On August 26th1965, the Aeronutronic Divison of Philco Corp launched a secret manned mission to Mars in concert with NASA. Launched from the Nevada Desert, it was the culmination of Wernher von Braun’s dream of a Mars mission that he outlined in “Das Marsprojeckt” in 1952. It’s codename, was EMPIRE (Early Manned Planetary-Interplanetary Roundtrip Expedition).
M-1 Liquid Oxygen/Hydrogen rockets utilized a nitric acid/hydrazine propellant that sling-shot the craft past our Earthly orbit onto a year long path that would end orbiting Mars. From there, smaller vehicles would convey the scientists of the crew and their mobile lab to the surface.
At the one month mark, the crew were put into the new system of stasis to conserve food and energy for the long haul to Mars. All sent their last smiling and hopeful messages to ground control – certain the next time they alighted it would be on Mars. On October 16, 1965, all communications from the Empire ceased. Ground Control labored for weeks to regain contact. In the end, there was no way to contact the sleeping crew. For all intents and purposes, the Empire had vanished.
Because the experimental secondary NERVAnuclear thermal engines could be unstable, the ground team assumed the ship had imploded with all hands lost. But every mission following through the mid1980’s had a secret directive; train their sensitive equipment in the direction the Empire was supposed to have gone, hopefully to find a signal or some echo of a long ago explosion to set to rest what had happened the ship and her crew.