Dakota Datebook

James Buchli

Thursday, November 6, 2003

One North Dakota man has traveled around the world at least 319 times. That’s 7.74 million miles. Pretty impressive, you might think, but here’s the kicker: he did it in slightly less than three weeks.

This man, known as Jim to his friends, was born in New Rockford in 1945 and graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1963. He’s an ordinary man in many ways – an outdoorsman; he likes to ski, scuba dive, hunt and fish. After high school, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy, became a Marine and then went to Vietnam, where he served for one year as a Platoon Commander of the 9th Marine Regiment, and then as Company Commander and Executive Officer for “B” Company.

After some naval flight officer training in Florida, he spent 2 years assigned to Marine Fighter/Attack Squadrons in Hawaii, Japan and Thailand. Then, in 1977, he went to U.S. Test Pilot School in Maryland. By the time Jim retired, he was a colonel and had logged over 4,000 hours in jet aircraft. He had also received a Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Defense Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and on and on…

Now, on March 13th, 1989, Jim made news that was never meant to go public. Several ham radio operators say that at 0642 hours, they caught a raw transmission of him radioing ground control. What he was reported to say was, “We still have the alien spacecraft… under observance…” UFO enthusiasts grabbed onto those words and held on tight. James F. Buchli – astronaut – was transmitting to Houston from the Discovery Space Shuttle.

NASA at first refused to concede that the transmission – which was caught on tape by a ham radio operator in Ohio – even existed. Later, NASA claimed it was a hoax. Probably none of us will ever know for sure, except for Buchli, of course. And he’s not telling.

On this date in history – in 1985 – Buchli was aboard the Challenger as it landed; it was his second mission, which was a West German Spacelab mission. It was the first mission to carry eight crew members, the largest crew to fly in space. It was also the first flight in which payload activities were controlled from somewhere other than the United States.

Buchli became an astronaut in 1979 and has been in space four times. His first flight was in 1985, aboard the Discovery, which was the first mission dedicated to the Department of Defense. Buchli was also on a 1989 Discovery flight, during which the crew deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, performed numerous experiments and took over 3,000 photos of Earth. Buchli’s last flight lasted five days and was in 1991, also aboard Discovery.

Now, remember all those awards and medals he got? Here are a few others: four NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Now about those aliens…



October 10

Yesterday, we talked about a five-foot meteorite that landed near Carrington in 1910. But about 214 million years ago, a meteorite that landed in what is now McKenzie County was so large that it left a crater 5 miles across.

Many people confuse meteors with shooting stars. Generally, a shooting star is the size of a grain of sand. A meteor, on the other hand, is large enough to survive its fiery trip through the atmosphere to reach the earth’s surface – at which point it becomes a meteorite. Meteors of this size are often asteroids or comets or fragments from a comet’s tail.

The Red Wing Creek crater near Williston is believed by many scientists to be connected to a group of at least five massive comet fragments that bombarded the earth within hours of each other during the Triassic Period about 240 millions years ago.

The largest crater formed by these collisions – the Manicouagan in Quebec – is 62 miles across. The remaining three of the group are in Manitoba, France and the Ukraine. The craters are located very far apart from each other, but at the time of impact, the planet’s continents were still primarily one land mass, and the five locations were very close together.

When large meteors like these collide with the earth, the damage can be spectacular. Shock waves roll over the earth’s surface, through its fragile crust and into its mantel & core. Trillions of tons of debris can be sent into the atmosphere.

Dust and debris from cosmic collisions and explosions can remain in the atmosphere for months and sometimes even years. Around the year 535 AD, Earth was wrapped in a swarm of atmospheric debris that produced two years of continuous winter. It’s believed that this vast dust cloud came from either outer space or from a massive volcanic eruption somewhere on the globe.

During those two years, it snowed in the winter, drought-stricken areas had constant flooding, crops failed, and famine decimated Italy, China and the Middle East. A 6th-century Syrian bishop wrote, “The sun became dark… Each day it shone for about four hours and still this light was only a feeble shadow.” This event marked the beginning of… the Dark Ages.

When the Red Wing Creek grouping landed, the impact of comet fragments was nothing short of catastrophic. In fact, it’s believed that these collisions caused history’s 3rd largest mass extinction, affecting approximately 80% of the planet’s species and bringing the Triassic Period to a close.

Many millions of years later, a massive meteor hit Mexico, forming a crater more than 100 miles across. This one is believed to have caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

Despite the fact that North Dakota’s Red Wing Crater is more than five miles across, it unfortunately has filled in over the millennia and can’t be seen from either land or air. Unlike craters formed by volcanoes that leave a rim above ground level, the Red Wing Crater, as well as another smaller on in Renville County called the Newporte, are both below ground and were accidental discoveries recently made by oil drillers.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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