spin of the station.
Using a soyuz capsule is a huge gamble.
It's their only ride home.
If they use too much fuel, they'll never get home.
If their plan doesn't work, they're stranded in space.
With absolutely no guidance equipment available, foale has to go old school and use nautical knowledge and the stars to guide him and calculate the spin rate of the station.
Foale holds his thumb to the viewing port as a measuring stick to Gauge their rate of spin against the horizon.
Foale is shouting these measurements to his colleague, who is controlling the soyuz thrusters.
And over a course of 4 hours of trial and error, they're eventually able to stabilize the mir and get the solar panels partially working again.
As mir finally comes to rest, the solar cell begins to charge, powering up the station and replenishing their precious oxygen supply.
The crew are safe.
Back on earth, NASA demands an explanation for the near catastrophe.
NASA did not know that this manual docking was taking place.
And they're not happy that their astronaut's life was put in danger.
The Russians try to place the blame on their cosmonaut, tsibliyev.
But NASA is deeply suspicious.
It launches an investigation headed up by special agent Joe gutheinz.
Our investigation revealed that there were serious problems with the mir and the Russian space program.
Though the cold war is over, it is clear that the Russians haven't been totally open with NASA.
It appears that the risky docking procedure was a crazy scheme to cut costs.
The Russians wanted to save a little money.
They didn't want to equip this thing with this automatic docking device, which was built in the Ukraine and cost them hard cash.
The entire docking maneuver was a failure from the start.
It should never have been attempted.
And it certainly should have had a ground simulation first, even if it was attempted.
It was a disaster waiting to happen.
What they were doing was they were experimenting in space with already a very shaky and unreliable mir space station.
It was crazy.
NASA only allows its astronauts to continue training on mir on the condition that it has greater oversight over the missions.
Although the aged space station still poses a risk to astronaut lives, the experience they gain paves the way for the next steps in the manned exploration of space.
A NASA probe dives down to a world in search of alien life.
When we saw this activity on enceladus, i stopped calling it a moon.
I started calling it a world.
Could extra-terrestrial life have been in our own backyard all along? The mission has new goals now.
The mission is going to study enceladus.
In 2005, NASA's billion-dollar probe, cassini, is on a flyby past saturn when it captures images of something unusual on the icy moon, enceladus.
There are what seem to be bright lights coming from enceladus' south pole, shining out into space.
Enormous plumes of a mysterious vapor are jetting from the frozen moon's south pole.
They look so like the geothermal eruptions found on earth that scientists immediately call them geysers.
There were geysers shooting out from the side of this tiny little moon.
The plumes above enceladus are more than 8,000 times larger than any geyser found on our planet.
So here we have these geysers spewing 150 miles into space, which is the distance from San Diego to Los Angeles.
We know right away that enceladus is an active world.
This is a huge discovery.
If there is water flowing on enceladus, it becomes a world where life can exist.
NASA rips up cassini's original mission plan.
Once NASA scientists see what's happening on enceladus, everything changes.
The mission has new goals now.
The mission is going to study enceladus.
The new mission brings new problems.
Cassini was designed to observe planets from distant orbits, not to collect samples and analyze unidentified substances.
The cassini team basically redesigned the mission so that they could fly through the plumes.
Cassini is 800 million miles from earth.
To make this work, NASA's mission control must completely rebuild its software remotely.
By repurposing the instruments that were on the spacecraft, we've really adapted the spacecraft to be able to do something that we never really intended it to do.
They're going to buzz the surface of enceladus, fly right through the plumes and see what they're made out of.
NASA's mantra in the quest for life anywhere in the universe is "follow the water.
" Could these mysterious plumes be made of water? And could this water harbor alien biology? Where there's liquid water, that's one of the key steps to finding potential life.
The scientists are looking for three key conditions that led to life on earth Liquid water, a high salt content, and evidence of a hot active core deep beneath the sea.
After 3 years of intense reprogramming, the probe is finally ready to skim the surface of saturn's sixth largest moon.
NASA's billion-dollar probe could finally answer the question of whether there is life beyond earth, if it survives the close encounter with enceladus.
At 32,000 miles per hour, NASA's cassini probe dives through the geysers of enceladus in search for life-giving water.
One of 22 sorties over the frozen world.
When cassini flew through the plumes that are shooting out of enceladus, it actually had a chance to taste these plumes, to smell them, to see what they're made out of.
After an agonizing wait, the data confirms that the geysers erupting from the icy moon are liquid water.
The discovery of these icy water vapor jets on enceladus is probably the most important discovery of the entire cassini mission.
But water is only the first ingredient for life.
The other essential components are salt and heat.
Going deeper into the plume, the spacecraft collected particles and showed that they had salt in them.
That's a big deal.
Scientists believe salt interacting with chemicals from underwater volcanoes could be how all life begins.
There's chemistry that happens when water, especially salty water, is in contact with a rocky surface.
The water inside enceladus that's being sprayed out into space has a salinity that matches earth's oceans.
That's huge.
Further readings reveal, the oceans on enceladus are astonishingly similar to our own.
There were elements in the plume that clearly showed that the water in the ocean was hydrothermal.
Something within enceladus is heating the water.
Heat is the final missing ingredient in the quest for life, the catalyst for the chain reaction that kick-started life on earth.
It's got everything we were hoping to find.
It's got evidence of liquid water, organics, nitrogen, energy source.
It was it was unbelievable.
It's not just water, it's It's the soup that we think was creative of life.
If there's a recipe for life, enceladus has it.
When we saw this activity on enceladus, i stopped calling it a moon.
I started calling it a world.
It is now possible that we will encounter alien life on another world, one accessible with existing human technology.
Based on the history of life on earth, we should have every reason to expect that there should be life on enceladus.
But enceladus is a very different world from our own.
We can only speculate what form life will take there, and how advanced it may be.
These oceans would be dark and foreboding.
There may be creatures, if they're living in there, that light up.
Creatures that protect themselves or hunt with little fluorescent lights.
Or this could be an ocean where nothing has eyes.
There's no light.
Nothing can see.
But there's other ways they could survive.
NASA's planning a brand new mission to seek out life on this strange new world.
This time, the probe will be designed specifically for the task.
Right now, i spend my days planning for a mission to enceladus.
For me, personally, this is the culmination of everything I've done.
For exobiologists like Chris McKay, it's hard to underestimate how profound the discovery of life could be.
In a way, it feels like all the research I've done up to now has been in preparation for this opportunity.
It's an amazing possibility that, in 10 years or so from now, we'll have gone from one to two examples of life in our solar system.
And the difference between one and two is profound.
An asteroid hurtles through our solar system, heading towards the earth.
It looks like it's on a collision course.
It could wipe out species across the board.
NASA radar scans of the deadly threat reveal something totally unexpected.
There's an object flying straight towards that asteroid.
Whatever it is, it's come out of nowhere.
Perhaps NASA's most important job is to protect planet earth from extraterrestrial threats.
It monitors space for large asteroids that might destroy life on earth.
All we have to do is look to see what happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth and wiped them out.
There are currently 14,000 objects flying close to the earth.
Those that travel within 5 million miles are classified as potentially hazardous.
In January 2015, NASA spots an asteroid less than 1 million miles from our planet.
It's 1,100 feet wide, the size of a supertanker.
An impact would have devastating effects.
Astronomers give the potential killer the designation "2004 bl86.
" If it hit the ocean, it would cause a huge Tsunami.
If it hit the ground, it would cause a large crater and throw all that dust up into the atmosphere.
And it could change the weather on the earth for years to come.
An impact from a body of this size is equivalent to 750 megatons of explosive material.
NASA turns its goldstone radar on the asteroid to track its trajectory.
The data comes in.
The asteroid will miss the earth by a narrow margin.
When scientists further analyze the radar images, they find something totally unexpected.
The radar images show a strange, bright object heading towards the asteroid.
The object looks kind of elongated, cigar-shaped almost.
Whatever it is, it came out of nowhere.
The mystery object's trajectory causes alarm.
It's flying straight towards that asteroid.
It looks like it's on a collision course.
What is it? NASA radar scans have detected a mysterious object approaching the earth asteroid 2004 bl86.
Could it be another asteroid? Asteroids do run into one another every now and then.
There are craters on asteroids.
Clearly, they get hit.
And they hit each other.
This close to the earth, asteroids are rare, typically separated by hundreds of millions of miles.
So the chances of us seeing two asteroids about to collide with one another were, essentially, close to zero.
The video cuts out before a potential impact.
The initial radar scan only captures 8 seconds of footage.
The mysterious object looks suspiciously like a missile heading towards the rock.
If NASA discovers an asteroid on a collision course with earth, one of the potential ways to stop it is to send a missile to blow it up.
But whatever the object is, it doesn't seem to harm the asteroid in any way.
We did not observe a collision.
The main object seemed to continue on it's course after the smaller one somehow disappeared from the radar.
Analysis of the footage proves the object cannot be a missile.
This video that you're seeing was created with only 20 images.
And those 20 images were acquired over a full day.
So it's certainly not a fast-moving missile of any kind.
It's actually moving fairly slowly.
So what is it? Is it a spacecraft? No national space agency admits to launching a probe targeted at this rock.
But nationally funded science institutions are not the only ones with their sights set on asteroids.
To a new breed of businesses, asteroids mean big bucks.
Could they be probing earth-bound asteroids in secret? Asteroids are full of valuable elements.
Things like silver, gold, platinum, titanium.
It is estimated that some asteroids could be worth as much as 100 trillion dollars.
Engineer Grant bonin is currently working on an asteroid mining project called dragonfly.
Asteroid mining isn't the stuff of science fiction anymore.
In fact, there is an entire industry now of companies that are beginning to develop the technologies required to begin to harvest space resources from asteroids, from comets, from the moon, for use in space.
But none of these companies wants to hide what they're doing.
If a company could successfully mine an asteroid, its reputation would go through the roof.
Why would they keep that secret? To date, no human organization has the ability to conduct mining operations in space.
While we're working on exploiting the resources of asteroids in the future, we're not there yet.
This is something the companies are working on to accomplish within the next decade.
And so this image doesn't show us any nation or company on its way to exploring the resources of an asteroid.
Further scans of the asteroid spark a new theory about the mystery object.
Footage from a later observational pass shows the object still in the vicinity of the asteroid, but appearing to cross its face.
This movement presents an intriguing new possibility.
We know that many of these asteroids are just loosely-held rubble piles.
So the faster they rotate, there's the chance that one of these loosely-held rubble pile pieces will fly off and then become a moon to the central asteroid.
An asteroid with its own moons may sound strange, but it can happen.
When we think of moons, we think of giant, giant celestial bodies.
Things that are basically planets.
But it's really cool to think that asteroids like this, they can have tiny moons of their own.
NASA continues to monitor the approaching rock, and later footage appears to confirm the moon hypothesis.
Viewed from a different perspective, the object can clearly be seen orbiting the asteroid.
The discovery of the moon solves the mystery.
But it also raises the disturbing possibility that asteroids could be more deadly than anyone ever imagined.
So this revelation should really cause us some great concern.
'Cause it's gonna turn a single asteroid impact into something that's not just a rifle shot.
It's gonna be a machine gun effect.
That's going to increase the threat that we actually face from impacts from asteroids.
A president of the United States asks to see secret files on ufos.
Will you tell the truth to the American people about ufos? The CIA refuses.
The president of the United States doesn't have access to everything.
You have no need to know.
Even though you're the commander in chief.
Why is the president so interested in ufos, and what are his agencies hiding? October 1969.
A young politician is leaving a fund-raising event in Georgia when he spots a large, eerie object glowing in the evening sky.
When he looks up in the sky and he sees an object, it's an object that is big.
It's bigger than the moon.
And he thinks to himself, "that's the darndest thing i ever saw.
" There is no reasonable explanation for the strange object he is seeing in the sky.
It truly is something he can't identify.
It's flashing, it's moving near to him and moving further away.
He's sure he's seen a ufo.
The witness is so disturbed by what he's seeing, he files a report with the national investigations committee on aerial phenomena, nicap, and the international ufo bureau.
These two agencies, at the time, were professional investigators made up of scientists and astronomers.
And this is the very type of object that they would have investigated.
The report sounds like many other ufo sightings.
But it's not.
What makes this report stand out is the identity of the witness.
You can still see the document of the sightings online.
And the witness has signed his name, Jimmy Carter.
Yeah, the guy who saw and reported the ufo was the future president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
In 1969, Georgia governor and future U.
president Jimmy Carter claims he witnessed a ufo.
There have been numerous attempts to explain the sighting.
Some have speculated that, perhaps, what Jimmy Carter saw was some type of weather balloon filled with helium.
It wouldn't be the first time someone has made this mistake.
This is a very common explanation for ufo sightings.
'Cause they're something we don't see every day.
They look really unusual.
And they can move in quite unusual ways as they're rising up through different layers of the atmosphere.
But aspects of the sighting don't fit the weather balloon theory.
Carter's sightings, filed at nicap and the ufo bureau, describe the object changing color.
It was the size of the moon, moving bizarrely through the sky before it disappeared.
Oh, Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia, graduate from Annapolis is really only seeing a weather balloon.
A weather balloon? Are we back to roswell in 1947? Weather balloons don't change color.
Weather balloons don't hover.
Weather balloons aren't that big.
This was big.
They rise.
And they don't stay in the sky.
Jimmy Carter didn't see a weather balloon.
At the time, there is no official explanation given for what Jimmy Carter saw.
Even though he can't prove it, the experience of the sighting stays with him.
Jimmy Carter is running for president.
And he's asked on the campaign trail, "governor Carter, will you tell the truth to the American people about ufos?" And Jimmy Carter says, "yes, i will.
" He's gonna reveal the truth.
In 1977, when Carter wins the presidency, he directs the CIA to release top secret reports on ufos and extraterrestrial life.
The CIA refuses.
Just flat out say no to the president, that's really something.
Carter tries another way.
Jimmy Carter asks the director of central intelligence, George h.
Bush, "Mr.
director, can you tell me what the CIA knows about ufos?" And George, a consummate professional, says, "Mr.
president-elect, you have no need to know.
" The CIA has denied the new president permission to release top secret information to the public.
It surprises people to find out that the president of the United States doesn't have access to everything.
The ufo secret is a higher level of top secret than you, even though you're the commander in chief.
But something mysterious happens.
Just as it seems a standoff is on the cards, Carter makes a u-turn, retracting his promise to declassify ufo documents and make key reports public.
He cites a serious threat to national security as the reason for backing down.
President Carter never mentions the word ufo again.
Was something revealed to the president so shocking he had to keep it secret? It sounds suspicious, but there are some very sensible reasons why you don't release sensitive national security information.
NASA astronaut and test pilot hoot Gibson has been involved in projects like these.
I do know, as a test pilot, that we have very highly classified projects that are flying.
And I'll say where they're flying from.
They're flying from area 51.
We know that this has been going on for years and years, because such airplanes as the sr-71 blackbird, the u-2, the stealth fighter, the f-117, those all started life up in that area and flew from that spot.
I would be very surprised if we don't still have secret, top secret military prototype aircraft flying from there.
Could such top secret projects really justify shutting the president down? What we know is just a tiny fraction of what's really out there.
So without a NASA investigation into that sighting, we're never gonna know what Jimmy Carter really saw.
For now, this secret remains unexplained.
A NASA spacewalk goes badly wrong.
The space suit is turning into a death trap.
An astronaut is just minutes away from drowning.
You panic, that's it.
It's over, you're dead.
And the killer suit has struck before.
Why would the space suit that leaked in 2013 leak again in 2016 after it had been fully inspected? In July 2013, astronaut Luca parmitano nearly died on a spacewalk outside the iss.
Luca nearly drowned in his space suit, and that's the closest we've ever come to losing an astronaut during a spacewalk.
A NASA investigation concludes that a blockage in the suit's coolant system most likely caused an overflow of water to fill the space suit's helmet.
They took the space suit apart.
They couldn't find anything wrong, so the problem seemed to have fixed itself.
Three years later, astronaut Tim kopra is checking the same suit, ready to take it out on a routine maintenance spacewalk with his partner, Tim peake.
Kopra was cleaning the suit when he thinks he sees a leak.
He takes a picture, mops up the fluid.
But when he tries to recreate the leak, it's not there.
It's as if it just disappeared.
Subsequent tests show nothing.
Unable to identify any fault, kopra readies the suit for his spacewalk.
It's a decision that could cost him his life.
January 2016.
NASA astronauts Tim peake and Tim kopra begin their scheduled six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to replace a failed power regulator on the exterior of the international space station.
Okay, guys.
We're working, right now, for Tim kopra off page 13 of the cuff checklist.
Four and a half hours into the mission, kopra gets an unpleasant surprise.
Kopra alerts mission control to this life-threatening situation.
Okay, Tim, we're gonna have you hold right there.
Just let us talk some stuff out here for a second.
Mission control comes up with an idea.
They say, "well, since you guys have been out there for 4 hours and you're moving this heavy equipment around, maybe it's sweat.
" When you're in the space suit, you're working, physically, very hard.
And so you can generate a lot of heat very quickly.
If there's any way to get a temperature of the water I don't know if you can move it around and get to that.
Or to try to drink it and note the taste.
Mission control orders him to taste it.
Kopra tries to sample the floating globule.
If it's warm and salty, it could be sweat.
If it's cold, that's a problem.
The water is cold.
That means it's coming from the suit's cooling system.
And there's more than enough water in the cooling system to drown an astronaut.
The helmet is hooked up to the cooling pack.
A leak here could be deadly.
You're one failure away from a fatality.
Kopra's partner, Tim peake, arrives to help.
But the water continues to spread.
The space suit that's designed to protect the astronauts is now turning into a death trap because kopra literally could drown in his own coolant.
Mission control has no choice.
They have to get kopra back inside the space station.
There's no alternative.
They have to pull the plug on the spacewalk.
Guys, you can start opening your cuff checklist to page seven.
We are in a terminate case.
When kopra finally gets through the airlock, his colleagues remove his helmet in minutes.
They peel off kopra's mask.
And it's filled with water.
As the crew examines kopra's suit, a shocking realization hits them.
The space suit that leaked for Luca parmitano is the exact same space suit that leaked for Tim kopra.
Why would the space suit that leaked in 2013 leak again in 2016 after it had been fully inspected? NASA engineers check the suit to make sure that the coolant system hasn't blocked again.
They dismantle the suit.
They take it apart.
And there is no blockage.
There must be something else going on.
Is this a cursed space suit? There is no scientific basis for the idea of a cursed suit.
But NASA engineers have yet to work out why this one almost killed two men.
Can a space suit be cursed? No.
That's impossible.
Would i want to go into space in this particular space suit? I think not.
The suit was returned to earth in may 2016.
It is currently under investigation by NASA.