The announcement from the US space agency comes as the study of unidentified flying objects is attracting more and more public attention.
NASA has announced it will begin a study of UFOs – a subject that has long fascinated the public – as part of a new push towards high-risk, high-impact science.
The US space agency said Thursday that an independent team will review Unidentified Flying Objects or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) with a focus on identifying what data is available, how to collect more data, and on how NASA can analyze the results to advance scientific understanding of the observations.
NASA Science Mission Chief Thomas Zurbuchen acknowledged that the mainstream science community may see NASA as a “sort of sellout” by venturing on the controversial topic, but he’s not at all dissenting. OK.
“We don’t fear reputational risk,” Zurbuchen said during a National Academy of Sciences webcast. “Our firm belief is that the greatest challenge with these phenomena is that it is a data-poor field.”
As NASA probes and rovers scour the solar system for fossils of ancient microbes, and its astronomers search for so-called ‘technosignatures’ on distant planets for signs of intelligent civilizations, it’s the first time the agency will investigate unexplained phenomena in Earth’s skies.
“Over the decades, NASA has answered the call to tackle some of the most baffling mysteries we know of, and this is no different,” said Daniel Evans, the NASA scientist responsible for coordination of the study, to journalists during a call.
The announcement comes as the field of UFO study, once a poorly regarded backwater of research, gains popularity.
Last month, Congress held a public hearing on UFOs, while a US intelligence report last year listed 144 sightings it said could not be explained. He did not rule out foreign origin.
NASA’s study will be independent of the Pentagon’s Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, but the space agency “has largely coordinated across government in how to apply the tools of science.” , she said in a statement.
The study will last nine months and cost no more than $100,000. It will be completely open, without the use of classified military data.
NASA said the team will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation to advance scientific research. At a press conference, Spergel said the only preconception going into the study is that there are likely to be multiple explanations for UAPs.
“We have to approach all of these issues with a sense of humility,” Spergel said. “I spent most of my career as a cosmologist. I can tell you that we don’t know what makes up 95% of the universe. So there are things we don’t understand.