Face it -- It is a Face

Today, May 24, 2001, after years of political pressure, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration finally released a long awaited overhead, high-resolution view of the Face on Mars. Unfortunately, while we are generally pleased with the image, it has a number of problems -- which once again call NASA's commitment to a fair hearing of this entire issue into question. After withholding the image for almost two months (it was taken on April 8th, 2001) NASA released the new image today amid a flurry of extremely negative public comments simultaneously posted on several official NASA websites.

While we are disappointed that NASA has chosen to continue the disinformation campaign they began when the initial “catbox” Face image was released, in April, 1998, we are hardly surprised. As noted, especially prepared "hit pieces" were posted today coincident with release of this new image. Obviously, these were prepared days or weeks before today's data release, and we know that senior NASA officials were meeting late into the night last night, plotting “strategy.” We would like to remind our readers that these were political strategy sessions, not scientific, and we saw today the results of this two-months-late, carefully orchestrated release. A scientific approach would have been to simply release the data the day it was acquired, and allow the scientific debate to take its course. Instead, we were once again treated to a calculated smear campaign obviously aimed directly at the national media. We deplore this unscientific propaganda campaign and call on NASA Headquarters to put a stop to it immediately.

In terms of the image itself, many of these debunking articles have made a great deal of the fact that the facial features are not symmetrical. For the record, we would like to point out that the Enterprise Mission and its investigators have never claimed that they would be. In fact, we predicted that the two halves of the Face would have some degree of asymmetry. We have maintained for over nine years, since Enterprise Mission principal investigator Richard C. Hoagland's appearance at the United Nations, in February, 1992, that the Eastern half of the Face, the portion that until now had only been seen in shadow, was feline in appearance. The Western half, we have always maintained, was humanoid. We do not believe that this object was ever intended to be a fully human visage.

This image does not in any way change that opinion -- in fact it confirms it.

We also would like to remind readers that while the two halves are different in appearance, the platform the Face rests on is over 95% symmetrical, there are two symmetrical eye sockets, and numerous other features on both halves that are totally consistent with a sculpted object. In addition, higher resolution images taken earlier have shown extraordinary structures around the Western pupil, which Enterprise consulting geologists have stated flatly are not natural. 

As we stated above, there are also some issues with this image. For one thing, the image was taken at a significant angle off the vertical (24.6 degrees). This had the effect of enhancing the asymmetry of the two sides of the object by stretching the Eastern half in proportion to the Western side. We will correct this in our versions of the image, but quite frankly, this is something that MSSS or JPL could have properly figured out if they wanted to. We do not believe they wanted to. 

In addition, certain features that were clearly visible in earlier images taken by the MGS are suspiciously absent in this new image. There were two plainly defined, symmetrical “nostrils” in the nose of the Face in the earlier “Catbox” image, and they are nowhere to be found here. And other features, like the Western “eye socket and pupil,” are barely visible -- despite the fact that NASA is advertising this as the "highest resolution" view of the Face to date (it is not).

We will be posting a series of images on this web page in the coming days, while we work on a carefully measured analysis, the kind of analysis that should have taken place as opposed to the “instant science” political spin machine released by NASA today.

One particularly egregious example of NASA's duplicity must be specifically addressed, however. On the NASA main page, a story was posted mere minutes after the posting of the latest Face image (Unmasking the Face on Mars) that makes a number of blatantly fallacious claims. In this article, NASA used a vertically compressed, grossly distorted and upside down (!) version of the Face, generated by a shape-from-shading algorithm. Later in the story, they link this image to a very impressive-looking 3-D color version of separate data from the MGS MOLA instrument -- and then used these two images to “prove” that the Face on Mars is just another Martian hill.

According to the story, "The laser altimetry data are perhaps even more convincing than overhead photos that the Face is natural. 3D elevation maps reveal the formation from any angle, unaltered by lights and shadow. There are no eyes, no nose, and no mouth!"

The reality is that it is highly unlikely that any of us would recognize a picture of our own grandmother if it was stretched horizontally, flattened, compressed and shown upside down. So of course it doesn't look much like a Face. And there is one other major problem with NASA's argument. The MOLA instrument they are relying so much on has a resolution of 300 meters per pixel.

Or, to put it another way: NASA is basing its entire public “its just a hill” argument on a MOLA “image” that is six times worse than the 25-year-old Viking data! At that resolution, an object has to be about the size of baseball stadium to even show up. Frankly, trying to make their argument based on this “non-image” (which they still had to distort) is laughable … and obviously desperate.

For our part, we will make our judgments based on our previous predictions (which is what lies at the heart of any real science), and the combined images we have of the Face -- not on data that’s hundreds of times worse than this new image. For NASA to have behaved this way should serve to demonstrate that they (or, at the very least, some key elements) are not an “open, honest Agency.” If they were, they would have brought us into the loop from the time the image was acquired. Or, at least released this (politically) crucial image right away … and let the data speak for themselves. That is what an open, honest, scientific agency does.

But it is not what key elements of the current NASA does.

Just as before, when they released the grossly distorted "Catbox" image in 1998, which even Skeptical Inquirer finds it cannot ultimately justify, NASA (or, again, key elements) has chosen the path of obstruction rather than truth. They have in fact declared war on the truth. But this, to use a phrase made famous by President George W. Bush's father – “will not stand ….”

Consider just a few things in the next few days as this war rages across the Internet. Why does an “open, honest agency” that is so sure that the Face is "not exotic in any way," need to create the "Catbox" three years ago, at all? And why did they need to embargo this new “2001 image” for almost two months -- while they built up a carefully orchestrated smear campaign against it? And why would they try to pass off data that is six times less precise than the original twenty-five year-old Viking images, to make their “case?”

They wouldn't, if they were telling truth.

Sadly, none of this changes our assessment of NASA's overall integrity. It only confirms it.

Stay Tuned ... There is a lot more to come .…