"NASA Face Up to It."
So declared one of the signs held aloft by a protester last week outside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You'd think the scientists waiting for the Mars Observer to end its silence were having a hard enough time coping with this billion-dollar boo-boo. Then came the invasion of the UFO activists, united in the conviction that NASA won't tell us everything it knows about extraterrestrials.
Specifically, these activists say, NASA officials don't want us to get a better look at the striking images on the Red Planet that could only have been created by intelligent beings. A photograph taken by a Viking orbiter in 1976, they note, reveals a geological shape that resembles a milelong human face. They've also noted lines and shadows that resemble pyramids, a smiling face and even Kermit the Frog. Skeptics have scoffed, pointing out such frightening images as Tammy Faye Bakker's eyelashes and Teddy Kennedy on a bad night.
Joseph Randazzo isn't the kind of "UFOlogist" who attends demonstrations. A former packager of martial arts films, Randazzo is the Studio City-based producer of the "Witness E.T." video series and publisher of the 1 1/2-year-old International UFO Library magazine, available at a newsstand near you. Conspiracy theories, Randazzo explained, are "just not my thing."
Yet he, too, has little trust for NASA.
The official story suggests that the Mars Observer was doomed by a bad transistor. Randazzo prefers other theories. Perhaps E.T.s from the Pleiades star system or maybe Orion jammed communications. Maybe our interplanetary visitors decided to seize our space probe.
It should be noted that not all UFO researchers believe this. Don Ecker, research director of the Sunland-based UFO magazine and an organizer of the JPL protest, suggests that the Mars Observer really did just break down. But, he adds, that doesn't mean NASA isn't hiding something.
At least we can agree that the universe works in mysterious ways. How's this for a cosmic coincidence: When I met Randazzo for lunch the other day at a trendy spot on Ventura Boulevard, it just so happened that Carol Rosin was sitting at the next table. Rosin is the founder of something called the Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space, a group that used to lobby against President Ronald Reagan's defunct "Star Wars" defense system.
This made me a little suspicious, but not once did I hear the theme from "Twilight Zone." Randazzo and Rosin assured me they had never met before--but, as Randazzo pointed out, you never can tell when E.T.s might be technologically or telepathically fiddling with our brain waves. Someone out there may well be choreographing such close encounters.
Randazzo is far beyond the point of trying to convince skeptics that alien spacecraft make regular stops here. We know "a lot," he says dismissively, about the slim little gray men with big eyes that are the stock E.T.s of movies and supermarket tabloids.
What really excites Randazzo, it seems, is the belief that some E.T.s who look no different from Earthlings are now sharing important information with several human "contactees."
What have the E.T.s told them?
For starters, Earth was "seeded" by ancient astronauts from several galaxies. Chariots of the Gods and all that. I'm no anthropologist, but Randazzo says the "seven races" on Earth may be explained by our rich variety of intergalactic visitors.
"The E.T.s all laugh at Darwin's theory," Randazzo declared. "Our lineage is not from an ape in a tree. Me and you are made of star stuff."
Indeed, these aliens have confirmed much of the Bible, Randazzo says, right down to the existence of Adam and Eve.
The Vista school board may be reassured to learn that, but my guess is they'll keep the E.T. stuff out of their creationist curriculum. Even Randazzo admits to a reluctance to discuss the "blue people" because it sounds "like tabloid stuff."
The "blue people," he explained, are a secretive alien race that came to Earth way back when and live underground. There is known to be a rather large colony, Randazzo says, beneath Mt. Shasta.
Smile if you must. Laugh if you dare. But as I write this, I can't help but notice the front-page headlines on The Times of Aug. 25.
"Mars Probe Still Silent; Hopes Dim," declares the headline for the lead story. Another story concerns President Clinton's vacation to Martha's Vineyard. "President Sleeps Till 10 as Silence Falls Over U.S.," the headline says.
Sometimes, Randazzo told me, the E.T.s visit us "in a dream state."
A few days later, President Clinton would express concern that America is becoming "entirely too secular."
We should have more respect, the President said, for people of faith.