An interview with
By Giovanni Abrate
Gian Battista Judica Cordiglia
March 31, 1999
Note: Reference is made throughout the interview to the April 1965 Reader’s Digest article by J.D. Ratcliff that can be found elsewhere in this website.
G.A. Dear Gian, thank you for kindly agreeing to this interview. As you know, we have recently published in the "Lost Cosmonauts" website a reprint of the artcle "Italy’s Amazing Amateur Space Watchers" that originally appeared in the April,1965 issue of the Reader’s Digest. This article opened with the rather startling and controversial statement that a dead cosmonaut may be traveling through space.
Now, thirty-odd years later, such stories are almost universally dismissed as "space folklore". But you actually had some corroborating data for this event. What was the reason for Mr Ratcliff’s statement?
GJC The statement is related to the signals that were received on November 28, 1960.
On that occasion we received the words "SOS to the whole world", in Morse code. We confirmed the presence of the Doppler effect in amounts very similar to what we later detected during reception of signals from such moon probes as the Luniks.
Tracking measurements showed the vehicle’s elevation to be in an almost stationary position in the sky: clearly the signal was not coming from an orbiting satellite, but rather from something that was moving away from the Earth. The signal was very weak; the Morse code message, which may have been a recording, was heard by several witnesses.
We developed a theory that perhaps at the time of re-entry to Earth, the retro-rockets, which are normally activated after the capsule has made a half revolution along its vertical axis, may have ignited improperly. We surmised that the capsule may not have executed the attitude reversal at the time of retro-rocket ignition, gaining speed in the process. Starting at a speed of about 8Km/sec, the spacecraft may have been pushed into a higher orbit, even reaching sufficient velocity to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. If my recollection is accurate, the escape velocity required to reach the Moon is about 11.2Km/sec.
The Morse code message was broadcast in English. We believed it was a desperate plea for help, addressed perhaps to the Americans. After a while, the signals stopped. I remember that on December 2, the soviet authorities announced the launch of Sputnik VI and almost immediately announced that it had been lost.
G.A. One of the key elements of Torre Bert and a reason for your remarkable radio intercepts was the 40-foot antenna that you and your brother designed and built. Tell us more about it.
GJC I have a picture of the antenna. (click here to see image) We were having difficulty receiving signals on 108MHz, 137MHz, 145.800MHz and 405MHz using dipole arrays. The signals were too weak. We designed an antenna based on our experience and we actually built it ourselves in the courtyard next to a machine shop (we had to disassemble the whole thing again to get it out of the courtyard!!!).
The antenna was even shown at the 12th Technology Expo in Turin, and it won a prize, a gold medal. The receiving equipment inside the octagonal reflector could be easily replaced with another covering a different frequency. The antenna weighed 1.5 metric Tonnes. The main structure was made of steel amd mesh; the external portion, which outlined the octagon, was made of aviation-grade aluminum tubing. The total length of the tubing was, if my recollections are right, about 80-100 meters.
The antenna was controlled manually: the Azimuth drive pivoted around an end-bearing. The Elevation drive was operated through a worm drive held between two custom-made clamps.
The antenna survives to this day and can be found standing as a "gate guardian" in my brother's garden. It still gets some use, operating now in the 137MHz band.
For over ten years, it was the largest in Italy. The next largest was the one in Arcetri (Florence), with a diameter of only 5 meters. (I am referring, of course, to antennas that can be driven in Az and El, not to those that use the Earth's motion). With our antenna we received some extraordinary transmissions: images from Soviet Moon probes, images from the Kosmos satellites on the 145.800MHz frequency, pictures from Lunik 4 (a probe that the soviet authorities claimed had failed its mission) and even the pictures of an american long-range bomber while it was being flight tested over New Mexico! These pictures were taken by a soviet Kosmos satellite and relayed to a ground station in the USSR (I believe this was in Baikonur). We received about a dozen photographs, that were promptly confiscated by Italian military intelligence, both negatives and copies.
Two months later, the U.S. unveiled to the world details of their latest strategic bomber
G.A. In order to ascertain that a signal was coming from a moving object in space and not from a ground-based transmitter, you had to verify the presence of the Doppler effect in the received signal.
How did you achieve that in the early sixties?
GJC The detection of the Doppler effect was done in a very simple way, through the use of the well-known "Lissajous" patterns. We used a single-trace oscilloscope. We connected the horizontal input to the signal from the satellite. We then used a low frequency signal generator to send a signal of the same frequency to the vertical axis. As you know, when the two signals were of the same frequency, an ellipse would appear on the screen of the oscilloscope.
In the event of a signal coming from a stationary (earth-bound) source, the ellipse would remain stable. A signal from a satellite caused the ellipse to change continuously according to the frequency variation caused by the Doppler effect. We used the same technique to determine the exact time of overflight of the satellite: when at the zenith, the frequency of the signal remained momentarily stable. After passing the zenith, the frequency would start to decrease.
We plotted the frequency variation over time on graph paper and were thus able to accurately determine the amount of Doppler drift. In addition to this test (which would have been, in itself, sufficient) we also located, using the antenna "null" characteristics, the position of the satellite in the sky, the change in its point of entry at the horizon caused by the Earth's rotation between overflights and we were, therefore, able to calculate the period of revolution around the planet.
On the basis of just two overflights, we could determine all the parameters needed to track the satellite over a period of several days, obviously with some small degree of error.
G.A. Tell us more about the "Zeus" network of amateur tracking stations.
GJC The Zeus network was a good idea that lasted only one year. My fiancèe (now wife) Laura was in charge of the organization. The network was hampered by slow communications which made it difficult to operate in synch. There was one station in Germany, one in Argentina, one in the Lebanon.
G.A. The signal received on May 17, 1961 is moving and dramatic. According to some sources, in addition to the voice of the female cosmonaut, two male voices were also received. Some sources say that the flights nay have been an early attempt at orbital rendez-vous. Can you confirm this?
GJC We also picked up two male voices. The most tragic transmissions are those involving the female cosmonaut.
G.A. The author of the Reader's Digest article mentions "accumulated evidence" pointing to as many as ten soviet space casualties by the year 1965. Your comments?
GJC The statement was made by the writer of the article, J.D. Ratcliffe, based on evidence that did not come from us.
I believe he may have had some information from U.S. sources. There was another article at the time, published by Fate magazine, that made similar claims.
G.A. Now let's talk about your trip to the U.S. in 1964. It must have been a very exciting event for you and your brother. I understand that you financed your trip with the winnings from a TV show. Tell us more about it.
GJC Actually the matter was a bit more complicated. The RAI national TV network hosted the show and we won enough money to pay for the air fare. The U.S. Embassy in Rome, through their Scientific Attachè Mr Walter Ramberg, organized our meetings with N.A.S.A.
N.A.S.A. actually sent the official invitation for us to go to Washington, D.C.
We were hosted by one of the administrators, a Mr Hausmann (I can't recall his first name) and we met with the person in charge of Earth-Space-Earth communications, a Mr Morrison (again, I can't recall his first name). We went to Huntsville, Cape Canaveral, Houston and Beltsville, Md.
G.A. We want to thank once again Mr GianBattista Judica Cordiglia for giving us this interview and for sharing so many fascinating details with us.