Famous For All the Wrong Reasons

by wjw on March 5, 2010

Renowned atmospheric physicist Charles B. Moore passed away on Wednesday. Though his career was chock-a-block with scientific accomplishment, he is best known for something that didn’t actually happen.

Let me explain.

Dr. Moore was a pioneer in the use of large polyethylene balloons, or aerostats. On June 4, 1947, one of Dr. Moore’s Project Mogul aerostats crashed in a sheep pasture near the remote village of Corona, N.M. Some weeks after the crash, the wreckage was found by a ranch worker, then trucked some 75 miles over primitive roads to Roswell Army Air Field, then taken by a B-29 to Fort Worth AAF, where some of it is still in storage.

This wreckage is the basis for the story of the “Roswell UFO,” which is neither an alien spacecraft, nor has anything to do with Roswell (which continues to have its UFO festival every year).

Corona, the village near the site of the actual crash, does not seem to commemorate the event in any way. But then, with a total population of 165 at the last census, the party wouldn’t be very large.

This isn’t to say that the wreckage wasn’t a UFO, in the strict technical sense. It was, after all, Unidentified, at least until 1994, when Dr. Moore saw a photo of the debris in a newspaper article and exclaimed, “That’s my balloon!”

All of which is by way of saying that you never know how you’re going to remembered. Even if you’re a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and received New Mexico Tech’s Distinguished Research Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, plus being a fellow in the Royal Meteorological Society, American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, you can still end up famous for something you’d forgotten about forty years earlier.

I’m just hoping that all my friends have forgotten about that little incident back in July of 1978.

Dave Bishop March 5, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks for that, Walter. That's made my day!

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