Unlike other stories involving cryptic maps and lost treasure, this one starts not on Earth but 160 miles above it.
In 1963, Col. Gordon Cooper, one of NASA's original seven astronauts, spent a record-setting 34 hours in orbit around the planet. While the official purpose of his mission was to study the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body, the U.S. government was also interested in what his eyes could tell them. To that end, they tasked Cooper with taking thousands of photos using long-range detection equipment to search for possible Soviet nuclear sites near U.S. shores.
"Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures. I’m up to 5,245 now,” Cooper told Mission Control from space.
Long before online programs like Google Maps could give us all eyes on the planet, Cooper's perspective on Earth afforded him an unprecedented opportunity to see objects not possible otherwise. And this is how, while cruising over the clear waters of the Caribbean, he started noticing some strange underwater anomalies. In fact, during his time in space, he photographed over a hundred of these shallow water sites, later deducing that they could only be shipwrecks.
In the decades that followed, using the notes and images from his orbital mission, Cooper created a treasure map pointing the way to some of these sites — a treasure map, that by all accounts, came from space.
Passing the treasure map baton
Cooper, who passed away in 2004, never acted on the map he created. In the years before his death, however, he shared both his research and the map with a longtime friend, Darrell Miklos. A professional treasure hunter by trade, Miklos decided to honor the memory of his boyhood idol and hero and see if Cooper's space map really could point the way to sunken riches. To help fund the expedition, he smartly pitched the hunt to a production company and subsequently managed to catch the attention of the Discovery Channel.
“I get to pay homage to a hero whom I considered to be my surrogate father," he said during a television press panel. "I get to tell a story and finish a project or several projects that we were never able to finish together."
Premiering on Discovery this month, the series "Cooper's Treasure" follows Miklos and his team as they comb through Cooper's documents and scour the Caribbean to reveal first-hand the locations spotted from space. According to executive producer Ari Mark, watching the puzzle pieces fall into place has been a fascinating experience.
“It starts to unravel and when you learn about who Gordon was … it starts to connect, and it did for us,” he said.
While Miklos has yet to reveal if any of wrecks on Cooper's map have led to sunken treasure, his Gemini Marine Exploration company, founded in 2014, does mention that the firm is currently engaged with "several promising projects in the Caribbean." Some of those wrecks, he tells ABC, could even turn out to be part of a lost fleet belonging to Christopher Columbus.
"This one wreck site right here would be worth well over $500 million," he says in a clip.
You can tune in on April 18 on the Discovery Channel to see if the first treasure map from space delivers on potential riches, and here's a preview in the video below: