Soviet Mars Probe Almost Caused World War 3!

Larry Klaes (larryk@cambridge.village.com)
Mon, 20 May 1996 15:24:27 -0400 (EDT)

Pardon the lurid title, but it does reflect a statement I have read
about since doing research for an article I wrote on Soviet Mars probes
that was published in the August, 1990 issue of Spaceflight titled
"The Rocky Soviet Road to Mars".  

I have a question regarding the fate of this probe which I believe
and hope the members of SEESAT-L can help me solve.  The story is
as follows:

In 1962, the Soviet Union sent three probes on their way to the planet
Mars.  Of the three, only one got out of Earth orbit and was designated
Mars 1.  It broke the space communications distance record set by 
Mariner 2 but stopped transmitting for unclear reasons in March of 1963.

Of the other two probes, both broke apart in Earth orbit.  One of them,
launched on October 24, apparently drifted over the horizon as a cloud of
debris towards North America.  At this time the US was having its infamous
Cuban Missile Crisis.  Some reports say that the BMEWS (Ballistic Missile
Early Warning System) had a temporary scare when it saw some unknown
objects heading from the USSR towards the US.  Because the Soviet policy
was to hide the identities of failed spacecraft, it was suggested that
this errant probe almost caused WW3 by being mistaken for a nuclear
missile attack.

When I sent my article in to the BIS (British Interplanetary Society),
a Soviet space expert on the staff (never did find out who - any takers?)
said this "threat" could not have happened, as the probe debris did not
arc over the horizon view of North America after breaking up in orbit,
thus it did not add a threat in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

Researching back on this story, I found that there was no mention of
this before 1973, until Kenneth Gatland wrote about it in his great
book Robot Probes (Macmillan).  In the book on page 169, Gatland 
mentions the 1962 incident from a US Goverment report.  Does anyone
know which report this was?

So my question is:  Did this unnamed Mars probe cause a Cold War 
scare or did it not?  And was the probe a flyby or lander mission?

Thank you.

Larry Klaes
larryk@village.com