Before Richard Hoagland spoke at the United Nations on February 27, 1992, a person stepped into the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium and asked: "Is a man from Mars speaking here?" I must confess similar questions ran through my mind before I first met Hoagland at Omni's New York office. There's no getting around it: Hoagland has some unusual ideas about Mars. Monuments - a whole metropolis in fact - he believes, are linked to structures on Earth and the moon that, in turn, are tied together by an advanced new physics that may have spawned "hyperdimensional" space technologies the United States government may have gotten its hands on. Needless to say, these are ideas the mainstream scientific community wants no part of. That doesn't make Hoagland wrong, necessarily, but it definitely places him on the fringe.
At first blush, he certainly looks normal enough: a well-groomed, bearded man of 48 dressed in faultless business attire. Our conversation began on a normal note, too, with a discussion of parking strategies in Upper Manhattan and the challenges of finding coffee in offices on Friday afternoon. When we got around to the subject at hand - the alleged works described in his 420-page book, The Monuments of Mars - Hoagland stepped up to the "mike" like a seasoned pol in the midst of a long campaign. And it has been a long campaign. For 11 years he has crisscrossed the country, trying to get scientists to seriously consider the possibility that an advanced civilization has left calling cards of various sizes and shapes all over the solar system. Whoever they were, Hoagland jests, "they cared enough to leave the very best."
Well-versed in many areas of science and space exploration, Hoagland has held several high posts at science museums and planetariums since 1965. He's been space consultant to NBC and CBS News and editor-in-chief at Star and Sky magazine. His most far-reaching accomplishment - the plaque on the Pioneer space probe he conceived with Eric Burgess, co-founder of the British Interplanetary Society - has left the solar system and is now drifting in interstellar space. The message carried aboard the spacecraft could outlive Earth itself, Hoagland claims.
Although closer to home, his current activities are in some ways farther out. For more than a decade, Hoagland has worked with several dozen scientists investigating the Mars face, a mile-long Sphinxlike protuberance first spotted in photographs taken by the Viking Orbiter in 1976. During subsequent examinations of photos of this Martian region known as Cydonia, Hoagland identified a collection of pyramid-shaped mounds and objects he calls the city. He and Erol Torun, a cartographer at the Pentagon's Defense Mapping Agency, conducted an involved geometric analysis of the region. They claim the Martian geometry - which to the uninitiated looks like a bizarre mishmash of lines - strikingly resembles the pattern of angles observed among pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, at Stonehenge, and even recent crop circles. How could this be? Hoagland suggests an answer: Extraterrestrials may have tinkered with our planet in ways we're just beginning to appreciate. His investigation, he's quick to point out, is wholly unrelated to the UFO abduction phenomenon. "Our work has nothing to do with things that go bump in the night or people claiming to be snatched from their beds."
No one denies that Hoagland has performed the most detailed analysis of Cydonia ever undertaken. If anything, critics say, the analysis is too detailed, given the data available. "Since the pictures are less than ideal, there is a tendency to overwork them and draw conclusions that may go beyond reason," says NASA Ames planetary scientist Chris McKay (Omni Interview, July 1992). "There's no doubt the thing looks like a face, but the conclusion that it was built by some civilization is a huge, huge leap."
Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan argues that given the human propensity for picking out faces amid random patterns, it's not surprising that somewhere on the 150 million-square-kilometer surface of Mars we might find something resembling a human face. To him, this feature is no more remarkable than a tortilla chip said to display the face of Jesus Christ, an eggplant supposedly resembling Richard Nixon, or a radar image of Venus containing the visage of Joseph Stalin.
The scientific community - and NASA in particular - has a vested interest in ignoring him, counters Hoagland, which he attributes, in part, to the "not invented here" syndrome: "After spending a billion dollars to search for signs of life on Mars and coming up empty-handed, they might be just a little embarrassed if a small group of amateurs found the evidence that eluded them." NASA, Hoagland charges, has also engaged in a systematic "pattern of abuse, ridicule, personal character assassination, distortion of data, and misrepresentation of the facts going back to 1976."
Hoagland's counterattack has become more than a fulltime job. Through Mars Mission, the 20,000-member, New Jersey-based public interest group he heads, he's lobbying to "open the files" on Cydonia and restore "honesty in government." He has touted his cause on TV, while making appearances at NASA and the United Nations. In his spare time he tries to raise funds for a private mission to the moon or Mars. His efforts have been nothing short of monumental. But the question remains: Is it all an elaborate "delusion," as he once asked in the book? Is he a latter-day Don Quixote tilting at Martian sphinxes? Or has he stumbled upon a phenomenon so fantastic the rest of the world cannot face up to it, despite a body of evidence he now calls conclusive?"