NASA launches a real study on UFOs

NASA has spent over 60 years flying UFOs. Every spacecraft that has ever visited the moon, landed on Mars, buzzed by Jupiter, orbited Saturn, or recognized Pluto would be a decidedly unidentified flying object to any extraterrestrial intelligence that might encounter it. There may be no such intelligence beyond Earth in our solar system. But in interstellar space? That’s another question. That’s why the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, which left the solar system in 2012 and 2018 respectively, carry on their sides golden discs etched with encoded sounds and sights from Earth – a message in a bottle to all. civilization that might one day encounter the ships and want to learn more about the curious species that launched them.

UFOs – or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), as they are more appropriately called today – have been in the news a lot lately. As I reported, just last month the House Intelligence Committee’s Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation Subcommittee held public hearings into more than 140 pilot sightings military over the past 20 years of UAPs flying in all sorts of inexplicable ways: dancing, weaving, hovering, diving, changing direction with head-banging speed that would produce g-forces potentially lethal to any living thing – or du less any living being Human be—inside.

“Look at this thing, man! shouted one pilot in a declassified recording made during a 2015 sighting. “Oh my God. There’s a whole fleet of them. They’re going against the wind! The wind’s at 120 knots [135 mph] West!”


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The Congressional hearing followed the release last year of a similar Department of Defense study on UAPs, and Congress and the Pentagon came to the same conclusion, which was essentially: beat me. The objects could be natural phenomena misinterpreted by the pilots and their equipment; it could be new technologies developed by Russia, China or another high-tech power; and yes, they could, in theory at least, be of extraterrestrial origin.

“UPAs are unexplained, it’s true,” said Congressman and Committee Chairman Andre Carson (D., Ind.) in his opening statement during the House hearings. “But they are real.”

Now, there’s a third government agency getting involved in the effort to explain UAPs: NASA itself. As the space agency announced this week, it is launching its own investigation, starting in the fall, to unravel the mystery of the UAP. The effort will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, former chair of the department of astrophysics at Princeton University. Budgeted at a bargain price of just $100,000, the study will span nine months, analyze all available video data and first-hand testimony accumulated to date, and consult with military and civilian experts for their analysis of the evidence. The space agency is open to all interpretations of the data, although it sets the bar high for at least one.

“There is no evidence,” NASA said in its statement, “[that] UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin.

But absence of evidence, of course, is not proof of absence, and NASA officials recognize that anything is possible and that they will follow findings wherever they point.

“NASA believes the tools of scientific discovery are powerful and apply here as well,” Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. “We have the tools and the team that can help us improve our understanding of the unknown. This is the very definition of what science is. This is what we do.”

That is indeed what NASA is doing – and it is high time it brought those skills to the UAP mystery. After six decades of building and flying machines it can explain very well, the space agency will finally turn its sights to ones the world can’t.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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