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NASA Project Firewheel Caused Argentina UFO Reports in 1980

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NASA Project Firewheel Caused Argentina UFO Reports in 1980

nasa firewheel experiments

A declassified document from the Department of State revealed that in June of 1980, a NASA experiment called “Firewheel” carried out over Argentina produced countless UFO reports in the region during that time.

There are many documented UFO sightings in Argentina during 1980. A few examples include airport personnel, meteorologists, and many others spotting what were described as “fleets” of spindle-shaped, oval crafts emitting a light ray.

The Journal of Hispanic Ufology even reported about another 1980 case where three Argentinean teenagers named Daniel Crescini, Federico Higa and Gustavo Moreno were on a fishing trip on the Sali River in Northern Argentina, when they spotted an object that “rose from the surface of the water into the air, absorbed by a flat, metallic object that remained static some three meters over the river”.

These are just a couple of extremely odd sightings that this Department of State document may actually explain.

NASA and Project Firewheel

The Department of State document explains that after seeing all of the Argentina media accounts of UFOs, a NASA Engineer from Argentina sent his mother a video tape on which the engineer told her that a NASA experiment was going to “create flying shapes in the Argentine sky”.

The document explains that on June 19th of the same year, the Buenos Aires Herald wrote:

“The UFOs that were seen over the country last Saturday may have been the result of an experiment being carried [out] by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US, called ‘Firewheel’.”

The man told his mother to look up in the sky on June 8th at about midnight. He explained, “You will probably only see a flying saucer.”

nasa firewheel experiments

Exploring Project Firewheel

Firewheel was actually the name of the craft being used in the experiments. They were essentially battery powered drones meant to distribute ion blasts, electric fields and other light-emitting distributions of energy into the sky. The reasons for doing this were varied, but centered around studying plasma processes in the magnetosphere and how energy particles in general behave there.

The Firewheel craft was actually a battery-powered spacecraft that could fly for 48 hours in the Earth’s magnetosphere. It released barium and lithium ion clouds into the sky from a total of 12 containers containing 20 kg of the mixture.

The goals of the project were to:

–> Understand plasma processes related to magnetic cavities
–> The energy exchange between plasma and the magnetosphere
–> Whether or not ion waves could interact with “trapped” energy particles
–> Following the path and behavior of injected ions in the magnetosphere

There is not a lot of information in the public domain about this small experimental spacecraft, and for that reason, many of the UFO sightings caused by it throughout Argentina and surrounding areas in the 1980’s remain a part of Ufology legend, even though the lights and the “craft” in the sky were little more than the ion release canisters, and the surreal flow of ion particles through the night sky.

nasa firewheel experiments

UFO Sightings

The UFO sightings quoted by Ufology groups for this time period are plentiful. For example, NICAP lists June 14th, 1980 in Argentina as a time period where there was a, “…flurry of UFO sightings by numerous witnesses, including airport personnel and meteorologists, with extensive newspaper coverage.”

There is no mention of the June 19th Buenos Aires Herald article detailing the most likely source of the sightings – the known NASA experiments.

Instead, Ufologists breathlessly describe the witness experiences, such as two brothers who saw a “strange luminous object” on June 4th, which exhibited no noise and gave off “white and reddish flashes, overflew fast, stopped over observers, rapidly to the north.” (2)

What is particularly odd is that some Ufologist authors even misled the public about the existence of the experiment. In a FATE Magazine article in January of 1983 titled “Giant UFO Over Two Continents”, author James Oberg wrote briefly that the UFO investigation organization known as CUFOS remarked about the Argentina UFO flap that, “…a single high-altitude phenomenon appears to be behind it all.”

Oberg goes on to write:

“These ‘foggy-halo’ descriptions led Hendry to suspect a high-altitude barium-cloud-release experiment, like those frequently conducted by NASA to investigate ionospheric conditions and regularly reported as UFOs. (Fortunately, they are among the easiest for investigators to identify.) But there were no such ionospheric probes on record for this case.”

The article was written in 1983, while the declassified document from the Department of State proving the existence of Project Firewheel affecting Argentina, only came out in 1992.

However, this goes to show that even when Ufologist vehemently claim that “there is no record” of experimental crafts or testing taking place, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t such activity going on. It only means that Ufologists don’t know what they don’t know — yet for some reason that doesn’t stop many of them from leaping to the least-likely conclusion that the sightings are caused by alien craft visiting Earth from some other planet or dimension.

References & Image Credits:
(1) Department of State
(3) List of NASA Firewheel Experiments
(4) Gunter’s Space Page
(6) Latest UFO Sightings – image

Originally published on

  • Jim Oberg

    Cool, worth checking into. Thanks for the mention of my article, it and a few dozen similar investigations are found at

  • Jim Oberg

    Part 2 — Sorry, you’re busted. The declassified State Dept memo the article refers to dates from June 19, 1980, and refers to a month-old CLAIM from an Argentine scientist working for NASA that a future French launch WOULD sometime in June near local midnight create a comet-like apparition over Argentina. But the embassy cable was prompted by an actual sighting a few days earlier — June 14 — that actually was due to one of the Soviet launches.

    There is no evidence in the declassified cable, or the NICAP files, that ANY ‘Firewheel’ chemical release was EVER observed from Argentina. The entire premise of this article is erroneous.

  • Jim Oberg

    I’ve tried to post two comments with links arguing this article is incorrect to attribute 1980 Argentina OVNI reports to ‘Firewheel’. Why did they fail ‘review’?

  • Thanks for your comment Jim – although I completely disagree. You have the warning from a NASA scientist to his own mother to watch for the experiment on a particular date in June. This simply confirms that the NASA experiments were in fact taking place DURING that time frame, which could really cover months before and/or after that date. Secondly – there are numerous reports before and/or after that date that could easily be attributed to such experiments – several of which I’ve detailed in this article.

    Finally, there is clear evidence that Firewheel releases were observed, It bears repeating that you wrote in 1983: “But there were no such ionospheric probes on record for this case.”

    When that was clearly untrue – now we know, as of 1993, that there is a well documented record of such experiments taking place during the 1980s by NASA.

  • Hi Jim – they didn’t. I’ve been forced over the years to manually approve posts due to so many folks trying to spam the comments area with personal links. So it can take up to 24 hrs sometimes for me to review and approve. Thanks for your patience and for your comments. 🙂

  • By the way Jim, I wanted to add that I have a lot of respect for your work/research on the history of the Russian Space Program. So much information packed into your writing through the years – it’s very impressive.

  • Jim Oberg

    Waiting for evidence, Ryan, not random coincidences. Track down program reports of exactly when the releases occurred, not just a letter home promising his Mom when they might be. We need more work like this, you’re just not home yet.

  • Well it’s certainly better evidence than that available for the ET theory, or any other theory posed out there. It’s supporting evidence (missed by Ufologists out there), and worth mentioning.

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
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