The Jupiter Effect

By Graham Conway, January 2002

The following account is based upon an audio interview that the participant was kind enough to relate.

Geof Gray Cobb arrived in South Africa in 1962, he was 40 years old. Initially he worked for English Electric and then the Rand Water Board. Until one day he noticed an advertisement in the Rand Daily Mail stating that the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility were hiring. It looked interesting and he thought it would be kind of different working at a tracking station. So he applied. To hear Geof tell the story he would have you believe that his youthful background in building crystal sets (first type of primitive radio) would provide adequate qualifications! After two days of interviews and aptitude tests he was surprised when he was offered the job. The doctor said he possessed a high IQ and consequently met their requirements. His new job site at DSIF was located about forty miles outside Johannesburg, between that city and Pretoria. The actual place was called Hartbeesfontein; its more than likely you won't find it on most maps.

The tracking station's main claim to fame was its dish that was 90 feet in diameter. The U.S. government provided the technology, South Africa staffed the facility. Comprising mixed nationalities they were between 40 to 50 in number, including a few N.A.S.A. representatives. Geof's first job was log keeping and the focus of interest at that being the "Mariner" Mars Mission. He also adds as an after thought that translating for both sides was equally important in maintaining clarity of understanding as they were in direct contact with Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, as well as the Goddard Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. It required patient handling to deal with the expressed frustrations on both sides of the ocean as each side’s technicians displayed puzzled exasperation when instructions were provided and one side or the other could not understand what had been said due to the accompanying local or national accent. They worked eight hour shifts with sixteen off. All events that occurred during their spell of duty was recorded on a punched tape and also a magnetic tape about an inch wide. The most memorable afternoon that Geof recalls took place on October 23rd 1962 when they received a most unusual signal whose strength was rising. "What the Hell's going on?" was the cry.

No explanation could be found until some wit suggested that maybe Mariner had turned around and was coming back! The noise sounded as if someone had switched on a 100 watt transmitter about ten miles away. Geof's less technical description was to the effect that it sounded to him very much like a collection of rocks bouncing around inside a tin can. After describing this interruption to JPL they requested that it be put on line, which at that time was before the advent of satellite and therefore a land line. The signal was coming in at 380 - 400 MHz which apart from the rattling tin can feature also provided hissing and chirping. On receiving this someone at JPL said, "Keep it coming, I think you've got a UFO up there!"

At this point the station boss went outside with binoculars and even after having checked on the sighting telescope admitted to being able to discern nothing that might be responsible for the anomaly.

At this juncture DSIF had received instructions to load up the RWV (Read , Write, Verify) and also send out a 10 watt signal on the RTO (Radio Telegraphy). Right away all noise finally stopped. The whole incident had taken thirty minutes. JPL now came back with the suggestion that the recorded interference was probably a radio star, to which the response in Geof's headquarters was, "not unless Jupiter's in our back yard!" As reception had now returned to normal they resumed tracking Mariner. Later that evening they were instructed by JPL to look again. Completing a spiral search they found the "object"? was still in place and noise was pouring in through a two degree hole in the sky. As was customary for all events, the day's work was duplicated and sent off by air to the States. Very seldom did it go astray. Copies were kept on site for four and a half months under lock and key.

That same Christmas a group of Australians arrived at their location and a seasonal party ensued. During the course of the celebrations the preceding events came up in conversation. In a more sober mood the Aussies described having been called out to their own tracking station and ordered to tip their dish and search in a north westerly direction. No reason had been provided for having to do this. They found nothing. Rather frustratingly they could not recall exactly when their own strange search took place. Therefore, due to the lack of additional information and unable to calculate height, it became impossible to triangulate.

In February 1963 Geof thought it might be a good idea to have another look at the tapes. With some persuasion and a touch of bribery he was able to convince the data store keeper to retrieve the information. The only trouble being he found an empty space where that day's events should have been housed! Extremely concerned, they reported to Doug Hogg, who at that time was station manager. His response was less than alarmed. Yes, he already knew that, as the whole package had been picked up three days previously by two men supposedly from JPL!

After some deliberation Geof contacted a friend at JPL and was able to persuade him to check the log book for the corresponding pages for that date, only to find that the relevant conversations were also missing! Located about one mile away from the tracking station on a nearby hillside was the Baker Nunn camera, but even with their equipment they too drew a blank on that particular event.

In closing it should also be mentioned that Geof had the good fortune to witness and photograph a UFO over a lake near Jo'burg in 1964. Initially when this occurred he thought he was witnessing a plane crashing. Then again some years later back in the U.S. he and his wife visited Gods Well in Iowa and were surprised to see what might have been a stationary balloon, which in Geof's opinion resembled a UFO. On enquiring from the caretaker they were told "not to worry about it, as it comes around here about once a week and it won't hurt you”.

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