Government report on 'space balls' released

Ashburton farmer Denis O'Sullivan with a "space ball''.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON
Ashburton farmer Denis O'Sullivan with a "space ball''.

Ashburton farmer Denis O'Sullivan received a gift from outer space nearly forty years ago.

A 20 kilogram, titanium sphere the size of a beachball dropped from the heavens onto his farm in 1972 and has been kept in a corner of his lounge ever since.

The ball was part of a Russian spacecraft that fell out of orbit above the South Island on April 3. South Island residents reported rumbling and lights in the sky on the night of the incident. Over the next few weeks, farmers around Ashburton discovered five of the large metal ''space balls'' on their property.

The release of government files on UFO sightings, including the official report on the Ashburton Space Balls, has cast fresh light on the incident.

O'Sullivan was 17 when he discovered his space ball on May 11.

''I remember it well. I picked it up myself. It was in a turnip field. I saw this mound in the paddock and I thought it was a dead sheep. I went closer and there was this metal ball lying there next to a bit of a hollow about three feet away,'' he said.

''I picked it up and carried it back to the truck. It was sitting on my lap in the truck on the way back to the farm. We called the police and the first thing they did was get everyone to stay away from the scene and then a policeman hung his wristwatch over it to see if it was radioactive. I thought: 'It's a bit late for that, it has been sitting on my lap on the way back.''

The ball was taken away for investigation by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The government report states the balls were found not to be radioactive in testing at a laboratory in Christchurch. The report concluded the balls were part of the Russian rocket Kosmos 482 which failed when launching a Venus probe. The balls, which had Russian markings, were used to pressurise fuel tanks or as stabilisation jets, the report states.

Russia refused to lay claim to the debris and so the balls were returned to the farmers that found them.

O'Sullivan said he once put the ball on eBay with a reserve of $500,000, but it did not sell.

''It is pretty unique. There are not too many of these that fell from a spacecraft. How do you value it? What price would you put on it? It is not something you would sell to a scrap dealer,'' he said.

John Lindores found a space ball on his property on April 3. The ball is on permanent loan to the Ashburton Aviation Museum.

''We thought it was an April Fool's joke to start with. The police came and took it away. It caused quite a stir at the time. They treated it with great care because they were afraid it was radioactive. They took it to Ashburton jail and locked it up for the night.''

The Press