The Interrupted Press Conference
“Good morning. Could I speak with Debra Shingteller?”
“Of course, one moment,” replied the switchboard operator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
This was my second attempt at contacting the protagonist of the extremely bizarre press conference allegedly held by NASA regarding its involvement, or rather, the sudden end of its involvement, in the Lake Vostok project.
It appeared that the agency’s budgetary cuts had been so severe that not even background music could be heard while I was on hold.
“I’m sorry, sir. She’s not in at the moment.”
“Ah...could you please give me her voicemail?”
“Of course. Hold on, please.”
Although I doubted that the elusive Ms. Shingteller would actually return my message, I thought that it was still worth a try.
I was surprised, however, when the voice on the answering machine did not correspond to that of the spokesperson, but to another functionary of the NASA Public Information Office. It would appear that Ms. Shingteller had taken some time off after the conference that would make her a household name in conspiracy circles around the world.
My question, in any event, was straightforward: why didn’t the press release regarding the sudden distancing of NASA and JPL with the Lake Vostok project appear among the ones publicly available on the web (http://www.nasa.gov
The communiqué which had vanished from the electronic medium would have read thus:
“ANTARCTIC CARTOGRAPHIC MISSION INTERRUPTED DUE TO N.S.A. OVERRIDE,” adding that NASA spokesperson Ms. Shingteller had alluded to “matters of national security” which necessitated the termination of both space exploration agencies’ involvement in the research initiatives at Lake Vostok.
After saying these words, the spokeswoman was escorted from the podium while her assistant responded to the inevitable questions from the press core with a rote sentence:
“The project has been cancelled due to environmental reasons.”
Shortly after this event, JPL’s Frank D. Carsey tried to put an end to the rumors by saying that the wrong acronym had been employed, and “NSA intervention” should have been “NSF intervention,” given the National Science’s Foundation assumption of the NASA’s drilling operations, arising from the fact that the space agency’s funds had been exhausted.
This did nothing to allay the mystery.
Word spread over the Internet that researchers stationed at Norway’s Amundsen base, 150 miles east of Vostok, had witnessed the arrival of a large quantity of equipment and personnel in the study area. Australian sources remarked that the two women who had taken the challenge of crossing Antarctica by skiing from one end to the other had been forcibly evacuated.
Apparently both skiers had been transferred to the Australian polar base and from there to Samoa by an elite U.S. Marines unit, despite the protests of Australian personnel.
Another rumor held that Russian scientists had been evicted from the Vostok base by U.S. Navy SEALS (what must Vladimir Putin have thought about all this?) while an exodus of personnel from the U.S. bases was underway: Seven individuals, all of them employed by Raytheon, which provides support services for the American polar bases, were evacuated for medical reasons, while another four departed from the McMurdo base voluntarily.
According to statements made on the Art Bell Show, two of departees from the South Pole were suffering from an ailment about which they refused to comment.
Much was made about a comment voiced by the physician in charge at McMurdo to the medical officer who was coming in to replace him:
“Fill your pockets with salt” - apparently a phrase commonly employed in the nuclear industry referring to the taking of iodine tablets in order to prevent any harm to the thyroid gland in the event of a nuclear crisis.
Even more startling was a statement posted on the Internet and attributed to Mike Bara, who coordinates the Enterprise Mission’s “South Pole Update.”
The statement supposedly suggested that the short supply or complete lack of salt at the South Pole at the end of the Antarctic summer, at a time when sufficient quantities ought to be found after seasonal revictualing, suggested the possibility that the salt was being consumed by workers due to high levels of radioactivity - suggesting the possibility that the source of Lake Vostok’s heat could have been radioactive in nature.