Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



General John Samford’s UFO , Press Conference Pentagon, 1952

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Terror from Outer Space


Cold War nerves had caused paranoia in the ranks of America's Secret Service, always in fear of a commie Soviet plot. UFO contactee George Adamski fuelled their fears with his comment that the superior space people had "a communist-type government!"13 The CIA set up a panel of top scientists, headed by Dr H.P. Robertson. It concluded that it would be strategically wise to debunk UFO reports, out of fear that the Soviet Union might use them to induce public hysteria in the US. Even The Wonderful World of Disney got involved in the television disinformation campaign. UFO groups were monitored for subversive activities, and contactees were branded as Soviet spies.14

In October 1957, Sputnik launched the Space Age. The very first satellite shot into orbit by the Soviets struck a serious blow to America's self-esteem, causing a major media crisis. TV networks were flabbergasted that instead of staying glued to the tube, their usually captive audiences ran into backyards hoping to catch a glimpse of Sputnik beaming across the night sky. The press likened the launch of Sputnik to Christopher Columbus's discovery of America. "Somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien," wrote Senate majority leader L.B. Johnson, the soon-to-be-president.15

In response, the US attempted to blast off with the Vanguard I rocket, but the "Flopnik" or "Kaputnik", as it was baptized, had hardly lifted four feet off the ground before an enormous explosion sent it crashing back down to Earth in front of a worldwide television audience. When the Soviets sent their dog into orbit, paranoia peaked within US ranks. After all, "Pupnik" Laika could potentially be carrying a hydrogen bomb! To America, the Soviet dog was a harbinger of war being waged from space. "What's at stake is nothing less than our survival," warned Senator Mike Mansfield, while Edward Teller, "father of the hydrogen bomb", went on television to suggest that the future now belonged to the Russians.16 In the wake of Sputnik, a renewed saucer craze hit the American public. Newsrooms became overwhelmed with reports of sightings. "TOTAL TERROR FROM OUTER SPACE!" ran one caption in the trailer for the 1956 Hollywood production Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.