Cooper's Treasure
Scuba divers swim underwater. (Discovery Channel)
Cooper's Treasure
Scuba divers swim underwater. (Discovery Channel)

Space may indeed be the final frontier—at least for shipwreck treasure hunting.

As Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper was orbiting the Earth 22 times in May 1963, he apparently wasn’t just fixated on the view from above. The Air Force veteran and shipwreck enthusiast later told a confidante that he had been tasked with a sensitive Cold War surveillance mission when he noticed his equipment was picking up something else. 

Cooper scribbled down those anomalies on paper to create what that confidante, treasure hunter Darrell Miklos, calls, a “treasure map from space.”

“He told me he was there on a mission they were experimenting with some sort of long range detection equipment, trying to use it to locate nuclear threats,” Miklos told RealClearLife. “That sort of threat would throw the magnetometer readings off the scale. But when he was getting smaller readings, they were really interesting to him because they were in shallow water, shallow reefs.

“And he knew right away what they were, so he put down the coordinates.”

The potential for a truly historic haul is great: many of the anomalies Cooper marked down lie in a path once traversed by Spanish galleons laden with gold.

Major L. Gordon Cooper poses in front of a map while wearing a space suit. Cooper, a 35 year old from Shawnee, Oklahoma is slated to pilot the next Mercury space flight in which he is expected to circle the earth 18 times in a flight lasting 24 hours. The flight is scheduled for April, 1963. Washington, D.C.
Major L. Gordon Cooper poses in front of a map while wearing a space suit. Cooper, a 35 year old from Shawnee, Oklahoma piloted the Mercury space flight in which he circled the earth 18 times in a flight lasting 24 hours.

Cooper himself died in 2004, having battled Parkinson’s at the last stages of his life, and never managed to mount a complete expedition to hunt down what lay beneath the water in the spots marked on his map.

Now more than 50 years later—and two decades after Cooper revealed to his friend the existence of a his secret 15-inch folder stuffed with charts, illustrations, maps and hand-jotted notes—Miklos is ready to complete his late friend’s quest.

And he’s taking a Discovery Channel crew along with him.

The results of the survey attempts by Miklos’ team at five spots on the map is being chronicled in the network’s new series, Cooper’s Treasure, debuting Tuesday at 10 p.m.

“It takes a lot to mount one of these expeditions—special permits, financial wherewithal, crew, equipment, the cooperation of mother nature,” said Miklos. “A lot of these locations are so isolated, you’re hours away from land. If you don’t have the knowledge of (approximately where the wrecks are,) it’s like finding a needle in a hay stack.”

Cooper's Treasure
Darrell Miklos in his studio looking over paperwork. (Discovery Channel)

For Miklos, this Quixotic quest is also about proving his late mentor right. He considers the astronaut “more of a father to me than my own father.” The pair met on a 1978 episode of The Merv Griffin Show in which both Miklos’ father, a famed treasure hunter himself, and Cooper were guests.

While Miklos is saving some of the suspense for the rest of the Cooper’s Treasure season, he does tease that he has no doubt his mission will be successful—and yield a treasure trove of archeological marvels for museums.

“We picked five anomalies to search and identify and survey, and we located shipwreck material in all five,” said Miklos, adding that the metal detectors are used to search for anchors and cannons as evidence of a shipwreck buried in the seabed. “So we’re five for five overall. It was emotional. It was probably the most momentous occasion in my life next to my wife having our children.”

No matter how well the show does, Miklos says he will continue with or without the cameras following him.

“I don’t know how long (this quest) might last, I probably won’t be able to do it all in my lifetime,” said Miklos. “It may take two lifetimes.”

-Ethan Sacks for RealClearLife